French novelist, Julien Green's reading of Hopkins is, in fact, a reading of his own preoccupations as a person and as a writer. What Green highlights in his reading of Hopkins poetry can be seen to be a mirror of his own deepest concerns.
Julien Green is perhaps best known to the general reader as the first non-French national to have been elected to the Académie française in 1971 where he succeeded François Mauriac. Born in Paris in 1900 of American Protestant parents, his mother being from Savannah, his father from Virginia, Green has always cherished his American nationality. His early years were nourished by his mother's stories of the American Civil War, the Secession and the sense of belonging to the Sud (South). His mother's stories, which were to have a profound effect on the young Green were tainted with nostalgia and melancholy because "the South had lost the war". Green grew up in Paris with the feeling of being an expatriate surrounded by French people who have never heard of the Secession. There was the constant feeling of belonging to a nation which no longer existed. We note also the surprise present given to Green by his mother - a cannon ball used in the guerre de Sécession! Green formed the impression that he was being reared in a dreamlike world to such an extent that he began to wonder if the world around him was an illusion. The sense of nostalgia for a lost fatherland was to remain an undercurrent in Green's work and has reached its apogee in recent years with the publication of the trilogy Les pays lointains, Les Etoiles du Sud and Dixie. These novels are partly based on the reminiscences recounted by his mother but also contain a rich authentic well researched historical background shaped by the imagination and vision of the novelist. Regarding the disparate elements in his family origins, Green proposes the following formula: 1/4 Irish (his maternal grandmother was from Derry) + 1/4 Scottish + 1/2 English = 1 American! Green's spiritual formation also served to isolate him from his environment. There was his mother's daily reading of the Bible to him in English ( the King James Version), the language always used between mother and son. His mother's Puritanism tainted with a negative vision of sexuality was also to have a decisive influence.A decisive period in Green's formation as a writer was his first visit to America (1919-1922). This period is described by Green in some detail in Terre Lointaine, the third volume of his autobiography . His initial reaction on arriving to study in the University of Virginia was that of enthusiasm on arriving in what he regarded as his native land. He notes in his autobiography that he was looking at Virginia through his mother's eyes. This was however gradually eclipsed by a sense of melancholy as Green inevitably discovered that the Sud for which he yearned, the pre-civil war Sud of his mother, belonged to a past era. The publication in 1993 of the volume of his Journal entitled On est si sérieux quand on a 19 ans which covers the period 1919-1924, gives us a glimpse into Green's deeper preoccupations at this time. We find him posing fundamental questions in regard to his own existence. His conversion to Catholicism was one of the factors which coloured this series of questions. Green had become a convert to Catholicism in 1916 after reading Cardinal Gibbon's Cathechism Faith of our Fathers . It is interesting to note in pasing that he took the name of Francis on this occasion in honour of his mother's admiration of St. Francis of Assisi.Green's own admiraton for the saint has led to the publication of an excellent biography. Green states that he was converted to Catholicism because, having read Gibbons' Cathechism, he discovered that religious doctrine could be presented in a coherent and credible manner and that Gibbons' presentation of Catholic doctrine convinced him. Green's literary output is characterised by its versatility. He is the author of novellas, novels, plays, biography, autobiography , correspondence and journals which run into seventeen volumes. Green has written his seventeen novels in French despite the fact that six are set in America. The novels, the first of which appeared in 1926, may be divide into four categories.The first category (1926-1928) is what critics have come to call a "trinité sombre" consisting of Mont-Cinère , Adrienne Mesurat and Léviathan which is set in America and which resembles in many ways Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher, represents that pattern followed in the next two novels in that Green explores family relationships in a claustrophobic atmosphere where individual life is stifled and the characters, prisoners of their own obsessions and marked by latent violent tendencies reflecting unfulfilled desires, can only find escape in crime or hallucination.After this first series of novels constructed in a linear movement leading to an attempt at some form of violent liberation there follows a series of novels (1931-1947) marked by a circular movement, a preoccupation with the fantastique, the invisible, the