Sunday 25th September 2016

Home » Frontpage » Currently Reading:

A Book Review . . . A Gem of Historical Fiction

November 15, 2013 Frontpage No Comments

By MICHAEL MOROW

Treason: A Catholic Novel of Elizabethan England by Dena Hunt (Sophia Institute Press: 2013); $14.95. Order at www.sophiainstitute.com or call 1-800-888-9344.

Treason dramatizes the hunt and persecution of English Catholics in the reign of Elizabeth I, the famous “virgin queen” enshrined and celebrated at the center of the culture of English-speaking peoples. Set in 1581, the year that St. Edward Campion was martyred, events in rural Devonshire are seen through an ensemble of characters both Catholic and Protestant.
The main action occurs in six days, the epilogue three months later. In a mere 184 deftly written pages, the novel is complete, whole, and resonant. The reader is left to ponder a cultural void, left where few any longer reflect something that once existed: Catholic England.
The story runs swiftly, beginning when a farmer finds a group of “traitors” — underground Catholics — at Mass in his barn. He finds his gun and drives them out, madly killing three. The act is hardly greeted with joy by most of the local villagers. While already well into the practice of the new, state-decreed Anglican Church, most want peace in their midst, not fanaticism. While the murder’s exposure of a local Catholic cell inspires an ominous search, especially for its priests, this is largely the work of ringleaders from London backed by hired foreign mercenaries.
This treatment signals the first of many authentic narrative choices of the author. Modest in size, in narrative scope, and perhaps even in ambition, the book is nevertheless a gem of historical fiction. For its understated narrative is remarkably subtle, and ultimately stands with the best of the very scarce literature on its rarely treated subject.
Few writers have ever had the nerve to venture into the miserable, down-to-earth reality of this particular religio-cultural warfare. The tortures and punishments awaiting enemies of the state were horrific. Also, Treason’s rural stage is far from the sphere of kingly pageant and larger-than-life characters which, as in A Man for All Seasons, can serve as narrative ballast and diversion.
This author’s strategy is to present a sort of invisible dance between two complete strangers: a newly arrived underground Jesuit, Fr. Stephen, and a young bride, Carolyn, a fervent Catholic whose faith is hidden from her well-established Protestant husband. For all the oppressiveness of the atmosphere, which is unavoidable for any writer choosing to live in this material, the weaving together of these two lives and fates is light as a feather. The reader accepts the reality of their spiritual bond unquestioningly. It carries that strange, uncanny yet familiar touch of true life that is the mark of literary fiction.
Even many sophisticated readers are unaware of the enormous pitfalls in constructing valid historical fiction. The best writers attempting it often enough trip up like kids blowing their lines in a high school play. But pages in novels are not as forgiving as live theater, nor do they enjoy the profound illusions of which cinema is capable.
The wonder of modern cinema not only compounds our present-day fantasy that any historical period is immediately accessible to us, but also reinforces the fond falsehood that “people never change.” In truth, people — and the societal context which carries them — can change so fast, and so radically, that an effort to present an authentic past can shock an audience, speeding them to the exits.
We opt for characters who talk and even think like us, as long as the costumes and sets are dead on. Witness Amadeus, wherein Mozart is presented with all the familiar charm of a truant straight out of J.D. Salinger, complete with current pop wisdom about genius versus “mediocrities.” Catholic endeavors, with their all too routine sentimentality, generally fare no better.
But it must be cautioned that mere historical realism carries its own sort of pitfall. A narrative grounding in 16th-century English diction would be unintelligible to the point of absurdity.
Having taught English and English literature for a career, the author of Treason gives us a good rendition of the sights, sounds, and actual feel of the times with natural ease. Most important, the speech of the characters — necessarily leavened by careful reinvention for the modern ear — is consistently plausible and right. And the book actually hits us, more than once, with the frightful alien quality of the time depicted, in a manner to call us to attention. Nor is gruesome focus placed upon the horrors; their mere existence is enough to cast a serious pall. Somehow, the main story line delicately pulls through.
The linking of Stephen and Carolyn, however tenuous, is then enough to constitute the reflecting pool for the author’s main meditation: the forging of post-Reformation English Catholicism in fire. A twin meditation, of the same caliber, is the start down the road of interior death for the rest of English life. For the central action also depicts the psychology of the Protestant community’s forced connivance in, and tacit acceptance of, the murderous frenzy — the sort of subject hard enough to convincingly depict in a contemporary setting.
The demand on the reader here is to face the sort of workaday evil that nobody ever likes to think about. Routinely in a big city, for instance, someone might witness an ongoing and pitiless assault just across the street from his hotel, then speedily slip inside, go upstairs, and switch on a crime drama. Entire genres such as detective fiction — always popular in the UK — are built upon the reduction of such grim and paradoxical human truth to digestible cliché, so as to constitute entertainment.
This novel is engrossing for the matrix of experience it recovers, not only because of the window it opens on a violent, buried past. But it goes without saying that it has no purpose to entertain. Nor do its fundamental observations coincide with comfortable, commonplace, and accepted ideas about human motivation and will.
Stephen, Carolyn, and most all of the characters are driven by rapidly unfolding events, increasingly ominous — some dimly willed by somebody, somewhere, but many haphazard. If the action seems to have its own terrible logic, via the compactness of the time frame, it is nevertheless not presented with either Tolstoyan inevitability or Darwinian determinism. A very narrow optic for moral choice exists, perhaps, under the terror, but such moral choice is never either wholly absent or out of the author’s sight. This marks Treason as a genuinely Catholic novel.
In her preface, author Dena Hunt states that after a 2006 pilgrimage to the ruins of Catholic England, she began to meditate on the many unknown “dry martyrs” who sustained the faith under the Elizabethan persecution. Her stated aim was then to chronicle something of their forgotten days: “What was it like to live each day in the hope for an end to the ‘patriotic’ religious hatred that forced every citizen to choose between loyalty to country and fidelity to faith?”
This is about half right; it is hardly usual for novelists to fully apprehend what they are about. True, our current accepted explanation for the sort of events depicted here is “hate.” As a person of our times, Hunt may accept that, even believe it. But the fact is, as a maker of fiction, she is vastly larger. And on her sober canvas, religious “hatred” is far from the calculus. We see instead, in the Protestant villagers, passivity driven by fear and terror, everyday opportunism, ordinary psychological self-defense by avoidance, petty ambition. And most especially, the de facto tyranny that lunatics, little or big, far away or local, can exercise over the sane — if only their excuse coincides with current official fabrications, and is backed with state machinery.
The one character who seems closest to a “hater” is entirely superficial on any subject, except her desire to be a local queen bee. As for the virgin queen herself, seen (it is important to stress) through the eyes of a character, she is a frightful contrast to the picture we are used to. Nevertheless, whatever Dena Hunt as a person thinks of Elizabeth is of no moment. She trusts her reader to judge, and rather than seeing a supreme “hater,” a reader may just as easily see a pathetically mistreated and unloved child, snapped into adulthood too broken to properly govern.

