A Plea in Favour of Guilt
Abstract: A Guilty Conscience and/as Spiritual Experience in Literature The notion of confessional literature as we know it today seems to have begun with the publication of Robert Lowell’s autobiographical Life Studies (1959) and other works of the same period (especially those by John Berryman). But “confessional” need not merely mean extremely personal, intimate or emotional, but is also linked to the notion of guilt (one remembers too that Lowell had been a practising Catholic). How does an author go about representing guilt, and more specifically the guilt of a religiously-informed conscience? In this paper I intend to examine how various authors have tackled the theme of guilt over time, with a special emphasis on recent or living authors. Thus I will briefly attempt to set out the background to the topic with reference to, among others, the Scriptures, Saint Augustine and George Herbert, before looking at works by Graham Greene and Geoffrey Hill, and finally focusing on the heart of the matter as regards this paper: American novelist Ron Hansen’s most recent novel, A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion (2011), in which the commission of crime and adultery engenders specifically religious guilt. In this respect, one only has to compare, say, James M. Cain’s treatment of the same data – the details behind the scandalous real-life case of 1927 which was called the trial of the century – in Double Indemnity (1943), to appreciate Hansen’s originality. The overall aim of the paper is to show how fruitful a faith-informed...
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