Exploring Morality and Faith in Brian Moore’s Black Robe
Included within the anthology The Penguin Book of Irish Fiction,1 are the works of great Irish authors written from around three hundred years ago, until as recently as the last decade. Since one might expect to find in an anthology such as this only expressions and interpretations of Irish or European places, events or peoples, some included material could be quite surprising in its contrasting content. One such inclusion comes from the novel Black Robe,2 by Irish-born author Brian Moore. Leaving Ireland as a young man afforded Moore a chance to see a great deal of the world and in reflection afforded him a great diversity of setting and theme in his writings. And while his Black Robe may express little of Ireland itself, it expresses much of Moore in his exploration into evolving concepts of morality, faith, righteousness and the ever-changing human heart.
The short excerpt from Black Robe included in the anthology comes from the beginning of Chapter 8 of the work. This passage, an approximate midpoint of the novel, serves to articulate the story’s tone, to introduce main characters and their relationships, and to present ideas that play are essential to the whole work’s main themes. The excerpt begins when Father Paul Laforgue, at this point alone, is in hiding from Iroquois who have at this point overtaken his meager camp. The first image Moore here invokes is that of a lynx as at creeps up upon the Savages who have taken custody of Laforgue’s meal as well as his treasured few belongings. The man watches from his hiding place, as the lynx, which Moore names the Father’s “surrogate”(p. 150), unknowingly tests the safety of Laforgue’s current situation. The Iroquois immediately overtake and kill the lynx. The animal’s death, while arguably inconsequential in and of itself, serves both in making Laforgue as well as the reader now keenly aware situation’s gravity and in introduction of a general mood of suspense, danger, and constant uncertainty the resounds throughout the novel’s plot.
Immediately following in this same scene, Laforgue intended saviors arrive: Daniel, the Algonquin leader Chimona with daughter Annuka, his wife and young son. Meaning only to save him from his abandonment and guide him to the Huron camp, they do not know about the present Iroquois and are immediately ambushed. Chimona’s wife is killed and the rest are captured. Laforgue, seeing this all, knows figures that they will all die, yet knows he could keep hiding and live. But Moore writes of the Father’s next thought, “But what is my life in the balance, if, by going forward now, I can confess Daniel, who is in a state of mortal sin, and, God willing, baptize the others before their last end?” (p. 154). This statement, along with Laforgue’s decision to selflessly follow the others into almost certain death, reveals an idea essential to the understanding of Laforgue and of the...