Suffering for the Novel’s Sake: Female “Mystical Substitution” in Barbey d’Aurevilly’s Un prêtre marié and Bloy’s Le Désespéré


This essay analyzes Barbey d’Aurevilly’s 1865 novel Un prêtre marié and Le Désespéré by Léon Bloy (1887) as literary case studies for the Catholic doctrine of vicarious suffering, or “mystical substitution.” In these narratives, women’s abject and self-inflicted suffering fails to obtain the desired, reparative result for the eponymous male characters. Such a failure sheds light on the paradoxical staging of a theological doctrine by Catholic novelists who appropriate women’s mystical experience in order to articulate a relation to the Divine, which eludes verbal rendering, and yet positions them as masters of souls and bodies as well as literary and spiritual leaders.

Willemijn Don
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