From the Journal of a Leper

Updike, John

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Donley, Carol
  • Date of entry: Aug-24-2005


An artist, suffering from psoriasis, believes he is "loathsome to love" because of his scaly skin. "The name of the disease, spiritually speaking, is Humiliation." The narrator creates gorgeous pottery--flawless, smooth--the opposite of his rough, splotchy skin. His retailer, Himmelfahrer (he who travels through Heaven), calls him a genius. His girlfriend, Carlotta, loves him the way he is.

However, as the narrator goes through drug and light treatments under the care of a dermatologist, his skin begins to clear, but his pottery gets ugly and rough, Himmelfahrer expresses distress at the loss of quality, and the love relation with Carlotta cools. The artist declares himself beautiful, his girlfriend leaves, and Himmelfahrer won't buy any of his "gargoylish" pottery.


This brilliant short story, told in the first person in the style of a journal, opens on October 31 (Halloween) when the artist is his ugliest, though his creative work and his love relationship are fine. The great irony, as the story progresses, is that in healing his skin he has lost everything of value. He has fallen in love with his own beautiful image and has turned against love and spiritual/creative expression. On Dec. 21 (winter solstice) which the narrator calls "the nadir of the year" Carlotta tells him he is less passionate. By the New Year, she is gone, but he seems to care only for his own image--like Narcissus.

Primary Source

Problems and Other Stories



Place Published

New York



Page Count