Memento Mori

Philip Roth has been thinking about death. His new novel is entitled Everyman, an allusion to the medieval morality play, which Roth read:

“It was hair-raising,” he said. “All the terror that’s in it. It’s told from the Christian perspective, which I don’t share; it’s an allegory, a genre I find unpalatable; it’s didactic in tone, which I can’t stand. Nonetheless there’s a simplicity of approach and directness of language that is very powerful.”

In a passage early on, Everyman meets a messenger and says something like, You’re not a messenger, and the messenger allows that he is indeed Death. Everyman is startled. He says, ‘Oh Death, thou comest when I had thee least in mind.’ The line just knocked me for a loop.”

Good paragraph in the story:

“This book came out of what was all around me, which was something I never expected — that my friends would die,” Mr. Roth said. “If you’re lucky, your grandparents will die when you’re, say, in college. Mine died when I was a schoolboy. If you’re lucky, your parents will live until you’re somewhere in your 50’s; if you’re very lucky, into your 60’s. You won’t ever die, and your children, certainly, will never die before you. That’s the deal, that’s the contract. But in this contract nothing is written about your friends, so when they start dying, it’s a gigantic shock.”

“You won’t ever die.” That does indeed seem to be the deal, until… Oh death, thou comest when I had thee least in mind.


  1. Matthew,

    While we’re on the subject of Death as a great and simple literary character – check out the Pardoner’s Tale in Chaucer – as for many a modern man Mr. Death was least expected and most sought by the three blokes we meet therein….


  2. Mark Lickona says

    Love that flip little bit about toilets at the end. Yes, wouldn’t want to admit that this religion thing is haunting you…it’s just another subject for the writer…

    Imagine: Scripture, the language of scripture, the outlook of Scripture, as aesthetic powerhouse. I wonder if he’s read The Lord of the Rings.

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