Tuesday 23rd December 2014

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

Comment on this Article:

CACG: Faux Catholic Front Group Still An Outsider?

At Catholic World Report Anne Hendershott revisits the notorious democrat front group, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, and gives us an idea of their set of 2016 tricks. Promising yet again to “move beyond partisan and ideological divisions,”…Continue Reading

The Catholic Weakness

A large proportion of traditional, Mass-going Catholics don’t believe basic Church doctrine. Why not? By Maggie Gallagher   Last week I wrote about one piece of data that jumped out from the Austin Institute’s fascinating new study, Relationships in America:…Continue Reading

Cardinal Burke . . . “The Church depends on sound Catholic family life, and it depends on sound Catholic families.”

An Interview with Cardinal Burke  On Vatican II Q. Your Eminence, you grew up before the Second Vatican Council. How do you remember those times? A. I grew up in a very beautiful time in the Church, in which we…Continue Reading

Did Pope Francis really say all dogs go to heaven? UPDATED

That nice man, Pope Francis, says you get to see your pets again in Heaven. But Pope Benedict is a mean old Grinch who wants to remove the animals from your Nativity scene Christmas decorations. Oh, really? Please don’t believe…Continue Reading

Catholic Church in Australia links celibacy to child abuse

By Jonathan Pearlman, Sydney, and Nick Squires in Rome 8:04PM GMT 12 Dec 2014 Priests’ vows of celibacy may have led to paedophilia, the Roman Catholic Church in Australia has said, in what is believed to be the first such…Continue Reading

Pope Calls For More ‘Integration’ Of Divorced Catholics, Gays

By Francis X. Rocca Catholic News Service VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis said that the Catholic Church must consider various ways to integrate the divorced and civilly remarried in the life of the church — not merely allowing them…Continue Reading

‘I’m not worried’ about resistance, Pope Francis says in new interview

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2014 / 11:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In an interview with the Argentine daily “La Nacion” published Sunday, Pope Francis spoke on a variety of topics, giving specific attention to the ongoing reform of the Roman Curia,…Continue Reading

Catholic Church Severs Ties with Agency over Gay Adoption Ruling

The Catholic Church in Northern Ireland is pulling the plug on a long-standing relationship with the Family Care Society, a Catholic adoption agency, after a judge ruled that all adoption services must be willing to place children with same-sex couples…Continue Reading

Reaction to Chicago archbishop’s remarks on pro-abort pols receiving Communion

n a radical departure from the position of Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Blase Cupich – said to have been handpicked by Pope Francis for Chicago – has presented giving Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians as a positive move. Asked Sunday…Continue Reading

Pope Francis dodges reporter’s question on treatment of homosexuality in Synod’s controversial mid-term report

Since the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, reporters around the world have been wondering where Pope Francis stands on the controversial language about homosexuality in the mid-term Synod report.  The opportunity to ask the pope…Continue Reading

Archbishop Cupich Says Yes to Communion for Pro-Abortion Politicians

In October of last year veteran Italian journalist Sandro Magister wrote of the new path that many believed the Church was embarking upon. Magister observed: “In Italy, but not only there, it was the cardinal and Jesuit Carlo Maria Martini…Continue Reading

Francis calls for a change mentality in the Church, easier homilies and flexible times

Francis addresses participants of the International Pastoral Congress on the World’s Big Cities: “Go out and facilitate”, don’t be afraid of multicultural contexts or of proclaiming Jesus DOMENICO AGASSO JR ROME Francis was honest from the start: “I don’t want…Continue Reading

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 subscribe 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

'From our friends at The Foundry'


Today . . .

Exclusive . .

Cardinalburke

Pope Francis: Christmas Greetings To Curia

pope703

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis received the heads and other senior officials of the departments of the Roman Curia on Monday, in their traditional exchange of Christmas greetings. In remarks prepared for the occasion and delivered Monday morning, the Holy Father focused on the need for those who serve in the curia – especially those in positions of power and authority…Continue Reading

Pope: At Christmas Jesus Knocks At The Doors Of Your Heart

POPE701

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday invited the faithful to listen carefully when God knocks at their door. “Too often – he said – Jesus passes by in our lives, he sends an angel and we are so caught up in our thoughts and concerns we do not even notice”. Speaking to the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for…Continue Reading

Pope Francis receives John XXIII Community

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis received nearly 8 thousand members and associates of the Pope St. John XXIII Community on Saturday. Now recognized as an Association of Lay Faithful, the  Pope John XXIII Community was founded by Fr. Oreste Benzi of the clergy of the Diocese of Rimini in 1968, on the basis of his decade of experience with young people…Continue Reading

