The Little Flower and James Joyce - what do they have in common?


I was rather hoping that the Little Flower's writing style would be more that of Jane Austen, but when I put this section from The Story of a Soul into the 'I Write Like' soft-ware analysis, it came up with James Joyce.
'Jesus set before me the book of nature. I understand how all the flowers God has created are beautiful, how the splendour of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not take away the perfume of the violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy. I understand that if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wild flowers. So it is in the world of souls, Jesus' garden. He has created smaller ones and those must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God's glances when He looks down at His feet. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be.'
The above extract demonstrates how she came to be known as the Little Flower, and apparently, her way of writing is most similar to the famous author James Joyce.
I'll stress that maybe it's only their writing style that the Little Flower and James Joyce have in common. The Little Flower's life pre-dates James Joyce's literary career.  It seems almost a crude gag to put them both side-by-side; on one hand the hard-drinking, original lapsed Catholic author alongside the pure and innocent Therese. Yet, love him or loathe him, James Joyce's writing style is renowned as revolutionary - he's credited with having first 'invented' and perfected the stream of consciousness literary 'technique'. This method would  inspire a whole school of authors including Britain’s Virginia Wolfe and the US’s Saul Bellow. Joyce's idea was that presenting the innermost thoughts of a character, instead of fancy plot lines was the heart of a work of fiction and that truly revealing the workings of the mind was the best way to illuminate the soul.

St. Therese, however, was not influenced by Joyce in the least, but  The Story of a Soul is also a ‘revolutionary’, ground-breaking work. In The Story of a Soul, St. Therese of Lisieux, shows her personal faith journey, and instead of a jazzy, suspense filled narrative, she gives her stream of consciousness explaining why she came to be happy that she isn’t a grand flower, but a ‘little flower’. We get to know Therese by the pattern of her thoughts and soul-searching reflections. We know Joyce’s characters – their ugly, pock-marked, struggling lives by their contemplation.
Many complain of Joyce’s works that there is no ending or beginning, that the characters’ thoughts tell uneven stories and just as there is no end to thought, there is no end to their histories. Joyce was dedicated to never giving a conclusion to the schemes in his books. The reader has to ‘take over’ and conjecture as to what becomes of the characters in Joyce’s works.
So too with St. Therese’s book – there is no ending to The Story of a Soul, instead we are invited to inherit her spiritual existence – in this life and the next. We – ourselves –  our lives may become the continuation of St. Therese’s route to personal sanctity. The collection of her thoughts on faith came to be known as ‘the little way’, and this has stirred the consciences of generations of Catholics and will be an essential compass for ages hence.
She has promised to spend her Heaven ‘doing good on earth’. In our prayerful thoughts, we may beseech the Little Flower to help us, and true to her word, she is a saint of wondrous miracles. The great debt that we owe to St. Therese was that she was humble enough to make known her deepest thoughts on how she understood her vocation, doing God’s will in the tiniest of ways, and how she would save her soul. By showing her thoughts so clearly and purely, she allowed us to learn a very instinctive way in which we and the millions of future children-of-faith may follow her.

Comments

  1. Brilliant post! Therese famously said that "all is grace", and I like to think that, in the midst of the mess they made of their lives, the great lapsed Catholic novelists like James Joyce and Graham Greene were granted (maybe through the prayers of Therese) the grace they needed to make it into Purgatory.

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  2. I love reading anything about "Tessie Martin". If I were a betting man, which I am not, I would bet that her autobiography, heavily edited by her Sister, Sister Agnes, will far outsell and have greater influence than anything by Joyce. It is not for nothing that she is a Doctor of the Church. Her "Little Way" can be understood and practised by anybody.
    Great post. Thank you.

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