world of dreams and the supernatural in various forms. The third category (1950-1971) of Green's novels consists of Moira , Chaque homme dans sa nuit and L'autre . In this series of novels the central drama is that of the conflict between sin and grace.Having exorcised his Puritanism, we now see in Green's novels a different set of relationships with his ancestral America. The fourth category of novels (1982-1995) is dominated by the trilogy, Les Pays Lointains, Les Etoiles du Sud and Dixie . In this trilogy, Green deals with the Sud both before and during the Civil War and engages in a certain sentimental self-indulgence based on maternal reminiscence, historical research and the imagination of the novelist. The douceur de vivre of the Savannah of the 1840s is depicted. However, the dramatic intensity of the style of the previous novels is lacking and the characters are at times simply stereotypes;After this general overview of the atmosphere of Green's creative works, we now move to the main focus of this paper, Green's Journal or seventeen volumes of diairies dating from 1919 to 1997 and what he has to say about Hopkins in these volumes. This introduction has, however, been necessary because my main contention in this paper is that Green's reading of Hopkins is, in fact, a reading of himself and of his own preoccupations as a person and as a writer. What Green reads or rather highlights and singles out for comment in his reading of Hopkins can be seen to be a mirror of his own deepest concerns. An author's journal or diary consists very often of a conversation between the writer and his private self. There is usually a claim to sincerity and truthfulness on the part of the writer. Being a series of reflections, sometimes recorded at irregular intervals on disparate subjects, it is the kind of work which will rarely be read from start to finish. In many cases the journal consists of the writer's extra-literary expression of his preoccupations, an expression which, on occasions, lacks the polished form and impression of completeness conveyed in his literary works.In general, the journal could be said to consist of three kinds: the historical, the documentary and the personal. In the historical or memoir type journal the author is relating events to which he has been a witness.In the documentary journal there is a dimension of judgement on the events recounted. The personal journal is usually introspective and concerns the author's psychological and spiritual preoccupations. This form of journal has, in the French tradition, usually been called the journal intime. It is the form which poses, in many ways, the most problems for the reader. Let us take, for example, the claim to sincerity and the search for truth about oneself on the part of the writer. Is the author revealing himself in the journal or is there not a selective or editing process at work?Elements of all three categories are present in Green's Journal. However, Green's work is also a writer's Journal and we therefore find the author reflecting on the problems involved in creative writing and on particular works, both while they are being written and when they have been published. There are also numerous reflections on the works of other authors. The titles of some of the volumes are taken from poets and the style is sometimes poetic; indeed Green's poetic style was singled out for comment by Rilke after the publication of his first novel in 1926 . A great love for poetry emerges in the volumes of Green's Journal, his favourite English poets being Donne,Blake, Byron, Wordsworth, Yeats and Coleridge. He feels a particular affinity with the romantic poets, with their feeling of fear when considering their place in the world, their quasi-mystical approach, their preoccupaton with the invisible and their desire to be anywhere out of this world.In the light of Green's exceptional interest in religion and poetry, it should come as no surprise that he comments on the poetry of Hopkins in the various volumes of his Journal. We still see that in reading Hopkins, Green is a mirror through which he puts his own preoccupations into a certain perspective; indeed, when considering Green's reading of Hopkins one is reminded of the remark of the nineteenth-century critic, Sainte-Beuve, to the effect that it is oneself that one is reading in the works of other authors . This is also in line with what is now regarded as a locus classicus among modern critics, that is, that the choice of subject or author responds to a profound sense of questioning in the biographer's or critic's being. In reading, writing and revealing Hopkins, Green is in fact reading, writing and revealing himself, as we shall see.Green and Hopkins can be seen to have many points in common. Both had a deep interest in visual art and in the practice of drawing. Green's sketches of some of the characters of his earlier novels have been published . Both were converts to Catholicism and both gave some thought to joining the Benedictine order. Green gave some consideration to joining the Benedictine community on the Isle of Wight.
