Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The principal theme of The Comforters is expressed in a conversation between Caroline and the Baron late in the novel.“Is the world a lunatic asylum then? Are we all courteous maniacs discreetly making allowances for everyone else’s derangement?” “Largely,” said the Baron. “I resist the proposition,” Caroline said. “That is an intolerant attitude.” “It’s the only alternative to demonstrating the proposition,” Caroline said.

The novel offers only these two extreme choices. Caroline accepts the mystery of her existence as a character in the Typing Ghost’s novel in order to resist the proposition of her own insanity. Hers is an acceptance of personal suffering analogous to that of the Christian in the modern world. As Caroline puts it, “the demands of the Christian religion are exorbitant, they are outrageous,” and yet for the Christian, the Church is nevertheless “true.”

A second theme involves a redefinition of narrative form. When asked about her book, Form in the Modern Novel, Caroline says she is “having difficulty with the chapter on realism.” Readers of The Comforters may have a similar difficulty with realism, for they are asked to accept the paradox that Caroline is both a character in and an author of the book. Rather than “realistic,” Spark’s novel is “modern”: It represents a break with traditional narrative forms and techniques. Yet it does not present the world of loss and despair so often associated with modern literature.

Perhaps The Comforters is best viewed as a modern treatment of the theme of the Book of Job. Like Job, Caroline Rose is being tested by an outside agency. The arguments of her comforters, like those of Job, are based on logic yet are faulty. Finally, like Job, Caroline’s suffering leads her to accept the inexplicable and mysterious as the ultimate reality.