The modern saint Thérèse Martin of Lisieux, France, who in the centennial year of her death became the youngest of the thirty-three Doctors of the Catholic Church and only the third woman to be so named, is one of the greatest writers in the Christian narrative tradition. Called the “Little Flower” because of the appearance of roses to those who pray to her and seek her intercession, and as a way to distinguish her from “Big” Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux embraced the simple, quotidian experiences—the human and earthy—wherein she found God. At the request of her prioress, two and a half years before dying at age twenty-four, Thérèse wrote Historie d’une Ame, or Story of a Soul (1898), a work that is invaluable for the lessons it presents not only on the author’s physical maturation from childhood to young adulthood, but also on her spiritual metamorphosis to Christian perfection. A consideration of Thérèse’s narrative underscores her contributions not only to the genre of spiritual autobiography but also to the significance of the writing process itself—bibliotherapy—as a means of affecting a change and a healing in both the writer and reader. This account of Thérèse’s life at Carmel clarifies the metamorphosis that occurred in her and, consequently, accommodates the experience of each individual reader. Thus, the deceptively simple recordings of a young cloistered woman from northern France stir in the reader awakenings and reminders of religious sensibility and the gradual unfolding of the soul. Indeed, Thérèse’s Story of a Soul is a seminal work and one of the most widely read Christian narratives in the literary tradition of spiritual autobiography.
Marie Françoise Thérèse Martin was born on January 2, 1873, to a middle-class family in Alençon, a town fifty-five miles from Lisieux in Normandy. Her mother, Zélie Guerin (1831–1877), had a lace-making business which she supervised in her home. Her father, Louis Martin (1823–1894), helped in choosing the lace designs and dealt with the markets in Paris. He also owned a watch repair and jewelry shop, as well as some property. Four years later, when