To The Infant Martyrs

By MARK AMOROSE (Matt. 2:16-18) Pour out your smiling souls into the sky: Your tongues will learn to speak as spirits fly. Seek not maternal milk from earthly clay: Your sustenance will be the Milky Way. + + + Latin original from Complete Poetry of Richard Crashaw, ed. Geo. Walton Williams. (New York: Doubleday, 1970),…Continue Reading

Anna’s Wish

By DEREK BECHER Anna lay still on her hospital bed, which was tilted slightly upward, while she slept. Her parents sat beside her, with their hands clenched together, sharing a prayer as they watched their only child laboring with each breath. She had only just turned nine, but the brave little girl had fought the…Continue Reading

Cardinal Piacenza To Confessors.. Remember The Priceless Ministry Of Confession At Christmas

VATICAN CITY (ZENIT) — Here is a letter to confessors from Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, major penitentiary, released Gaudete Sunday, December 14. In the letter, the cardinal emphasized that “the time of Advent, and especially the days of the beautiful novena of Christmas, are characterized by a particularly attentive waiting, not only by men for God…but…Continue Reading

Archbishop Of Karachi . . . Says “The Taliban Will Stop At Nothing Now”

By JOHN PONTIFEX LONDON (ACN News) — Innocent people in Pakistan — young and old alike — are now at increased risk of terrorist attack, according to the leader of the country’s Catholics, who has called on the government to step up security in the wake of the Peshawar school massacre. Archbishop Joseph Coutts of…Continue Reading

Ten Complacent Maxims

By DONALD DeMARCO Mark Strand, Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. poet laureate, passed away recently (November 29, 2014). He was a staunch atheist, declaring that he had never met God and had never been to Heaven. He said: “Although there are a lot of people claiming that God is telling them what to do,…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

A Leaven In The World . . . Let Christmas Joy Overflow The Hearts Of Believers

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK Let your prayer for these final days of Advent and for the Solemnity of Our Lord’s holy birth be that our joy might be so great at receiving Him at Christmas that it will be as though we are receiving Him for the first time. His grace is sufficient so as to grant us the…Continue Reading

Mary’s Perpetual Virginity… Didn’t Jesus Have Brothers And Sisters?

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM Part 1 “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His Mother called Mary? And are not His brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all His sisters with us?” (Matt. 13:54-57; also Mark 6:2-3). “And His Mother and…Continue Reading

The Canon Of Scripture

By DON FIER Part 2 We ended last week’s installment by showing that the apostles and early Christians accepted the 46-book Septuagint as the authentic Old Testament right from the Church’s beginning. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches, these 46 divinely inspired books constitute “an indispensable part of Sacred Scripture” (CCC, n. 121) and “bear witness to…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Questions And Answers About Christmas Q. Do we know the exact year in which Jesus was born? A. No, we do not. In the sixth century, a monk named Dionysius Exiguus drew up a calendar that fixed the birth of Christ in the Roman year 753, but scholars today agree that Dionysius miscalculated by a few years. So it is…Continue Reading

The Law Of The Lord

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Feast Of The Holy Family (YR B) Readings: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 Col. 3:12-21 Luke 2: 22-40 Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. In a particular way this refers to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. However, it also refers to all families that are striving to live according to the ways of holiness and truth.…Continue Reading

Cast A Gauntlet – Sola Scriptura: Part 1

Catholic Heroes . . . Blessed Urban V

By CAROLE BRESLIN The year 1309 marked the beginning of the Avignon papacy, under Pope Clement V, who was French. The Popes of Avignon built a papal palace, increasing it in size over the next 70 years. The first crack in the control of the papacy by the French began when Pope Urban V left Avignon to reside in Rome…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Sabbas

By CAROLE BRESLIN Silence. Quiet. The search for peace, serenity, and calm has led many in today’s world to take up Yoga, Eastern mysticism, or life in remote areas to escape the noise of our modern world. This is not a modern quest. The quest for quiet has been with man for millennia. Although St. Anthony the Great (died 356)…Continue Reading

A Powerful Weapon: 15 Quotes on the Holy Rosary

We live in evil times. I hardly need elaborate the multitude of crises that fill the globe. Sadly, many are being swept away by this flood of evil and are succumbing to an overwhelming anxiety and discouragement. But no matter how tempting it is, we must not shrink back. We must pray and fast with a living faith and a firm confidence—and there is no better way to…Continue Reading

12 Ways to Become a Committed Catholic Man

There is a Catholic “man-crisis.” Large numbers of men who were baptized Catholic have left the Church and the majority of those who remain are “Casual Catholic Men”, men who do not know the Catholic faith and don’t practice it. This large-scale failure of Catholic men to commit themselves to Jesus Christ and His Church has contributed to the accelerating…Continue Reading