Interior Discernment

The real and surprising achievement of this little novel, then, goes beyond the author’s original impulse to depict Catholic survival. Rather, the reader is given a full panoply of responses to the reigning terror, from many levels of society. The point of view is third person omniscient; there is virtually no authorial comment whatsoever. And some of the finest depictions of conscience under siege are given to two major Protestant figures — Carolyn’s husband, Edward, and the local Anglican minister who was once a Catholic priest.
The subtle calibrations of conscience, and the movements of souls under the pressure of events, are presented through that level of interior discernment peculiar to only the very best Catholic writers, in their best works. One is reminded that in the very earliest Catholic texts, such as John’s Gospel and the Didache, death is always and only spiritual death — the worst fate imaginable. The snuffing out of the English soul, as a subject, may vehemently anger many, including many Catholics in our outspokenly ecumenical day. But that is what this well-crafted mirror reflects. It is not only the book’s most remarkable surprise, but its true and greatest horror. The author, of course, never states this.
But the entire cumulative effect of Treason is a dirge for Catholic England. It should have been sung out in cathedrals, like Mozart’s Requiem. Now it is only silently said, in mental prayer. For once, even an informed Catholic reader can not only ponder, but even feel the magnitude of this extraordinary loss.

+    +    +

(Michael Morow is a 1977 graduate of Valparaiso School of Law, Valparaiso, Ind., and former adult education director at St. Athanasius Byzantine Catholic Church, Indianapolis. He is a student of American literature, monasticism, and Dante.)

Share Button

2016 The Wanderer Printing Co.

Donald Trump Names Rick Santorum and Other Top Pro-Life Catholics as Key Advisers

Fresh from announcing a list of pro-life leaders who are advising him on issues that matter to pro-life voters, Donald Trump has named a group of pro-life Catholic leaders as additional key advisers, including pro-life former presidential candidate Rick Santorum.…Continue Reading

Argentine bishop threatened with prosecution for condemning ‘culture of fornication’

September 20, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – The Catholic archbishop of the Argentinean city of La Plata is under investigation by the country’s “discrimination” police for condemning the modern acceptance of sexual promiscuity and “unnatural” unions, according to local media sources. Archbishop…Continue Reading

First minor killed by euthanasia in Belgium after child euthanasia legalized

BELGIUM, September 19, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Belgium’s federal euthanasia commission confirmed Saturday the country’s first instance of child euthanasia, which became legal in 2014. Belgian media suggested the minor killed via lethal injection was 17. Some media also suggested the…Continue Reading

