Luca Fumagalli

Published posthumously in 1915, Loneliness? is the last novel written by mgr. Robert Hugh Benson, a modern story with a strong psychological implication that analyse the themes of vocation and self-renunciation.

The young singer Marion Tenderton returns to London in search of a contract after months spent in Germany to perfect her already brilliant singing skills. When the girl falls in love with Max Merival, the Protestant family of the scion suffers anxiety regarding both Marion’s Catholic faith and her career as an opera singer, deemed inappropriate. Her confessor then advises her to ask Max to convert to Catholicism before marriage, making him promise to educate her children in her ancient faith. The man, however, does not seem very convinced and the fear of losing him makes Marion falter. Her difficulties, however, are only just beginning: some time later, due to an accident on stage, the girl irreparably damages her voice, which does not return even after a delicate tonsil operation. Deprived of any support, she is about to marry Max in an Anglican rite, but in the end she is persuaded to abandon the intention and break off the engagement. In her silent meditation and prayer, that indispensable bond with Christ that she had been seeking for some time is finally realized.

Benson’s last novel is a sort of spiritual testament, the story of a conversion lived mainly through detachment from everything, even the most innocent things. Helped by the faithful Maggie – an elderly Catholic who loves her very much – Marion first experiences the splendour of worldliness and then gets lost in the darkness of pity and error. Despite her defects, fidelity to the Christian ideal becomes the foothold to redeem an existence lived incoherently and to give her a fresh sense of wonder.

In the end, loneliness takes on an unexpectedly positive value: the girl understands that the word does not imply despair, but can mean the spiritual presence of someone else at her side, like the loneliness of a shining star cradled by the immense sky.