This was in fact the community of Solesnes which had been sent into exile when religious orders were driven out of France after the separation of Church and State in 1905. Coïncidentally, Hopkins spent a holiday with his family at Shanklin in the Isle of Wight at the beginning of August 1866, a critical period in his life as he was about to make his decision to become a Catholic. For both writers, the journey of faith and the journey of art are interlinked, both had an acute sense of sin and guilt and both kept a diary.Before embarking on the references to Hopkins in Green's Journal, let us consider the references to the poet in a preface by Green to a nouvelle by Hawthorne, L'Hôte ambitieux, which appeared in La Table Ronde in July 1952. Green states that, for Hawthorne, the external world is an image of the internal world but that Hawthorne was capable of spending an hour watching a ray of sunlight crossing the steeple of a church. In this, he compares him to Hopkins who was also capable of spending considerable time looking at a flower covered with dew with the result that the gardener considered him to be a fool; they both, according to Green, were endowed with the sense of observation and contemplation which belongs to the poet and the mystic who realise that if one looks at objects for a sufficiently long time, they eventually look at the observer and begin to talk to him or her. Hawthorne and Hopkins were capable, according to Green, of discovering a secret rapport between men's plans and the role of an incomprehensible will which dominates and modifies them. Green adds that most people tend to observe objects in a distracted and superficial manner. To be compared to Hawthorne by Green is a supreme compliment. Green regarded the discovery of Hawthorne's works as a critical moment in his life. He regarded him as a writer to whom he owed everything and described him as a role-model and brother . This reference clearly shows that Green held Hopkins in high regard. Many of Green's comments on Hopkins in the Journal centre on the theme of beauty. On November 30, 1945 , he notes that he was guiding a young man from the provinces around Paris and trying to instill in him a sense of the architectural beauty of the city. He becomes both astounded and frustrated at the young man's lack of curiosity and lack of aesthetic sense; he quotes Hopkins to the young man (Green does not tell us exactly the line or lines which he quotes) to the effect that if he looked attentively at these old buildings they would in turn look at him. Green adds that he was sincerely hoping that the young man would not ask him to explain this expression as it was, in his opinion, one of those lines which would be ruined if explained. Green also adds that the young man may not have been curious but that he had tact and did not ask the question.Green and Hopkins would concur on another aspect of beauty: the beauty of a starlit night and its evocation of the glory of God: the contemplation of a starlit night is a constant motif in Green's Journal . Descriptions of the stars at night evoke connotations of a deep mysterious happiness, of a religious feeling, of Dante's statement about the love that moves the sun and the other stars and Green's own reflection that the same God whom the solar system obeys came on earth in humble fashion to ask for our love . The beauty of a starlit sky gives us a glimpse, according to Green, of the indescribable beauty of the world as Adam must have seen it before the Fall. For Green, the starlit night is the vocabulary which God uses to enter into communication with human beings.
Quite obviously, Hopkins' poem "The Starlight Night" comes to mind. While not wanting to "force" the parallels, one cannot ignore the sense of enthusiasm common to both authors when they talk about this subject, an enthusiasm which is reflected in Hopkins' use of sixteen exclamations in fourteen lines. Just as Green evokes thoughts of the Redemption as we have seen, for Hopkins this beauty was bought back by Christ's redemption. The beauty of the stars and prayers and , the means of reaching God, are identified. The heavens themselves are but a reflection of eternal beauty. The stars are an edifice, the home of Christ and Mary. It is interesting then to note how both writers in their own way, through an enthusiastic evocation of the beauty of a starlit night arrive at the conclusion that this beauty is linked to God's redemptive love.Moving from beauty in nature to beauty in people, Green thinks of Hopkins when he contemplates the beautiful face of a marine officer . He thinks of Hopkins' questions, what is beauty for, "to what serves mortal beauty?" and why is it given to one person rather than another?
Green does not claim to have answers to these questions.On November 25, 1944, we find Green reading Eleanor Ruggles' book on Hopkins which, he says, raises questions about beauty which he was asking himself, i.e. is beauty the sign of latent spiritual perfection or the mark of a superior vocation? Green adds that a beautiful person who commits a bad action betrays something of himself whereas an ugly person who commits a bad action is simply matching the interior with the exterior. Both Green and Hopkins could be particularly hard on people whom they considered to be ugly. Soon after going to Balliol, Hopkins described to his mother the "full haggard hideousness" of his contemporary Martin Geldart. Both writers also found that casually observed faces could be strangely attractive.
