God and Satan as Fantastic Characters in the Modern Novel
This paper examines the rhetorical function of a fantastic episode in Georges Bernanos’ novel Under Satan’s Sun (1926): a young priest’s terrible combat against Satan in the shape of a horse dealer; God himself is also present, invisible, but definitely there. The popular fantastic genre may seem out of place in a novel belonging to the serious combat literature of the Catholic Revival, and the direct representation of the supernatural is also surprising because previous Catholic Revival novelists, such as Léon Bloy and Karl-Joris Huysmans, maintain a realistic, non-magical world and deal with God and Satan in the form of discourse as theological concepts and spiritual phenomena which can be talked or thought about by narrators or characters, but which are never represented directly. This paper demonstrates that in spite of these departures from the conventions of the genre, the fantastic Satan episode in Under Satan’s Sun is neither a break with the seriousness nor with the realism of the Catholic novel. On the basis of Tvetan Todorov’s definition of the traditional fantastic tale, the analysis shows that only the beginning of the fantastic episode follows Todorov’s definition and that Bernanos invents a new fantastic mode which is simultaneously Christian and realistic. I argue that Bernanos’ fantastic mode is a rhetorical strategy addressed to modern readers. In the secular world of the 1920s the novelist can no longer presuppose reader responsiveness to theological language and the aesthetic of the fantastic is more suitable for the purpose of persuading modern readers to accept the religious theme than the dogmatic language of the traditional Catholic novel.