THIS SHORT BIOGRAPHY of Thérèse of Lisieux is one of the creepiest books I have read in years. But that is not really the saint's fault. The nineteenth-century French Catholicism that produced her was itselfcreepy: paranoid, death-obsessed, puritanical and decadent. Some priests refused to give Communion to any young woman who had been known to take part in a waltz, a dance in which they detected impure overtones; yet the mass piety of the era reeked of sublimated sexuality and violence. The spirituality of St Thérèse (1873-97) represents the apotheosis of this tradition.Thérèse imagined herself as a 'victim of holocaust', falling headlong into the flaming heart of Christ, or as a weak little bird waiting to become the prey of Jesus the divine eagle. These florid metaphors held enormous appeal for Catholics, who felt threatened by secularism; add to this the image of a pretty young nun wasting away from consumption like a romantic heroine, and we can begin to understand why her cult became the most powerfid of the early twentieth century.
Kathryn Harrison is an American novelist, whose memoir The Kiss described her sexual relationship with her father. It is an odd sort of CV, and at first I was worried that it was a recipe for the sort of clunking Thérèse: Freudianism which, though it has long since gone out