Donald Trump commits to defunding abortion, Planned Parenthood if elected

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 16, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Donald Trump has pledged to end taxpayer funding of abortion in the United States and to defund the nation’s leading abortion provider. In a new, personally signed letter, Mr. Trump attacked “Hillary Clinton’s…Continue Reading

Pope Francis issues motu proprio harmonizing Canon Law codes

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Letter motu proprio on Thursday, in which he brings the basic legal instruments that govern the Latin Church and the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome more closely into accord with one another…Continue Reading

Another “Catholic” Politician trying to redefine the Catholic Faith . . . Devout Catholic™ Kaine breaks with his church on gay marriage, with media blessing

Tim Kaine has officially joined the ranks of Devout Catholic™. How do we know? Because he says he’s Catholic, yet criticizes the church. The Democratic vice presidential nominee played weekend prophet and theologian when he told activists in the Human…Continue Reading

Bishop Morlino’s Move to Ad Orientem Masses in Madison

This past weekend the Most Reverend Robert Morlino, Bishop of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin made an announcement of great liturgical importance. Going forward His Excellency will be offering all of his Masses at the Cathedral ad orientem. Make no…Continue Reading

Longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly dead at 92

phillis

Phyllis Schlafly, the iconic pro-family activist who rose to fame in the 1970s when she campaigned against the Equal Rights Amendment, has died at age 92, according to the Eagle Forum, the conservative organization she founded. Schlafly had been an…Continue Reading

Soros’ Catholic useful idiots

By Robert A. Sirico – – Tuesday, August 30, 2016 A most remarkable set of documents was coughed up recently by WikiLeaks. George Soros‘ Open Society Policy Center, it turns out, made donations to two faith-based organizations to the tune…Continue Reading

Pope Francis “gratified” by UN goals that demand “universal access to sexual and reproductive health”

Pope Francis has said that he is “gratified” by UN goals that call on member states to “ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health” by 2030. The term “sexual and reproductive health”, as generally defined, includes access to contraception, including abortifacient methods, and,…Continue Reading

Psychiatrist: The Vatican’s sex ed is the most dangerous threat to youth I’ve seen in 40 years

September 2, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — In recent years, the Catholic Church has been going through one of her most severe crises as a result of the priestly abuse of youth. The primary victims have been adolescent males.1  This worldwide scandal was…Continue Reading

Catholics protest at Tim Kaine’s parish: If priest won’t ‘instruct parishioners’ on Church teaching, we will

RICHMOND, Virginia, August 29, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Roughly a dozen pro-life activists protested Sunday outside of pro-abortion, pro-homosexual Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine’s Catholic parish. “Sen. Kaine has failed in his duty as a Catholic public servant to…Continue Reading

Newsmax

Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our new website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for over 145 years in our weekly print edition. Now we are introducing the online daily version of our print journal.


  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to su
bscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
 
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 145 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.
 
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1

Enter Comments Below

This Weeks Comments And Letters . . .

Culture Of Life 101 . . . “An Introduction To The Problem Of Euthanasia”

By BRIAN CLOWES Part 2 (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of chapter 23 of The Facts of Life, a 150-page treatise on all of the aspects of euthanasia, e-mail him at bclowes@hli.org.) + + + We have covered the definitions of the varieties of…Continue Reading

Today . . .

Paul Likoudis (RIP)

Sad news today, we received word that Paul Likoudis, The Wanderer news editor from 1990 to 2014 has died. He lost his battle with colon cancer yesterday, which he had been fighting for over three years. Please pray for the repose of his soul. (The Wanderer will have much more in the days to come).  

500 Catholic scholars lash back at Humanae Vitae critics

Washington D.C., Sep 20, 2016 / 03:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly 50 years after the “prophetic” papal document Humanae Vitae, the Catholic Church’s longstanding teaching against contraception continues to promote the human good, said a group of Catholic thinkers on Tuesday. “We hold that Catholic teaching respects the true dignity of the human person and is conducive to happiness,” said hundreds of Catholic scholars in a Sept. 20 document. “Humanae Vitae speaks against the distorted…Continue Reading

“Catholic” Tim Kaine: “I Believe Women Should Be Able to” Have an Abortion

Yesterday on Meet the Press, Democratic Vice Presidential pick Tim Kaine, attempted to make his pitch to Millennials by saying that they agree with Hillary Clinton and the Democratic platform on the big issues. One of the big issues is obviously abortion. Part of what he said was: “Do you believe women should be able to make their own health care decisions, or don’t you? Millennials do, Hillary Clinton and I do, Donald Trump doesn’t.”…Continue Reading

