Jacques Chessex: Calvinism and the Text


204 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-0555-1
DDC 848'.91409




Reviewed by Alan Thomas

Alan Thomas is a professor of English at the University of Toronto.


Bond’s book invites admiration; its basic approach assumes the
commonsensical notion that a writer has some connection, including
intention, with his work. His examination of personal themes in the
works of Chessex, a prominent Swiss writer of fiction, poetry, and
criticism, and the winner of the Prix Goncourt in 1973 with L’Ogre, is
pleasant and lucidly written (no small virtue in today’s critical
climate). While the main text is in English, all passages of quotation
from the works appear in French. As the first study to be produced on
Chessex outside of Switzerland or France, the book is necessarily
introductory in purpose.

Bond shows a consistent, intelligent respect for the ideas of his
subject, without descending into partisanship. The critical approach he
adopts is a sign of this respect; it is in accord with the assumptions
and aims of Chessex himself, who has set his face against what he
regards as the obfuscating tendency of much contemporary critical
theory. Yet while Bond obliges Chessex in this fashion, he does not do
so without comment: “His [Chessex’s] attacks on critics like
Derrida, Kristeva and the Tel Quel group is regrettable in its harshness
(although one may admire and enjoy its humor and vigor).” There is a
sense of cautious balance here, with Bond evidently keeping open his
lines of communication with the modern theorists while gratefully
treating Chessex on his own straightforward and perhaps old-fashioned

The great theme Bond finds in Chessex is the authority of the Calvinist
conscience, in both its negative and its positive aspects. Chessex can
be seen as another of those many runaways from religion who, enlisting
in the legion of the anticlerics, use the weapon of art to snipe
continually against the monstrous dominance of the church, its cruelties
and hypocrisies, and who yet retain within themselves a powerful longing
for a position of moral authority in the world. Moreover, the Calvinist
Protestantism of Switzerland is inextricably associated with the
official virtues of the country. Chessex has been a social and
political, as well as religious, rebel, outrageous in his challenges to
the bland mask of public virtue and thereby drawing upon himself a good
deal of denunciation. Bond notes in passing the occasion of Chessex’s
openly expressed pleasure at the spread of rabies into Switzerland,
evidence that les justes are not spared the epidemics of fallen nature.
One of the genuine strengths of this book lies in its encouragement of a
desire to know more about a writer who carries on the grand romantic
tradition of the artist “révolté.”


Bond, David J., “Jacques Chessex: Calvinism and the Text,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 23, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/1594.