(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The opening sequence of Joy of Man’s Desiring quickly establishes man’s relationship with the earth, a sense of being pervaded by all of nature. Jourdan, a farmer, finds himself inexplicably restless one late winter night: The night is virtually alive, pulsing with creation. Into this animate darkness Jourdan takes his horse and plow and begins to turn over the land. He is proceeding row by row when he sees a stranger standing on a hill, set against the stars.

Calling himself Bobi, the stranger strikes up a conversation with Jourdan as naturally as if the two men have known each other all of their lives. Strangely drawn to Bobi, Jourdan invites him back to the house, where Marthe, Jourdan’s wife, prepares breakfast; the three talk cryptically about happiness and the living earth. Bobi has already broached the idea of turning over part of Jourdan’s farm to wildflowers.

Later, Bobi and Jourdan set out on a visit to the neighboring farms. Like Jourdan, the farmers accept Bobi at once; though he is often laconic, strangely distant, he is at the same time as natural with them as are the members of their own family. He soon becomes part of the Gremone community, a sage, gentle man with an inexpressible fund of loneliness.

Bobi’s influence on the community, and on Jourdan and Marthe particularly, awakens a sense of joy among them. Bobi convinces Jourdan that the wheat Jourdan is storing could better be given to the birds—as a sort of first step in the cure of the leprosy of unhappiness which afflicts all men. In a major scene closing the first part of the novel, Jourdan and Marthe pile up a great amount of wheat, and birds...

(The entire section is 683 words.)