Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 544

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Writing always somewhat outside the mainstream of French (and American) fiction, Julien Green managed literally to survive most of his contemporaries, remaining active as a writer and granting frequent interviews well into his nineties. In Green’s case, the happy accidents of longevity and sustained productivity assured a continued interest in his work, including those novels published near the start of his career. The Dark Journey was the third of Green’s novels to be published while the author was still in his twenties. His early novels are marked by a sureness of touch rare for an author of that age, especially in the creation and delineation of his characters. Green’s characters impose themselves on the reader, drawing him or her deeply into a threatening reality that lurks just beneath the surface of everyday life. Thus do Guéret’s yearnings, harmless enough at the start, pass quickly into obsession, violence, and murder.

Using shifting viewpoints, although always narrating in the third person, Green shows society as a potential danger zone of conflicting preoccupations and obsessions. Like some of the most memorable characters in Honoré de Balzac’s multivolume La Comédie humaine (1829-1848; The Human Comedy, 1895-1896, 1911), written a century earlier, many of Green’s characters tend to be monomaniacs, motivated by a single overriding passion. Unlike Balzac, however, Green presents his characters in inevitable conflict rather than in isolation, showing the society portrayed to be more menacing than entertaining. As Glenn S. Burne points out in his major survey of Green’s work, of all the characters’ preoccupations, Guéret’s obsession with sex and love is, in a sense, the most normal. Like many of Green’s featured characters, however, Guéret proves hopelessly inarticulate, unable to communicate with Angèle or anyone else, perhaps because his lack of attractiveness, even if only self-perceived, has hampered his social development.

In the hands of another writer, a character such as Guéret might prove comic or even sympathetic; as portrayed by Green, however, Guéret becomes and remains a danger both to himself and to others. Likewise, Madame Londe, whose peculiar lust for power might emerge as laughable in another context, poses dangers of which she herself might well be unaware. As Burne observes, the traditional concept of fate looms large in The Dark Journey, often invoked or blamed by the characters themselves as they proceed to their doom. No doubt the characters’ extreme self-centeredness has much to do with their fates; were any of them less self-absorbed, they might well find time to understand one another.

Although it precedes by at least a decade the more religious and mystical phases of Green’s career as a novelist, The Dark Journey in many ways invites comparison with certain novels of François Mauriac, a frankly religious and Roman Catholic novelist in whose dark narratives God is most often revealed by his absence; in other words, the misadventures of Mauriac’s characters, in the author’s view, might well prepare them for the revelation or discovery of God. For the haunted, driven characters of The Dark Journey, however, no such revelation seems possible or even imaginable. The unrelieved bleakness of the moral and emotional landscape invites the reader to consider other options.