Thursday 20th September 2018

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

2017 The Wanderer Printing Co.

Twitter Feed

Here's a thing about silence: it's only "holy" when it is properly-ordered. Silence in the face of personal insults is laudable. Silence in the face of injustice is not.

Our Lord was silent when confronted with mockery, but He was quite vocal when confronted with scandal.

Edward Pentin on Twitter

“Pope at Mass today: People yelled “crucify him” but Jesus remained silent because “the people were deceived by the powerful.&...

twitter.com

@MCITLFrAphorism @TheWandererNews Virtus ‘training’ was a joke from the start. ANYONE could pass the Virtus courses without having to read their articles. It was/IS a waste of time. A baby bandaid on a deadly wound. #Fail

Load More...

Yet another US bishop calls for Youth Synod to be canceled so Church can ‘deal with abuse crisis’

TYLER, Texas, September 10, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – A Texas bishop has called for the Youth Synod to be canceled in light of the ongoing scandal regarding the cover-up of episcopal sexual abuse of minors and seminarians. On September 8, Bishop…Continue Reading

ATLANTA ARCHBISHOP WILTON GREGORY INVITES HOMOSEXUALIST FR. JAMES MARTIN TO SPEAK

ATLANTA (ChurchMilitant.com) – Celebrity Jesuit Fr. James Martin is heading to Georgia, courtesy of pro-gay Abp. Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Georgia. On Friday, Martin announced on Twitter that Abp. Gregory has invited him to speak in October at two Atlanta-area locations.…Continue Reading

Leaked sex abuse report rocks German church, 3,677 victims

September 12, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Two German major media outlets – Der Spiegel and Die Zeit – leaked today the findings of a sexual abuse commission funded by the German Bishops’ Conference and which Cardinal Reinhard Marx had planned to present to the public…Continue Reading

US bishops’ president accused of allowing reported sex abuser access to kids

September 12, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, has been accused of allowing a priest who confessed to sex abuse of a minor to function as a pastor of a parish,…Continue Reading

Cdl. Cupich on abuse crisis: We shouldn’t be ‘distracted’ by this, Church has ‘bigger agenda’

CHICAGO, September 10, 2018, (LifeSiteNews) – When challenged about the clergy sexual abuse scandal now facing the Church, Cardinal Blase Cupich told a large gathering of seminarians that the Church’s agenda is “bigger” than the sexual corruption now facing the…Continue Reading

Catholic prelates must speak out, now, as the faithful are attacked by their own shepherds

September 4, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The following reflection is the result of a couple of days of my reading and thinking about the last five years, but then also about the last fifty years. Trying to get an interview with…Continue Reading

Oklahoma archbishop: I’ve ‘deepest respect’ for Viganó. His claims demand ‘deeper examination’

OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma, August 31, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley has issued a statement saying he has the “deepest respect” for Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó and his “integrity.” Some on the left have attempted to cast doubt…Continue Reading

One Mad Mom . . . Martin’s Cozy with Proximate Occasions of Sin

Let me say this, I am a mom of a multitude of kids and have spent their lives trying to ensure their safety and well-being.  I have THE biggest stake with what’s been going on in the Church for decades. …Continue Reading

Thousands of Catholic women ask Pope: Did you cover-up for McCarrick, as Viganò claims?

August 30, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – A group of prominent Catholic women have written an open letter to Pope Francis imploring him to provide clarity on the “escalating” sex abuse crisis currently “engulfing” the Church. Expressing anger, betrayal, and heartbreak, the women bluntly…Continue Reading

Ave Maria University president slams Viganò, Cardinal Burke

AVE MARIA, Florida, August 30, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Citing the “God of Surprises,” the president of a Roman Catholic University once known for its orthodoxy has slammed two faithful prelates for their challenges to the Pope, particularly in regard to…Continue Reading

Pope handpicks US cardinal enmeshed in McCarrick scandal as youth synod delegate

August 28, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis has named Cardinal Joseph Tobin, a prelate who former papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Viganò has testified owes his rise to power to disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, as a delegate to the October synod on…Continue Reading

U.S. bishop disappointed with Pope’s ‘no comment’ answer on sex-abuse cover-up

MADISON, Wisconsin, August 28, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Bishop Robert Morlino vouched for the integrity of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, joining a growing chorus of faithful prelates who have expressed support for the former papal nuncio’s astounding testimony pointing to Pope Francis and other high-ranking…Continue Reading

Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for 150 years in our weekly print edition.


