Loyola University Chicago

Catholic Studies


Gertrud von Le Fort

Featured Intellectual

Gertrud von le Fort was a Catholic literary giant of the 20th century, penning over 20 novels, short-stories and poems.  Her employment of sacramental realism would go on to influence, even if inadvertently, but often explicitly, the work of O’Connor, Greene, Bernanos, and others.

Le Fort grew up in North Germany at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1907, at the age of 21, she first visited Rome for four months and became close to the Catholic Church and a nun, Sister Marie de Maylis. The experience took some years, however to fully sway le Fort towards conversion. Her poetic magnum opus, Hymns to the Church, signaled a final move towards joining the Roman Church in 1924. She became a Catholic in 1926, and lived and published until 1971, when she died on All Saints Day at the age of 95.

Her novella, The Song at the Scaffold, tells the story of sixteen martyred Carmelite nuns during the French Revolution. Largely influenced and disgusted by the rise of Nazism in Germany, she wrote about her novella, “The historical setting was only a garment for clothing a rather acute problem.”

Le Fort was highly influenced by the work of Søren Kierkegaard, and put his theories of Christian, existential fear into dialogue with the Catholic literary imagination. “Gertrude von Le Fort was the first author to treat the psychological and metaphysical aspects of fear in a fictional work: the fear of the helpless creature, the fear of all creatures, which is the fear of Christ’s agony on the Mount of Olives. Those who read this book in the thirties in Germany clearly understood its meaning.”

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Von La Chevallerie, Eleonore. "Gertrud Von Le Fort and the Fear of Blanche De La Force." Renascence 48.1 (1995): 10.