Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 623
The action of Such Is My Beloved is deceptively simple. Father Stephen Dowling, an eager and intense young priest, becomes inexplicably drawn to and involved with two young streetwalkers, Veronica (Ronnie) Olsen and Catherine (Midge) Bourassa, in Toronto during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Indeed, his involvement with the women constitutes the sole action of the novel. Father Dowling meets them on the street when they approach him on a cold winter day when he has his scarf around his neck, hiding his clerical collar. Although he is reluctant to go to their rooms, he convinces himself that they need his love as much as anyone else in his parish. The rest of the novel develops as a result of this initial misunderstanding by the girls and this initial hesitancy by the priest. The structure of the work hovers uneasily between the notions of secular and sacred love as Father Dowling moves back and forth between the Cathedral and the bawdy house, never really sure himself whether his love for the two girls is fleshly or divine.
The reader is never really sure either, for the novel sets up the expectations of a plot in which a priest is seduced by his fleshly needs, but then it defeats this expectation by continually deferring the reader’s decision about the nature of Father Dowling’s love. The secular characters in the novel, Lou Wilenski (Ronnie’s lover) and Henry C. Baer, the hotelkeeper, are firmly convinced that the priest is only after sex. Charlie Stewart, Father Dowling’s Marxist friend, sees the issue only as a social, not a religious, problem, while James Robison, Father Dowling’s wealthy parishioner, is concerned only with the more limited social difficulty of a scandal within the church over the young priest’s continued visits to the women.
Neither Ronnie, the older and more cynical of the prostitutes, nor Midge, the younger and more vulnerable one, is sure of the priest’s intentions. Although they survive by appealing to the fleshly desires of men, they realize that their own desire is one of the spirit, and thus they waiver between these two needs. Although each character’s response to Father Dowling’s fascination with the two women reveals his or her own bias, the crux of the novel, the basic...
(The entire section contains 623 words.)
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