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  • Three Faces of Saul: An Intertextual Approach to Biblical Tragedy
  • Mark K. George
Three Faces of Saul: An Intertextual Approach to Biblical Tragedy, by Sarah Nicholson. JSOT Supplement 339. London and New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002. 276 pp. $90.00.

This book, which originally was the author's dissertation at the University of St. Andrews, takes up the question of Saul's portrayal in the Hebrew Bible and in two later works in the western world, Alphonse de Lamartine's drama Saül: Tragédie, and Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge. These three works constitute the three "faces" of Saul. Nicholson's stated purpose in her book is a "substantial investigation into the story [of Saul] as viewed by the poetic eye rather than simply the critical" (p. 11), a purpose she pursues through an intertextual approach, whereby she examines the ways in which Lamartine and Hardy utilize and reinterpret the biblical story of Saul to reflect their own contexts and historical periods.

The book is organized with an Introduction followed by three sections (corresponding to the three faces) of two chapters each. The Introduction provides an overview of [End Page 160] scholarship on Saul, followed by discussions of literary theory and postmodernism, intertextuality, and tragedy. In Section I, Nicholson considers Saul as portrayed in 1 Samuel. Chapter 1 reviews scholarly proposals for interpreting Saul's story as tragic, then examines structural elements in 1 Samuel that lend themselves to the tragic, including doublets and repetitions. Chapter 2 examines the deity's involvement in Saul's story, involvement that Nicholson argues is decidedly ambiguous. Nicholson's consideration of the deity as a character in 1 Samuel, Saül, and The Mayor of Casterbridge is one of the strengths of her book.

Section II considers Lamartine's drama Saül: Tragédie. Through an examination of plot and characterization in Chapter 3, Nicholson argues that Lamartine took the tragic elements he found in the Saul story and reinterpreted them in dramatic form in his play according to Aristotelian categories of the tragic. Because Lamartine created a tragic drama through his interpretation of 1 Samuel, Nicholson cites this as evidence that "the tragic vision" exists in the Hebrew Bible (p. 146). In Chapter 4, thematic and stylistic devices and the role of God in Saül are examined, with the conclusion that Lamartine "lent elements of Greek tragedy to the biblical myth" (p. 175).

Section III takes up Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge. In Chapter 5, after a brief review of Hardy scholarship and a discussion of Voltaire's influence on Hardy, Nicholson examines the characters Henchard and Farfrae to argue they are modeled on Saul and David. Chapter 6 examines sociological and feminist approaches to The Mayor of Casterbridge (Nicholson includes here a sociological consideration of Saul's story). These two approaches point out similarities and differences between Hardy's work and his biblical source. The absence of the deity from Hardy's work also is taken up in this chapter. Finally, in Chapter 7, Nicholson discusses intertextual relationships between Lamartine and Hardy's works, then provides her concluding comments.

Three Faces of Saul is useful as an extended consideration of the way two European writers reinterpreted Saul's story in light of their own cultural circumstances. Nicholson's discussion of previous scholarly work on Lamartine and, especially, Hardy make clear that her work fills a gap in the scholarly literature. There are, however, several ways in which the book could stand to be improved. Nicholson makes repeated references to the ways in which Lamartine's and Hardy's works compare to Greek tragedy, but nowhere does she provide an analysis and discussion of Greek tragedy. Her brief discussion of theories of tragedy, and the importance of Aristotle in these discussions, is inadequate to this task. A chapter analyzing Greek tragedy and how it works (in literary terms), as well as how it established a literary genre in western literature, would greatly improve the book. Such a chapter also would allow her to unpack the notion of "the tragic vision," a concept she takes (without sufficient explanation) from Richard Sewall. Nicholson utilizes this notion as...


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