Each Man in His Darkness
Genre: Religious Life
Date Published: March 1996
Number of Pages: 347
Print Price: $12.70
eBook Price: $
Julien Green remarked that he was “first and foremost a writer, who happened to also be a Catholic!” He disliked being referred to as a Catholic writer.
But Catholic, he was. He converted to Catholicism at a young age. His commitment to Catholicism was a critical part of his life. Whether it was his intention or not, Green’s beliefs did make their way into his novels. This was certainly the case in his book; Each Man in His Darkness.
Julien Green was conflicted throughout his life, primarily due to the struggle with his own sexuality (it was thought that he later became a homosexual). He struggled with having any sexual impulses because in his mind they were in direct conflict with his deeply religious and spiritual life. In his words, “I am a happy man who is tormented by the flesh.” As a child of Protestant parents, his mother read to him from the King James Bible every day, a practice he continued throughout his own life. However, she also created the negative view he held with regard to sexuality which left him continually tormented with the concept of sin should he have thoughts related to this vice.
It is realizing this about the author that gives us a better understanding of his book, Each Man in His Darkness.
The novel is the story of a young man, Wilfred, arriving at his dying uncle’s home in Virginia. Almost immediately following his arrival, he learns that his family is Protestant and resentful of his Catholicism. Wilfred was raised a Catholic by his father. He finds himself in a position of defending his religious beliefs to his family even though he does not perceive himself as others around him do-- a devout Catholic. He attends Mass, prays the rosary, and participates in the sacraments. What this means to Wilfred, is that ultimately his faith causes him to struggle on the inside. Yet his dying uncle seeks him out to help him share in some of this faith at the moment of his death. The uncle desperately seeks redemption for his life of using women for pleasure and spending most of his wealth. He views Wilfred as a means to help him with this. In his view, Wilfred is a very pious man. Wilfred tries to deny this perception despite the fact that he carries a rosary and a mass book and appears to live a very humble life. The uncle and the remainder of the family’s assumption is that he is a devout Catholic.
Wilfred’s cousin Angus is attracted to Wilfred to the extent of a homosexual obsession. Angus spends an entire evening looking for Wilfred’s glove that was dropped from the carriage on the way to his uncle’s home. Angus gives Wilfred a pair of Italian leather gloves. Wilfred is clearly uncomfortable with this, but tries to respond by extending kindness to Angus. Angus sends him a letter declaring his love for him, but says he can never see him again because he does not want to influence his leaving the Catholic faith. Initially Wilfred is disgusted, but finds responding to all of this devotion from Angus one of his most challenging obligations.
The primary reason for Wilfred’s conflict with his faith comes from his need to seek the company of women in bars and clubs every evening. He is a young and attractive man. He leaves his Rosary in the drawer of his room knowing he will be doing this. He chastises himself later for having this desire. He realizes that in many ways he is not unlike his uncle in his need to satisfy the flesh. Invariably Wilfred is left angry and hating himself for going against the core beliefs of his faith.
Ultimately, he becomes highly attracted to a distant cousin’s wife, Phoebe. She is the exact opposite of the women he normally pursues. Her purity is what attracts him. “There’s something untouched in her. She is undefiled, her faith is undefiled . Sin would make her lose it, but sin is unknown to her. She is not like us.” Wilfred falls in love with Phoebe and her him. This presents another conflict.
Wilfred meets another man in his travels that he learns also appears to have an obsession with him. “My real name is hard to pronounce, so I’m called Max. Call me Max.” “Max who?” “Max is enough. You just have to ask for Max.” Max is captivated with Wilfred and will play an integral and sinister part in Wilfred’s life.
It appears that redemption from sins of the flesh seems to be the primary theme of Green’s novel. Each character is struggling with their appearance, age, and their own spiritual convictions. All the people in his life believe that Wilfred is a prime example of spiritual conviction and yet in Wilfred’s mind, nothing could be further from the truth. On one hand he attends Mass and prays the rosary, but on the other he leaves his rosary in a drawer so he can satisfy his physical needs. Ultimately a relationship with the foreigner Max will result in an end to Wilfred’s conflicts.
This is not a book I found enjoyable to read, but I do think that the idea that we are all conflicted within ourselves as we try to stay committed to our faith, is one worth recognizing.
Accepting that we are sinners, but at the same time remaining true to our faith by use of prayer in the Mass and the Rosary, is a goal of every Catholic. It is unfortunate that the author, Julien Green, appears to have had a difficult time understanding that there is redemption in God’s forgiveness. All of us are sinners and are flawed, but the solution is not in death as portrayed in this novel. The solution lies in life should we accept God’s love for each of us and the forgiveness given us through the Body and Blood of Christ.Publisher: Texas Bookman
Original Language: English
Book Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 1.3 inches
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