The Vulgar Soul

Biguenet, John

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony
  • Date of entry: Mar-28-2001


Tom Hogue is a nonpracticing Catholic who develops a mysterious dermatologic disorder. Five areas of chapped and painful skin located on his hands, feet, and below his ribs begin to bleed simultaneously. The reluctant stigmatic soon experiences weight loss and insomnia and has premonitions. He attempts self-treatment before consulting in order his local pharmacist, primary care physician, a dermatologist, and eventually a psychiatrist.

He is diagnosed as having "psychogenic purpura" and his condition seems to improve with psychiatric treatment. Initially Hogue questions the validity of his stigmata and is uneasy with his religious celebrity. When his affliction spontaneously resolves, he has difficulty adjusting to his new life. A chance encounter with a woman whose life had been profoundly affected by Hogue when he still retained the stigmata leads him to consider self-mutilation as he fondles a steak knife beneath the table during their conversation.


Vulgar soul is the term used to describe a "spiritually mediocre" individual who possesses the bodily wounds similar to those of the crucified Christ. Is Tom Hogue truly the recipient of a divine manifestation and if so, why him? Is he suffering from a psychosomatic disorder? Is he depressed and self-mutilating? The truth seems elusive.

Faith is portrayed as both essential and dispensable. The story grapples with concepts of religion, spirituality, dishonesty, guilt, and self-deception. Perhaps Hogue best sums up his predicament when he defines a miracle as "something science hasn't gotten around to explaining" [p 12].


Originally published in Granta.

Primary Source

The Torturer's Apprentice



Place Published

New York



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