The Forgotten Season
Torn between knowledge and superstition
This first novel by much-praised director and filmmaker Peter Delpeut is set in the mid-nineteenth century. Every week, Lidia, a sick child in a remote country village, receives the stigmata; wounds appearing on her hands and feet like those of Christ on the cross. A small but devout band of believers refuse to eat, among other things, since they hope that through the girl’s ecstasy they can share the miraculous manifestations of the Messiah, who would seem to be revealing himself to the village through Lidia.
Father Peters, a priest at the height of his career, is sent by the archbishop to investigate. Are the stigmata a miracle, or a hoax? He finds himself up against the progressive Dr Wessels, an unbeliever who dismisses everything out of hand as hysteria.
Peters is an aesthete who feels at home in the city of Rome, a lover of art and literature, who does not shrink even from books on the Index: ‘nothing is so agreeable as a crisply formulated fallacy’. He is a child of the nineteenth century, the century of Darwin, the century in which God is declared dead not only by Nietzsche but by many scientists, and the supposed historicity of the Bible is investigated for the first time.
Peters realises that for the people flocking around Lidia, faith is no more than a straw to cling to, and yet he is deeply affected by Lidia’s suffering.
As he attempts to solve the case his problems mount: Wessels wants Lidia to undergo an operation, his own housekeeper becomes increasingly meddlesome, and her son, the village idiot, seems Peters’ only ally in the hostile village community. When the villagers come to believe the idiot has tried to molest Lidia, the villagers exact a terrible vengeance on him, but as if they are actually taking revenge on Peters himself.
Delpeut evokes naturally and realistically the atmosphere of a period that, despite being so recent, can feel medieval. At the end of the book when he hears a cock crow for the third time, the priest knows that ultimately he must face defeat. The Forgotten Season is a gripping, atmospheric novel about a time closer to our own than we should like to think.