The two principal characters in A Kiss for the Leper (1922), by the French Catholic novelist Francois Mauriac—the homely Catholic boy, Jean Peloueyre, and the beautiful Catholic girl, Noemi d’Artiailh—are meant for something other than the marriage the village priest urges them to enter. Jean’s unappealing body repulses Noemi, who feels she has to marry the chap because of his wealth. (She herself is poor.)
A nominal Christian influenced up to a point by Nietzsche, Jean gradually moves toward God-given salvation and even self-sacrifice. For her part, Noemi is more than a nominal Christian; she’s the real thing, a devout Catholic. This despite what we read near the end of the opus: “Scarcely capable of genuine meditation, she entertained a faith that was largely a matter of formulae.” This hardly matters, however, and we see why as Leper concludes. Noemi is described as being “condemned to greatness.”
The only marriage these two persons ever have is an absurd one, one never consummated. The meaning here is that honorable institutions—and honorable, or at least valued, modes of living—cannot save a person or sustain him spiritually. Ergo an individual might disesteem the mode of living, which in no way means he is not a person of God or cannot become one. It is more important that Noemi is condemned to greatness than that she is condemned to a particular marriage. The same is true, I think, of Jean. . . There is in this brief novel splendid writing and peculiar hope.
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