, Volume 97, Issue 4, pp 653-662
Date: 04 Nov 2012

The Palimpsest of Suffering: Léon Bloy’s Le Désespéré

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Foremost among the reactionary Catholics writing in France in the fin de siècle, Léon Bloy regarded literature as an instrument of the Apocalypse. Inspired by the 1846 apparition of the Virgin Mary at La Salette, Bloy had been convinced by the Virgin’s message that, unless the wicked reformed and the people observed the Sabbath, the end time would come and engulf Christendom in fire. Along with J.-K. Huysmans, Bloy subscribed to a belief in Dolorism, a doctrine affirming the sanctity of suffering, holding that through mystic substitution, the martyrdom of innocents could redeem the transgressions of the guilty. Bloy counted himself among the wretched who continued the work of the Passion and whose suffering could liquidate the debt of sin accumulated over centuries and thereby hasten the Messiah’s return. While Bloy’s eschatological fiction indicts a Savior slow to rescue the poor and misbegotten, it also aims to elucidate the divine message that time has garbled. While human history is a record of depravity and sacrilege, Bloy proposes his own text as a correction, removing an overlay of blasphemy and accomplishing the apocalyptic task of uncovering as Revelation. This is the hermeneutic principle of Le Désespéré, Bloy’s parable of human misery: to disclose the occult truths concealed in this “palimpseste de douleur.”