  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 150 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

Interview With Cardinal Burke . . . Discriminating Mercy: Defending Christ And His Church With True Love

Cburke3

  By DON FIER (Editor’s Note: His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and Founder of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis., graciously took time out of his busy schedule to grant The Wanderer a wide-ranging interview during a recent visit to the Shrine. Included among the topics…Continue Reading

Developing Lives Of Peace After The Heart Of Mary

By RAYMOND LEO CARDINAL BURKE (Editor’s Note: His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke delivered the address below at the 32nd Annual Church Teaches Forum, “The Message of Fatima: Peace for the World,” Galt House, Louisville, Ky., July 22, 2017. The address is reprinted here with the kind permission of Cardinal Burke. All rights reserved. This is part one of the…Continue Reading

Catechism

Today . . .

US bishops’ silence on meeting with Pope could put their credibility on sex abuse at risk

ROME, September 18, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Have the jocular images and low-key statements of US Bishops following their meeting with Pope Francis last week set back their attempts to address the grave situation in the Church, especially the handling of sexual abuse cases by bishops? The details that have been revealed of the bishops’ meeting with Francis last Thursday give no indication that they addressed the extent of the McCarrick coverup or the need for…Continue Reading

Cardinal Maradiaga rebukes papal critics: McCarrick abuse scandal ‘of a private order’

September 14, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The scandal of ex-Cardinal McCarrick’s homosexual abuse of young priests and seminarians and Pope Francis’ alleged cover-up are “of a private order,” and a merely “administrative affair,” according to one of the Pope’s top advisers, Cardinal Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga. He made these remarks in a recent interview in one of the most revealing statements to date on the Viganò testimony. In an interview published on Wednesday evening by Religion Digital, the religious portal…Continue Reading

Dutch Catholic church accused of widespread sexual abuse cover-up

More than half of the Netherlands’ senior clerics were involved in covering up sexual assault of children between 1945 and 2010, a press report claimed on Saturday, further engulfing the Catholic church in a global abuse scandal. Over the course of 65 years, 20 of 39 Dutch cardinals, bishops and their auxiliaries “covered up sexual abuse, allowing the perpetrators to cause many more victims”, the daily NRC reported. “Four abused children and 16 oth

Steve Bannon Drafting Curriculum for Right-Wing Catholic Institute in Italy

(Reuters) – Former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon is helping to craft the curriculum for a leadership course at a right-wing Roman Catholic institute in Italy, stepping up his efforts to influence conservative thinking in the church. Benjamin Harnwell, director of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute based in a mountaintop monastery not far from Rome, told Reuters Bannon had been helping to build up the institute for about half of its eight-year life. Cardinal Raymond…Continue Reading

China, Vatican ‘May Sign Deal’ on Chinese Catholics, Bishops: Taiwan

Beijing and the Vatican are on the verge of an agreement on the status of China’s Catholic Church and the controversial appointment of bishops by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, reports indicate. A report in the Wall Street Journal on Friday cited two people close to negotiations as saying that a deal was very close. In Taipei, Taiwan foreign affairs spokesman Li Hsien-chang said the democratic island’s officials had a similar understanding of the situation.…Continue Reading

Advertisement(2)

Solzhenitsyn: Truth Is Light

By DONALD DeMARCO Without the truth we are in the dark, not knowing how to think, judge, act, or live. Please tell us the truth. Please dispel the darkness. Readers of The Wanderer will understand my plea without my needing to divulge names. We do, as Marshall McLuhan explained to us, live in a global…Continue Reading

Neither Left Nor Right, But Catholic . . . Skewed Ideas About Education And Minority Groups

By STEPHEN M. KRASON (Editor’s Note: Stephen M. Krason’s Neither Left nor Right, but Catholic column appears monthly [sometimes bimonthly]. He is professor of political science and legal studies and associate director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also co-founder and president of the Society…Continue Reading

Is Trump Going Neocon In Syria?