When reflecting on this subject in Hopkins, Green quotes the statement of La Bruyère that a beautiful face is the most beautiful sight in the world. A person to whose physical and moral beauty they were drawn, played a significant role in each of their lives. In the case of Hopkins there was Digby Mackworth Dolben, whom he met in February 1865, and who played a significant role in his spiritual development. In the case of Green, there was his encounter with the man who he calls Mark whom he met as a student at the University of Virginia. Green records that his love for Mark was devoid of any "faute charnelle" (sin of the flesh).This encounter was to leave Green a man with a secret, a secret which would be the starting point of his novel writing, which was, he states, an effort to expurgate the love which he felt unable to communicate.The question of beauty does of course have a moral dimension for Green or, more precisely, a puritanical dimension. On November 26, 1944, Green, in his reflection on Hopkins, raises this dimension, i.e. the possibility of beauty being a moral trap leading to sins of desire. This was a major question for Green throughout his life and it constitutes the central drama of his masterpiece, Moïra, an autobiographical novel written in 1950. Green is constantly wrestling with this question. In the passage under review here he asks: "who would deny that beauty is a gift of God?", and also "does one turn one's face away from a beautiful countryside?". A similar trait can also be deciphered in Hopkins's temperament, as, for example, in his confessional notes when he accuses himself of being too much drawn to choristers or fellow undergraduates or of looking too long and admiringly at a married woman. Many years later, on January 30, 1968, Green quotes Hopkins who talks of his great admiration of physical beauty and who also says that it is a great consolation to find beauty in a friend and a friend in beauty. However, Hopkins also adds that this kind of beauty is dangerous. Having raised the question "why?", Green comments that beauty as depicted in the Angélique of Ingres and the naked war heroes of David can pose moral problems. Indeed Green traces much of his moral suffering in regard to sins of desire to his contact with certain works of art as a young boy of eight. He notes in particular his visits to the Musée du Luxembourg and the Louvre and seeing the works of Lecomte de Nouy and Doré's gravures illustrating Dante's Divine Comedy. Both works depict naked bodies writhing in suffering. Green has underlined the traumatic effect of this experience by saying that he would not have been the same person had he not seen these works of art.Another aspect of beauty which Green finds interesting in Hopkins is the ineffable character of beauty, the difficulty of expressing it in language . He finds Hopkins' language "bizarre, belle et forte"as he desperately tries to express what man has seen in some form of earthly paradise. He concludes that Hopkins seems to be trying to express something that goes beyond language. Green always displayed a great awareness of the limits of verbal communication especially in regard to its capacity to express the mystery of a person's inner life. In this context he sees music as being a superior form of art. In an entry to his Journal on January 16, 1990, he states that music expresses in sublime airs and with unparalleled inspiration what the words of a poem can never express.Another aspect of Green's fascination with language was his interest in translation. In an entry dated February 8, 1946, he notes that he has translated a short poem by Donne, one by Herbert and one by Hopkins into French. However, these translations were never published as Green was not satisfied with them. Unfortunately, he does not note the titles of the poems in question; in a lecture given in 1943 and in a book, Le Langage et son double , Green reflects on the difficulties of translation and on the respective merits of the English and French languages. He speaks of the French language as being "so poor, so beautiful and so clear": a French word being capable of having fifteen meanings, while in English there would be fifteen words. Developing the comparison, he states that English is like an elaborate picnic basket with each instrument in place, while French is like a humble scrip or beggar's pouch with a few instruments scattered en vrac. A significant example of the mirror effect or the reflection of Green's preoccupations in his reading of Hopkins can be noted in an entry to the Jounal of November 20, 1944. Here Green is talking about Hopkins' reading of the commentary of Duns Scotus on the Sentences of Peter Lombard.The passage in question, which Green sees as an explanation of his novel, Si j'étais vous , which he was writing at this time, deals with the quantitative division of matter, the materia quanta or whatness which cannot account for individuality, the Laeccitas of this particular person. Green sees Hopkins as trying to capture in a word the sense of self of which he was so vividly aware. Hopkins, who had come across the Sentences of Lombard in Stonyhurst was to describe this awareness some years later in a series of notes written in preparation for a commentary on the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Hopkins was looking for that sense of himself "more distinctive than the taste of ale or alum, more distinctive than the smell of walnutleaf or camphor ", incommunicable by any means to another man (as when I was a child I used to ask myself: what must it be like to be someone else ). Green's , Si j'étais vous is the story of a character who, having become a donjon of himself, has acquired the power to transform himself into other people in an effort to escape from himself. In the light of comments made be Melanie Klein about this novel, Green produced a later version which takes the form of a dream and which gives it more literary credibility. In his preface, Green raises the question of individuality as presented in terms of the body/soul dichotomy. He states that part of the sadness of the human condition stems from the fact that we are perpetually ourselves. He adds that creative writers and mystics achieve the sense of escaping the self. The writers escape from the self by transforming it into other characters, while the mystic achieves the capacity to forget that his self exists. This dissatisfaction with self and the desire to escape from it is a constant undercurrent in Green's works. This passage, then, is a good example of how Green highlights, in his reading of and about Hopkins, aspects which mirror his own deep preoccupations as a writer and as a person.We have seen in this paper a series of mirror effects in Green's reading of and about Hopkins. We have seen the admiration of the poet and mystic in Hopkins on the part of Green who wondered as a child if he was being reared in a dream-like world and we have seen a fascination with Hopkins's treatment of the question of identity on the part of an American born in Paris.
We have also seen a certain identification by Green, for whom religion was a supreme value, with Hopkins' vision of the beauty of nature reflecting the glory of God,while Green's puritanical background leads him to see Hopkins' preoccupations with the moral dimension of beauty as a mirror of his own moral problems in regard to this subject.