Yukio Mishima: narcissist, political fanatic, suicide. And one of Japan's greatest novelists. I recently completed the Sea of Fertility tetralogy, which traces the life of Shigekuni Honda from youth to retirement as a wealthy attorney, centered around what Honda believes are the successive reincarnations of his friend Kiyoaki Matsugae: as a young rightist, a Thai princess and an orphan. The most powerful of the four novels, in my opinion is the second: Runaway Horses. The book seems to rebuke the militant nationalism of Japanese reactionaries, though ironically enough Mishima himself ends his own life under the banner of a similar ideology. Mishima's fascinating portrait of an inherent dark side of youth - a taming of a deep inhumanism - so to speak, comes through almost all the novels, but most strongly in the last. This echoes a theme he developed in The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, though I can think of few works that more strongly explore this theme than the Lord of the Flies. In any case, Mishima is masterful in exploring aberrant developmental psychology - even as he, himself, seems to have been stricken with his own disordered personality.
Maria Skobtsova: atheist, symbolist poet, Bolshevik revolutionary - and a renegade nun arrested for helping Jews in Paris by the Gestapo, she allegedly died by taking the place of a Jewish woman being sent to death. Jim Forrest provides a useful overview of her life - unlikely most lives of a Christian saints, this is no hagiography: it is a straightforward story of life. At the same time, we see a life transformed by a dawning realization that self-denial is a path to transformation -
"The way to God lies through love of people. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked. About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person the Savior says ‘I': ‘I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison.’ To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need. . . . I always knew it, but now it has somehow penetrated to my sinews. It fills me with awe."
And despite a life dedicated to service, she remained an acute intellectual, a characteristic of so many Russian emigres in Paris. This too reflected her view that redemption and suffering where intertwined - my favorite piece