Such Is My Beloved
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Such Is My Beloved takes place in a city experiencing the economic hardships of the Great Depression. The main character is Father Stephen Dowling, a young, exuberant priest searching for the meaning of God's love. Dowling decides to try to help two young prostitutes, Ronnie and Midge, turn their lives around. The priest goes to great lengths to try to help them, such as giving them money and clothes, while trying to find them jobs. As the story progresses, Dowling becomes increasingly involved in the girls’ lives. He exhibits agape for the prostitutes and does everything he can to help them redeem their lives. His relationship with the prostitutes is condemned by his rich, self-righteous parishioners and his bishop. In the end, the girls are arrested for prostitution and sent away. Dowling feels that he has failed the girls and becomes grief-stricken. His anguish over the girls’ fate causes him to lose his sanity and subsequently he is removed from the church and sent away to an insane asylum. In the end, Dowling has a beautiful moment of clarity in which he sacrifices his own sanity to God to spare the girls’ souls. The novel closes on his realization of the purely Christian love he bears for Ronnie, Midge and for all of humanity.
Such Is My Beloved is set in a modern city (easily identifiable as Toronto) in Canada during the Great Depression. It is set in a generic society so that the reader does not get caught up in the location, but rather focuses on the story and characters. The setting is bland so that the social problems in the novel are more readily recognized and are easily contrasted. The major turning points in the novel occur in two locations, the hotel room where Ronnie and Midge live in the inner city, and the cathedral where Dowling encounters the Bishop. Such Is My Beloved begins in the winter, and ends in the springtime. Because it is set in the 1930s during the Great Depression, the city in which the novel takes place seems slightly run down and a bit dingy, but is for the most part a decent place to live. Where the hard times are most evident is in the downtown, where Ronnie and Midge live and poverty is readily recognized by the reader. The setting also functions to create an atmosphere of sympathy for the girls, and is often used to overshadow that they are prostitutes, but because times are hard, what they do to earn an income is eventually accepted by the reader.
This novel can be seen as a religious allegory, by placing certain characters in the shoes of Jesus, Judas, and Mary Magdalene. Like Jesus, Dowling sacrifices himself to save the souls of the people. Dowling saves Ronnie and Midge, and in doing so sacrifices his sanity. The setting of the novel also correlates with the life of Jesus, as the story begins in winter near Christmas and ends in the spring, coinciding with Easter.
Father Stephen Dowling Dowling is young, white faced, and enthusiastic. The white face symbolizes his innocence and his innocence mixed with his enthusiasm makes him quite naïve in serving in his parish, especially with visiting the prostitutes. “Father Dowling had preached a sermon on the inevitable separation between Christianity and the bourgeois world, and he spoke with a fierce warm conviction, standing in the pulpit and shaking his fist while his smooth black hair waved back from his wide white forehead and his cheeks were flushed from his glowing enthusiasm.” (p. 7) With his enthusiasm and conviction to serving God, he parallels with Jesus in that Jesus was also passionate with obeying and serving. He taught with conviction and passion no matter what the people thought. He rebuked the Pharisees in the temple when they allowed the money changers to sell goods in the house of God. Father Dowling sacrificed his sanity for the good will of the prostitutes, Midge and Ronnie, to help them to improve their life. Jesus was the prototype of this sacrifice in that he sacrificed his life to save his people. Both were willing to give up their lives to better the lives of their followers.
Ronnie Veronica 'Ronnie' Olsen is a tall, thin, fair haired lady. She is a prostitute and lives in a hotel room with Midge, another prostitute. “She ran to the gas stove at the end of the room, lit the gas, took the coffee pot down from the shelf and began to work busily like a contented housewife in her own kitchen.” (p. 34) Ronnie parallels with Martha in the bible. “Martha served Jesus when he visited. ‘But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.’” (Luke 10:40) Ronnie is more confident in what she believes and how she acts, and it takes a while for Dowling to make an impression on her.
Midge Catherine 'Midge' Bourassa is heavier set, shorter, smooth soft skin, dark brown eyes, and bunch of black hair at the nape of her neck. Also a prostitute, Midge lives with Ronnie behind the white door in the hotel. Midge is unlike Ronnie in that she is impressionable and welcomes Dowling. It is still quite hard for Dowling to convert her to his beliefs though, because she is influenced by Ronnie. Midge listens to Father Dowling like Mary did when Jesus visited them.
Mr. Robison Mr. Robison is a strong influential man in the church parish. He is big, handsome and white haired, with a florid face. Robison wears an opera coat with silk lining, a high silk hat, and carries a silver headed cane. He is like Judas Iscariot because he betrays Dowling, like Judas betrayed Jesus. “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders.” (Matthew 27:3)
Mrs. Robison Robison's wife, a hypocritical woman, condemns Dowling and his actions. She is disapproving of the girls and believes that they don't deserve the church's help.
The Bishop The Bishop is the leader in the church. He has huge, dark, solemn face, swift moving eyes, and double chin. The Bishop parallels with the leader Pontius Pilate in that they both condemn the innocent. Pontius Pilate allows for Jesus to be crucified. “But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.” (Matthew 27:26) Jesus was innocent like Dowling and both were condemned.
Father Anglin Anglin is another priest in Dowling's church. He parallels with the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He has a lack of faith and tries to cover it up by appearing good and holy by standing in Dowling's way of doing good. The Pharisees and Sadducees were trying to appear holy by standing in Jesus’ way of doing good deeds and helping his people.
Charlie Stewart Stewart is a young friend of Dowling's. He is a medical student and an atheist, but enjoys Dowling's company. They often discussed aspects of society and social issues. Charlie is the first person Dowling approaches when asking for money to help Ronnie and Midge.
Lou Lou is Midge and Ronnie's pimp. He dislikes Father Dowling because he thinks he is taking his girls away from him. He was kicked out of his home and his relationship with his family is very strained. He is closer to Ronnie than Midge because they instantly clicked.
Themes, motifs, and symbols in Such Is My Beloved
Religious hypocrisy is evident throughout the novel. It is most readily identifiable when analyzing the characters. Anglin, the Bishop, and the Robisons are the major religious hypocrites in the story. When Dowling approaches both Anglin and the Robisons to ask for their assistance in helping Ronnie and Midge, they not only deny his request, but condemn him for his actions. They think that he should not be bothering trying to enlighten the two prostitutes, and believe it is improper for a priest to be dealing with them in such a manner. What Dowling is doing is perceived as a cultural taboo and is frowned upon by the community, the parishioners, and the rest of the clergy in the area.
Light and Dark Imagery
Light and dark imagery runs rampant in Such Is My Beloved, and is used to help describe characters and setting. Many of Dowling's charitable acts and religious insights happen in the light, while many of the bad situations or anything taboo occurs in the dark. This imagery is most noticeable when Dowling visits Ronnie and Midge for the first time. The hotel in which they live is described as a small, dark, dingy place. Conversely, Ronnie and Midge's hotel room door is a faded gray-white color. This shows their fading innocence, but also displays that there is still hope, and Dowling might be able to save them from this dark place of disrepute.
Love and lust
There are many forms of love in the novel. Agape, philia, and eros are all evident in Such Is My Beloved. Agape is present in Dowling's love for Ronnie and Midge, as well as for the rest of his parish. Philia is exhibited by Anglin and the Bishop towards Dowling, and is also present in the feeling towards Dowling and the rest of the clergy by the parishioners. Eros is also present in the story, evidenced by Ronnie and Midge's physical love towards their customers and is a direct result of their lives as prostitutes.