2017-07-12
"Little Saint" is proof that the genre of hagiography, for 1,000 years the most important non-Scriptural literature in the West, is alive and well.

Or alive, anyway. For this celebration of Sainte Foy, born in 290 and martyred at age 12 for refusing to renounce Christianity before the Emperor Diocletian, while loving and at times beautifully elegiac, cannot overcome the inherent limitations of its project: As Milton realized, evil is fun, but good quickly grows tiresome.

In the early 1970s, Green and her husband began vacationing in the small French village of Conques, home of Sainte Foy and her cult. Though a Protestant, Green grew fascinated by the legend of this child, who not only died heroically but was betrayed to the authorities by her own father. Green learned French well enough to translate the literary sources of Sainte Foy's legend, and she sprinkles the book with liberal excerpts from these writers, especially Bernard of Angers. She also befriended an elderly priest and several other eccentric characters who shared her love of the child. Green's book is thus part compendium of legend, part travelogue, and part memoir.

What yokes the various chapters together is that they all glorify Sainte Foy. By the end of the book, the reader, too, adores Sainte Foy, but has wearied of the book. It is, after all, unstinting praise, heaped upon itself, with nothing to produce dramatic tension, conflict, or resolution. The book is thus charming at times, tedious at last.

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