The Satanic Personality in Updike's Roger's Version

By Novak, Frank G., Jr. | Christianity and Literature, Autumn 2005 | Go to article overview

The Satanic Personality in Updike's Roger's Version


Novak, Frank G., Jr., Christianity and Literature


The Mysterious Professor

Roger Lambert, the narrator of John Updike's Roger's Version, is a perplexing character. He possesses the accouterments of comfort and success, which include a professorship at an Ivy League divinity school, a late Victorian house in an upscale Boston neighborhood, a new Audi, and an attractive wife fourteen years his junior. He is an impressively learned scholar and a perceptive observer of contemporary culture. Despite these advantages, he is gloomy, bitter, and cruel. He detests his students and is cynically critical of his wife and son. He is condescending and spiteful toward those whom he considers physically unattractive, intellectually inferior, or religiously misguided. He avidly reads theology and pornography, deriving equal and similar pleasure from both. He is guilty of hatred, lust, and incest. Witty and perverse, eloquent and crude, learned and contemptuous, Roger elicits laughter on one page and disgust on the next. Roger claims to have his "own style of faith" (87); however, the discerning reader has reason to suspect that this professed "faith," in practice, may be an empty intellectual pose, a deceptive facade that merely serves to add a spicy fillip to his acts of wickedness. Although he claims fifteen years of pastoral experience and demonstrates considerable theological erudition, Roger's attitudes and conduct appear to be willfully, flagrantly immoral.

Who is this contradictory, malicious narrator, and what role does he play in Updike's unsettling novel? To comprehend this character, one must recognize the significant connections between Roger Lambert and his literary progenitor, Roger Chillingworth, the sinister villain of The Scarlet Letter. Roger's Version is the second installment in Updike's Scarlet Letter trilogy, his rewriting of Hawthorne's classic in contemporary settings. In A Month of Sundays (1975), the first novel of the trilogy, the Reverend Thomas Marshfield--a golf-playing lecher--represents the updated Arthur Dimmesdale. In the third of the series, S. (1988), Sarah Worth--a philandering physician's wife who becomes involved with a phony Hindu guru at an Arizona ashram--is the contemporary Hester Prynne. In the second, much darker volume of the trilogy, Updike recasts Roger Chillingworth as a professor of theology residing in Boston during the mid-1980s. The novel, Updike explains, "is Roger's version--that is, Roger Chillingworth's side of the triangle described in The Scarlet Letter.... Here ... we have the villain of the piece, and also the character who encloses the others and modulates, with his arcane potions and malign remedies, their story" ("Special Message" 858). Roger's Version is thus part of a larger project wherein Updike, reworking and expanding Hawthorne's classic novel, explores the various ways humans sin and fall short and considers the themes of transgression and guilt, truth and concealment, love and hatred.

Like Hawthorne's Roger Chillingworth, Updike's Roger Lambert is a fictional version ofthe satanic principle, a portrait of evil. (1) Lambert exhibits the same sort of intellectual pride and coldness of heart that characterize Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter. Following Hawthorne, Updike also depicts a situation in which one who has "snatched a fiend's office from his hands" (XIV) maliciously schemes to destroy a decent person of ardent faith. (2) Both Chillingworth and Lambert are secretive, manipulative, egotistical, and perverse; both are psychologically and morally deformed. Cloaked in the garb of respectability, both characters demonstrate how the "chilling" reality of evil lurks beneath the veneer of "worth" Like Roger Chillingworth, Updike's contemporary "villain" harbors a monster within: beneath his humor, erudition, and culture lies the ruthless heart of a vampiric "leech" Updike creates such a narrator in order to explore and to expose the nature of human evil concealed beneath ambiguous and deceitful guises; in addition, through depicting the emptiness and wretchedness of Lambert's soul, Updike conveys a powerful moral and religious message. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Satanic Personality in Updike's Roger's Version
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.