By PATRICK J. BUCHANAN Is President Donald Trump about to intervene militarily in the Syrian civil war? For that is what he and his advisers seem to be signaling. The past week, Trump said of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s campaign to recapture the last stronghold of the rebellion, Idlib province: “If it’s a slaughter, the…Continue Reading

Pro-Lifer… Arizona Governor Names Successor To Fill McCain’s Seat

By DEXTER DUGGAN PHOENIX — With its own strange brand of politics, Arizona acquired a new U.S. senator who agreed to fill the upper-chamber seat for at least a few months. Huh? With the late John McCain’s health slipping away for more than a year to an aggressive brain cancer, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey had…Continue Reading

A Book Review… GKC: The Wonder Of The Child And The Mysteries Of Faith

By MITCHELL KALPAKGIAN The Autobiography of G.K. Chesterton (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2006), 336 pp. $16.95. Available through www.ignatius.com or 1-800-651-1531. A great writer’s past, family background, and the formative influences of childhood always evoke great human interest. In narrating the story of his life, Chesterton naturally begins with his family background and the lives…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

HLI’s Mission To Mongolia… There Are Setbacks, But The Church Continues

By FR. SHENAN BOQUET (Editor’s Note: Fr. Shenan Boquet is the president of Human Life International. This commentary first appeared September 3 at HLI.org and was reprinted by LifeSiteNews.com. All rights reserved.) + + + “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in…Continue Reading

True Wisdom From Above

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Twenty-Fifth Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR B) Readings: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20 James 3:16-4:3 Mark 9:30-37 In the second reading today, St. James tells us that where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. As we look around, we can certainly see an abundance of disorder and foul practices. To eliminate these…Continue Reading

A Book Review… Why Evangelists Need An Interior Life

By DONAL ANTHONY FOLEY Spiritual Handbook for Catholic Evangelists: How to Win Souls Without Losing Your Own, by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard (Sophia Institute Press, 192 pages, Amazon paperback and Kindle). This is a new version of an old spiritual classic, originally written about a century ago, but still valid for today’s Church, and particularly for those involved in evangelization. The…Continue Reading

The Sacrament Of Confession… Confession Among The Early Christians

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM Part 4 Here are some more testimonies from the Early Christians about the Sacrament of Confession, how they understood the sacrament and how it was administered by the priests to the people when they sinned. Those writers are known in history as the Fathers of the Early Church, the theologians and Bible scholars of the…Continue Reading

The Cardinal Virtues — Prudence

By DON FIER In beginning our consideration of the virtues last week, we saw that the word virtue, in general, can be defined as “a firm and habitual disposition to do good. It allows a person not only to perform good actions,” explains Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, “but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… Servant of God Rozalia Celak

By CAROLE BRESLIN The closer one comes to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the hotter the flame, as many saints have attested. St. Catherine of Siena bore the marks in her heart where the arrow of Christ’s love pierced it. With the flame of the burning love, the Sacred Heart touches those whom He loves in a special way. To…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… Our Lady Of Mount Carmel

By CAROLE BRESLIN In northern Israel between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea, a mountain range stretches inland. This range, although named Mount Carmel, is really a series of mountains stretching inland. The main site of the Mount, the Stella Maris monastery of the Discalced Carmelites, sits on a limestone bluff overlooking the city of Haifa. The view…Continue Reading