Pope visits neonatal unit, hospice to highlight respect for life

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2016 / 11:19 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday, Pope Francis visited a neonatal hospital unit and a hospice for the terminally ill, stressing the dignity of human life from conception to natural death. The Sept. 16 visit is the latest in the Pope’s “Mercy Friday” initiatives, to spend time with various groups each month during the Jubilee of Mercy. In previous trips, he has made surprise stops at places including an…Continue Reading

Alberta bishops: No Communion for ‘remarried’ Catholics unless they practice continence

EDMONTON, Alberta, September 15, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — The Catholic Church has not changed her practice towards divorced and civilly remarried Catholics — despite what the faithful may have been led to believe through the media or other sources, the Alberta and Northwest Territory bishops stated in pastoral guidelines released Wednesday. It is “erroneous” to conclude that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Holy Communion “if they simply have a conversation with a priest,” stated…Continue Reading

Culture Of Life 101… The Bridge Between Abortion And Euthanasia

By BRIAN CLOWES Part 1 (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of chapter 23 of The Facts of Life, “Euthanasia,” e-mail him at bclowes@hli.org.) + + + Speaking at a conference of the Hemlock Society — an organization whose primary…Continue Reading

Restoring The Sacred… At The Hour Of Our Death

By JAMES MONTI The onset of autumn has deeper lessons to offer than merely the return of students to their classrooms for another semester of studies. Our Lord Himself told us to derive spiritual instruction from even the change of seasons when He compared the budding of leaves on the fig tree that presage summer…Continue Reading

Last Chance For The “Deplorables”

By PATRICK J. BUCHANAN Speaking to 1,000 of the overprivileged at an LGBT fundraiser, where the chairs ponied up $250,000 each and Barbra Streisand sang, Hillary Clinton gave New York’s social liberals what they came to hear. “You could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?” smirked Clinton…Continue Reading

A Book Review… The Limitless Wisdom Of The Parables

By MITCHELL KALPAKGIAN Hints of Heaven: The Parables of Christ and What They Mean for You, by Fr. George Rutler (Sophia Institute Press: Manchester, NH, 2014), 151 pp.; $14.95. Available through www.SophiaInstitute.com or 1-800-888-9344. A collection of short meditations on the 24 parables that appear in the Gospel, this book relates these stories to the…Continue Reading

A Book Review… The Cost Of Assimilation

By JUDE DOUGHERTY Shaw, Russell. Catholics in America: Religious Identity and Cultural Assimilation From John Carroll to Flannery O’Connor. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016; 141 pp. This is a delightful book, to say the least, in part because Russell Shaw has a way of uncovering facts you wish you had known all along. The book…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

The Necessity Of Baptism

By DON FIER The Church’s immemorial tradition of baptizing infants demonstrates in a particular way one of the great truths of our Catholic faith — that every human person is in need of salvation. Born into this world afflicted with original sin, “a sin which is the death of the soul” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], n. 403), even…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Editor’s Note: Following up on a recent question about how much money the U.S. bishops get from the federal government, an article in LifeSiteNews reported that the Obama Administration is pouring hundreds of million of dollars into Catholic institutions and charities. “We’ve got the most virulently anti-life administration in the history of the United States,” said international child rights advocate…Continue Reading

If It Delays, Wait For It

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Twenty-Seventh Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR C) Readings: Hab. 1:2-3, 2:2-4 2 Tim. 1:6-8, 13-14 Luke 17:5-10 I have commented many times before on the last lines of the Gospel reading today where our Lord tells us to say: “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.” Tragically, I wish that…Continue Reading

The Role Of The Sacred Liturgy In Developing A Catholic Conscience

By FRANCIS CARDINAL ARINZE Part 1 (Editor’s Note: Francis Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, delivered this lecture at The Church Teaches Forum in Louisville, Ky., July 16, 2016. (The lecture is reprinted here with permission; all rights reserved. We are presenting it in two parts because of…Continue Reading

A Noble Confession Of Faith

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Twenty-Sixth Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR C) Readings: Amos 6:1a, 4-7 1 Tim. 6:11-16 Luke 16:19-31 In the second reading today, St. Paul addresses Timothy in a very strong and direct manner. Calling him a man of God, St. Paul then tells him to strive for righteousness, to compete well for the faith, and to take…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… Blessed Bernardina Maria Jablonska

By CAROLE BRESLIN Some people look back on their lives and see how differently things turned out from what they had planned. A professor once told his business students that very few students work in the field they studied in college. If someone had told the young Bernardina Maria Jablonska that she would be the superior of a religious order…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Aubert

By CAROLE BRESLIN Near the west coast of France just below England lies the See of Avranches. If you take a drive around the waterways for about 24 miles, you will arrive at one of the world’s most famous pilgrimages, another World Heritage Site — one of 41 in France. This place, Mont Saint-Michel, is dedicated to St. Michael the…Continue Reading