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Latecomers: Four Novelists Rewrite the Bible

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image of Biblical Interpretation

This essay examines the use of biblical stories as sourcetexts in four novels: David Maine's Fallen, Howard Jacobson's The Very Model of a Man, Muriel Spark's The Only Problem, and Gloria Naylor's Bailey's Café. While each goes about its business of rewriting the biblical story in relation to a particular contemporary agenda or concern (American consumerism, the crisis of theism, the viability of happy endings in fiction, the revolt against patriarchy), they have in common a sense of lateness which they ironically project onto the biblical urtext. A sense of lateness is typical of modern and postmodern rewritings of ancient narratives and indeed is a characteristic of late-twentieth and early-twenty-first century literary consciousness. By turning the biblical story into a latecomer, the four novelists simultaneously free themselves from deference to a story deemed sacred in Western culture and pay homage to its indispensability as a platform. Rewritings of this kind are of value both as a reality-test for pro-theological readings of the Bible and, by their very existence, as a barometer of interest in the Bible among the general reading (or cinema-going) public.

Affiliations: 1: University of Leeds


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