Review: The Lonely Passion of


Review: The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne

This first novel of Brian Moore is said to be a masterpiece of the Catholic Novel. If by that we mean a masterpiece of the tortured religious consciousness constantly at odds with the world around it through no circumstances of its own, I suppose there is a certain amount of truth to the statement.

Strangely, this book has elements of many another Catholic Novel. In this case, the novel is set in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The mechanism of Ms. Hearne's trial is, not surprisingly, alcoholism and something reminiscent of delirium tremens. The first three-quarters of the book are spent given us sufficient background to support the "passion" at the end of the book. Miss Hearne resembles at a distance the whiskey priest from The Power and the Glory, but more than anything else, this book reminds one of Endo's Silence in mood and, to some extent, resolution.

Miss Hearne is a middle-aged, plain spinster (although played in the film by the redoubtable Maggie Smith, who is anything BUT plain) who has squandered her youth in the care of an aged Aunt who ultimately leaves her with very little to live on and virtually no relationships to support. The novel starts as we watch Miss Hearne unpack her trunk in a new bed-sitting-room and carefully place the photography of her aunt and a picture of the Sacred Heart. In a gradual peeling of layers we have a "romance" for Miss Hearne from an older man who has returned from the states as a result of an accident. He "romances" Miss Hearne because he believes she has money to invest in a business venture he is contemplating in Dublin. She mistakes this for romantic overtures, and thus we have the set-up, which, when it collapses precipitates Miss Hearne's crisis.

Now, the crisis. Miss Hearne appears to go on something like a three or four day binge, takes all of her money out of the bank, and spend it staying at the Plaza Hotel. Due to the collapse of this romance (among other things--this is simply the straw that broke the camel's back), she has concluded that there is no God, and that the bread of the Eucharist is merely that. After barging in drunk to a priest's residence and asking him about the real presence and getting nothing like a satisfactory answer, she stops her taxi on the way home and goes in to assault the tabernacle. This gets her thrown into a convalescent home where the passion and crisis meet resolution.

The book has sharp-edged portrayals, and throughout is completely believable. Miss Hearne and all of those who surround her are real people. There are very few present who represent Christianity at its best, but the one, whom Ms. Hearne is certain she has lost as a friend because she has been regarded as a Charity case, is the mechanism of Ms. Hearne's questionable redemption.

There is a certain variety of the Catholic Novel that is completely bound up in the idea of crisis of faith, and this novel is exemplary of that strain. It is not a favorite of mine, though I suppose it is to some extent necessary to portray some dramatic tension. I prefer the strain of Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor where the tension comes not so much from questions about whether or not there is a God, but the realization of His action in the world. In some sense, there is a strain of this in The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. While she claims not to believe, what she is struggling with is the ineluctable Silence that Endo treats so profoundly.

In the final analysis a novel well worth reading, and particularly good as the investment of time is minimal. The whole crisis plays itself out in a little over two-hundred pages. I've noted that the really great Catholic Novels (with the exception of those of Walker Percy) tend to be quite short. As they tend to be focused on a single point, this is all to the good. One could not bear too much of the company of Miss Hearne as sad and as touching as her story may be, she doesn't make for pleasant company.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 29, 2002 7:46 AM.

Avoiding Hypocrisy Found via More was the previous entry in this blog.

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