Léon Bloy

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Léon Bloy
Leon Bloy 1887.jpg
Bloy in 1887
Born(1846-07-11)11 July 1846
Notre-Dame-de-Sanilhac, Kingdom of France
Died3 November 1917(1917-11-03) (aged 71)
Bourg-la-Reine, French Republic
  • Novelist
  • essayist
  • poet

Léon Bloy (11 July 1846 – 3 November 1917) was a French novelist, essayist, pamphleteer, and poet, known additionally for his eventual, passionate defense of Roman Catholicism and influence within French Catholic circles.



Bloy was born on 11 July 1846 in Notre-Dame-de-Sanilhac, in the arondissement of Périgueux, Dordogne. He was the second of six sons of Jean-Baptiste Bloy, a Voltairean freethinker, and Anne-Marie Carreau, a stern disciplinarian and pious Spanish-Catholic daughter of a Napoleonic soldier. [1] After an agnostic and unhappy youth [2] in which he cultivated an intense hatred for the Roman Catholic Church and its teaching, [1] his father found him a job in Paris, where he went in 1864. In December 1868, he met the aging Catholic author Barbey d'Aurevilly, who lived opposite him in rue Rousselet and who became his mentor. Shortly afterwards, he underwent a dramatic religious conversion.

Bloy was a friend of the author Joris-Karl Huysmans, the painter Georges Rouault, the philosophers Jacques and Raïssa Maritain [3] and was instrumental in reconciling these intellectuals with Roman Catholicism. However, he acquired a reputation for bigotry because of his frequent outbursts of temper. For example, in 1885, after the death of Victor Hugo, whom Bloy believed to be an atheist, Bloy decried Hugo's "senility", "avarice", and "hypocrisy", identifying Hugo among "contemplatives of biological scum." [4] [5] Bloy's first novel, Le Désespéré, a fierce attack on rationalism and those he believed to be in league with it, made him fall out with the literary community of his time and even many of his old friends. Soon, Bloy could count such prestigious authors as Émile Zola, Guy de Maupassant, Ernest Renan, and Anatole France as his enemies. [3]

In addition to his published works, he left a large body of correspondence with public and literary figures. He died on 3 November 1917 in Bourg-la-Reine.


Bloy was noted for personal attacks, but he saw them as the mercy or indignation of God. According to Jacques Maritain, he used to say: "My anger is the effervescence of my pity." [6]

Among the many targets of Bloy's attacks were people of business. In an essay in Pilgrim of the Absolute, he compared the businessmen of Chicago unfavourably to the cultured people of Paris:

"In Paris you have the Saint Chapelle and the Louvre, true enough, but we in Chicago kill eighty thousand hogs a day!..." The man who says that is in truth a business man.

Léon Bloy, "Les Affaires Sont Les Affaires" ("Business Is Business") in "The Wisdom of the Bourgeois", part of Pilgrim of the Absolute. [7]

Our Lady of La Salette

Inspired by both the millennialist visionary Eugène Vintras  [ fr; ru ] and the reports of an apparition at La Salette—Our Lady of La Salette—Bloy was convinced that the Virgin's message was that if people did not reform, the end time was imminent. [8] He was particularly critical of the attention paid to the shrine at Lourdes and resented the fact that it distracted people from what he saw as the less sentimental message of La Salette. [9]


Bloy is quoted in the epigraph at the beginning of Graham Greene's novel The End of the Affair, though Greene claimed that "this irate man lacked creative instinct". [10] He is further quoted in the essay "The Mirror of Enigmas" by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who acknowledged his debt to him by naming him in the foreword to his short story collection "Artifices" as one of seven authors who were in "the heterogeneous list of the writers I am continually re-reading". In his novel The Harp and the Shadow, Alejo Carpentier excoriates Bloy as a raving, Columbus-defending lunatic during Vatican deliberations over the explorer's canonization. Bloy is also quoted at the beginning of John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany , and there are several quotations from his Letters to my Fiancée in Charles Williams's anthology The New Christian Year. [11] Le Désespéré was republished in 2005 by Éditions Underbahn with a preface by Maurice G. Dantec.[ citation needed ] In Chile historian Jaime Eyzaguirre came to be influenced by Bloy's writings. [12]

According to the historian John Connelly, Bloy's Le Salut par les Juifs, with its apocalyptically radical interpretation of chapters 9 to 11 of Paul's Letter to the Romans, had a major influence on the Catholic theologians of the Second Vatican Council responsible for section 4 of the council's declaration Nostra aetate , the doctrinal basis for a revolutionary change in the Catholic Church's attitude to Judaism. [13]

In 2013, Pope Francis surprised many by quoting Bloy during his first homily as pope. [3]

Bloy and his effect on 21st-century French scholars make a significant appearance in Michel Houellebecq's 2015 novel Submission .




Short stories


A study in English is Léon Bloy by Rayner Heppenstall (Cambridge: Bowes & Bowes, 1953).


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  1. 1 2 Alter-Gilbert, Gilbert (9 December 2008). "Léon Bloy: Pilgrim of the Absolute".
  2. Sheed, F.J. (1940). Sidelights on the Catholic Revival. New York: Sheed and Ward. p. 181.
  3. 1 2 3 Bermudez, Alejandro (15 March 2013). "A Pope Who Quotes Bloy". Catholic News Agency . Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  4. Robb, Graham (1997). Victor Hugo. London: Picador. p. 533. ISBN   9780393318999.
  5. Bloy 1947, p. 82.
  6. Bloy 1947, pp. 11, 13.
  7. Bloy 1947, p. 132.
  8. Ziegler, Robert (October 2013). "The Palimpsest of Suffering: Léon Bloy's Le Désespéré". Neophilologus . 97 (4): 653–662. doi:10.1007/s11061-012-9337-x.
  9. Kaufmann, Suzanne K. (2005). Consuming Visions: Mass Culture and the Lourdes Shrine. Cornell University Press. p. 86. ISBN   9780801442483.
  10. Reinhardt, Kurt F. The Theological Novel of Modern Europe. New York, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1969, pp 86
  11. "Quotations from Léon Bloy in "Charles Williams: The New Christian Year"". 1 November 2007. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  12. "Jaime Eyzaguirre (1908–1968)". Memoria Chilena (in Spanish). Biblioteca Nacional de Chile . Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  13. Connelly, John (2012). From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933–1965. Harvard University Press.
  14. "Sur la Tombe de Huysmans" is available via Bibliothèque nationale de France.
  15. Auden, W.H.; Kronenberger, Louis (1966). The Viking Book of Aphorisms. New York: Viking Press.
  16. Kreeft, Peter (2001). Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church . Ignatius Press.
  17. http://passerelles.bnf.fr/lire/eiffel_04.php