La Belle Lizabeau: ‘a spark of the Shekhinah’

May 26, 2014

It’s strange how you can create a mental picture of a place from a dearth of geographical details and find that, in real life, it is almost exactly how you imagined it. At least, I think I found the right place…


On a previous visit to Guernsey, in the late 1970s, I picked up a copy of Marie De Garis’ book, Folklore of Guernsey, and became familiar with the tragic story behind a rock called La Belle Lizabeau and the little rock at its foot called La P’tite Lizabeau.

Lizabeau was a beautiful Torteval girl who had an illegitimate baby. Her father, furious at the shame his daughter brought to the family, turned her out of his house. Forsaken by all, mad with despair, she rushed to the cliffs and leapt into the sea with the child in her arms. She and her baby were turned into the rocks which now stand there.

(De Garis 1975: 228).

Today, the rock seems to have been anglicised to Belle Elizabeth, and there seems to be some ambiguity on the 1:10,000 map as to whether the name applies to the tall pillar of rock in the centre foreground of the photograph above, or to the less impressive stump of rock in the top left, just off the headland. I favour the former, but I might be completely wrong… De Garis also states that it is off Le Creux Mahié, though even the map shows Belle Elizabeth is further along the coast than such a description would suggest. Ah, well…


The sad story of La Belle Lizabeau bore something of an allegorical burden in the motivated piece of writing that became The World’s End (2004), as I drew a correlation between the harsh judgment of her father and the severity of judgment that leads to the primordial cosmic catastrophe in Kabbalistic mysticism, as devastating as the Fall of Lucifer and the Fall of Adam and Eve – the shevirah, the ‘shattering of the vessels’, a Fall to ‘the world of the shells’ where everything

is somewhere else. But a being that is not in its proper place is in exile. Thus, since the primordial act, all being has been a being in exile, in need of being led back and redeemed

(Scholem 1965:112).

In this allegorisation of Lizabeau’s story, entwined with the narrative of Finnegans Wake – ‘(Mon ishebeau! Ma reinebelle!)’ (FW 527.29-30) – she becomes the Shekhinah, the tenth and lowest sephira, in which ‘the feminine potencies of God attain their fullest expression’ (Scholem 1965: 104). Everywhere, in every corner of the world, ‘a spark of the Shekhinah is waiting to be found, gathered, and restored’ (Scholem 1965: 116), in a redemptive process known as tikkun. For Walter Benjamin, the historical materialist, in grasping the constellation which ‘his own era has formed with a definite earlier one’, establishes a conception of the present ‘which is shot through with chips of Messianic time’ (Benjamin 1999: 255). Indeed, Finnegans Wake, as well as revisiting a perennial crisis in the power of judgment – can be viewed as James Joyce’s own contribution to the process of tikkun, even found in his humorous reversal of the ritual prayer of thanks before a meal, ‘by saving grace after avalunch’ (FW 240.32).


If I have identified the wrong place as La Belle Lizabeau, it is only to the extent that, as Scholem points out, everything ‘is somewhere else’ and ‘all being has been a being in exile’, in the shattered world wrought by the crisis in the severity of judgment, revisited continuously when hearts are hardened against the poor, the vulnerable, and demonised others, in accordance with the cold logic of political economy.


Walter Benjamin 1999 ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, in Illuminations. London: Pimlico. pp.245-255.

Simon Crook 2004 The World’s End: Rock Images, Altered Realities and the Limits of Social Theory PhD. Thesis: Department of Archaeology and Art History: University of Manchester

Marie De Garis 1975 Folklore of Guernsey. Self-published

James Joyce 1939 Finnegans Wake. Harmondsworth: Penguin

Gershom Scholem 1965 On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism. New York: Schocken Books

%d bloggers like this: