Johannes de Silentio and Wooster

Evans’ book “Kierkegaard’s Ethic of Love” contains a wonderful parallel between Kierkegaard’s and P. G. Wodehouse’s styles of writing. In “Fear and Trembling”, Kierkegaard writes under the pseudonym of Johannes de Silentio, a man of ethics who can only appreciate faith from the outside. In Wodehouse’s wonderful “Jeeves” series, he writes from the perspective of Bertie Wooster, a bumbling fool who misunderstands every predicament he falls into and is only saved by the machinations of his hyper-competent butler. Both cases write about something extraordinary – Abraham’s faith and Jeeves’ shenanigans – from the perspective of somebody incapable of understanding it.

In Wodehouse’s books, Evans writes, we “come to see the truth” through the unreliable narrator, and the same with Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard and Wodehouse were two great ironists, after all. Kierkegaard’s works are full of assertions that his ideas cannot be directly communicated: that they must “come from behind” by covert means like irony.

The epigraph of “Fear and Trembling” reads like this: “What Tarquinius Superbus said in the garden by means of the poppies, the son understood but the messenger did not.” It’s a reference to a story where the son of Emperor Tarquinius had captured an city and sent a messenger back to his father for instructions. Not trusting the messenger, the Emperor simply walked around the garden cutting off the tallest poppy flowers. When the confused messenger related his actions back to the son, the son understood the coded message (to weaken the city by assassinating its leading citizens). It’s a somewhat macabre way to think about an unreliable narrator.


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