The Married Priest


Le Prêtre Marié (The Married Priest), René Magritte, 1951

 
 

La Valse Hésitation (1950)

 
 

Souvenir de voyage (1961)

The apple with a mask became a series of paintings later titled, The Married Priest (around from 1950 to 1961). Eroticism, understood both in light of the Marquis de Sade and Sigmund Freud, was fundamentally important to the Surrealists.

 
 

Jules Amédée Barbey D’Aurevilly (1808-1889), an autor forgotten by many, was a French novelisy and a short story writer known by Les Diaboliques (The She-Devils). As a young man, he was a liberal and an atheist, and his early writings present religion as something that meddles in human affairs only to complicate and pervert matters. In the early 1840s, however, he began to frequent the Catholic and legitimist salon of Baroness Amaury de Maistre, niece of Joseph de Maistre. In 1846 he converted to Roman Catholicism.

A Married Priest had first appeared in 1864. He was revered by the decadents of the late nineteenth century and had a decisive influence on writers like Henry James and Marcel Proust.

While seemingly opposed themes from Catholicism, Marquis de Sade and dandyism appear interwoven in his texts, like many of his free thinking contemporaries he takes a stance against the usefulness of his age (or the utilitarianism of the bourgeois world-order) and sees Christian inspiration in one of the leading principles of modernity, laicism.

A Married Priest, D’Aurevilly’s “most forgotten work”, is the story of a rebellious priest, Sombreval, who reneges on his priesthood and gets married because he ceases to believe (marriage becomes, for him, a way of protestation). D’Aurevilly does not present the interior life of his main character; instead the reader is faced with a strong, sovereign, Promethean man who in many aspects symbolizes an ideal of the positivist century and its revolt against God. From his marriage Sombreval has a daughter, Calixte, a sublime beauty afflicted with maladies. The father-daughter bond is very strong, and a rumor of incest spreads, reinforced by Calixte’s refusal of the young Nöel, To protect his daughter from slander, Sombreval decides to separate from her and goes back to the Church. Calixte comes back to life and marries Nöel. Sombreval is now an impostor priest who does not believe in his own truth. Finally Calixte dies in a cataleptic crisis of vision, dragging her father along.

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