It puzzles me that so few of our modern fictional heroes have any religious faith. My good read over Christmas is likely to be P D James, (creator of Adam Dalgleish,) or Ruth Rendell (Chief Inspector Wexford) or more likely Donna Leon with her Commissario Brunetti set in Venice. (I picked up two I hadn’t read in a charity shop last week). All of them have an, at times, very intense nostalgia for a past world which has slipped away from them, a world which was kinder, more courteous and more ordered. Yet their attitude to religion is the unquestioning modern stereotype: that it is something we can longer believe in, that it was and is irrelevant at best and corrupt at worst.
Here is Brunetti’s wife Paola, talking of her relationship with her students at the university where she teaches English literature. Like her husband she has long since rejected the Catholic faith in which she was brought up.
‘Why is it so bad all of a sudden?’ Brunetti asked.
‘It’s not really all of a sudden. It’s more that I’ve become aware of how bad it’s become.’
‘Give me an example,’ he said.
‘Ten years ago, I could force them (her students) into accepting the fact, or at least giving lip service to the idea, that the culture that formed me, and those books and ideas that our generation grew up on – Plato, Virgil, Dante – that it was superior in some way to whatever fills their lives. Or, if not superior, then at least interesting enough to be worthy of study…. but that doesn’t happen any more. They think, or ay least they seem to think, that their culture with its noise and acquisitiveness and immediate forgettability is superior to all of our stupid ideas.
‘Like our no doubt ridiculous idea that beauty conforms to some standard or ideal; like our risible belief that we have the option to behave honourably and should take it; and like our idiotic idea that the final purpose of human existence is something more than the acquisition of wealth.’
Donna Leon – Wilful Behaviour – p.68 (Arrow Books 2003)