Monday, October 31, 2011

All that is Hidden

The following is a book review of mine that was published in the September/October 2010 edition of Touchstone:
Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries: Uncovering Mysterious Sights, Symbols, and Societies (Hardcover) by Stephen Klimczuk and Gerald Warner. New York: Sterling Publishing Company, 2009.

“Therefore fear them not. For nothing is covered that shall not be revealed: nor hid, that shall not be known.” ~Matthew 10:26
It has become fashionable in some intellectual circles to ridicule conspiracy theories. The tissue of absurdities put forth by authors like Dan Brown have distorted history beyond recognition, clouding the lines between fact and fiction, making it difficult to discern the genuine from the fraudulent. In an effort to counter the tiresome falsehoods about secret societies, it is natural, I suppose, for people to laugh at all mention of conspiracies, forgetting that the American Revolution itself came about as a result of the work of conspiring patriots. Thus we sink into blissful ignorance not only of history but of the forces that are shaping the world in which we live, assuming that if  we do not hear about certain groups on Fox News then they do not exist.
However, for every poison, there is an antidote; the only remedy for a lie is the light of truth. Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries by Stephen Klimczuk and Gerald Warner is one such search light in the murky swamp of falsehood. A witty and eclectic exploration of “mysterious sights, symbols and societies,” Secret Places mingles past with present, bringing history to life, while discerning truth from falsehood. The intelligent and entertaining book carefully looks at some of the great mysteries of history, as well as some current ones, as the authors sift fact from fiction and rumor from documented events. Researching such a book is the dream of many historians and journalists, since from the photos and anecdotes Klimczuk and Warner obviously gained access into some rare places, or else spoke with those who have. This reader came away with the feeling of having been on an investigative adventure, the main result of which is the realization of how much there is yet to learn about the mysteries of the world.
One of the problems that contemporary Americans have with secret societies, private clubs, and conspiratorial alliances is that we live in a society where privacy and secrecy have all but disappeared. The most personal matters are topics for the news media. Every detail of life and love is discussed on talk shows. Since Facebook and Twitter have overwhelmed the scene we now know what a distant relative or an acquaintance on the other side of the globe had for breakfast. We no longer understand the need for privacy and solitude that people of the past once guarded. As the Introduction says:
What is the origin of the basic human instinct to hide away in obscure places, to seek privacy in secret sanctuaries, and to congregate in select groups in venues from which the rest of humanity is excluded?...This book takes a close but wide-ranging look at such behavior, both in the past and present, by casting the light of day on a rich variety of highly private enclaves in which groups have gathered to worship, to conspire, to defend themselves, and, in one gruesome instance, to plan one of the most shocking  mass murders in the history of the world. In a lighter vein, we also explore a large number of secretive and exclusive venues that exist for the purpose of good fellowship and unabashed enjoyment.” (p.1)
I had never heard of Wewelsburg Castle in Westphalia, “one of the most evil places on earth” (p.62) where SS Reichsfürher Heinrich Himmler founded his pagan order of knights as a total distortion of the medieval orders of chivalry. People often wonder how the Nazis could have killed so many people. The authors answer the question.

The answer lies in Wewelsburg. There, with the help of ancient Nordic pagan mythology and the extravagant theories of twentieth-century esoteric philosophers and downright cranks, Himmler manufactured a pseudoreligion designed to take the place of Christian morality, to give his SS units an alternative ‘spirituality’ that would steel them to commit mass murder under the banner of a German mysticism at once old and new. That is the most chilling aspect of Wewelsburg: without its dark inspiration, the killing of millions of innocent people would have lacked the impetus of mystical zeal…. (p.63)

On a somewhat lighter but nonetheless eerie note, Secret Places supplies cogent information about arcane groups such as the Bilderburgers, the Esalen Institute, the Rosicrucians and many more. The truth about places like Rennes-le-château and Rosslyn Chapel is revealed. Even more mysterious and fascinating to me is the chapter about the state-of-the-art modern governmental refuges (the fabled “Undisclosed Location”) which are maintained in case of nuclear attack and natural disaster. I was also intrigued by the section on private banks, mostly in Switzerland, the bastions of privacy and exclusivity.  And yes, the origins and doings of Skull and Bones are investigated; the findings are sobering, bespeaking the human need to invent pseudoreligious ritual when traditional religion has become watered down.

Speaking of exclusivity, the book wraps up with the delightful discussion of various types of old-fashioned gentlemen’s clubs that still are in existence. I wonder if marriages would last longer if contemporary men and women had a bit more time away from each other. As the book explains:

The image of padded armchairs, candlelight blinking on polished silver, port circulating in paneled rooms, and the soft-footed servants tending to members’ every need is an Edwardian vignette of discreet luxury that has long disappeared from most English country houses but still survives, at least to some extent, in clubland….The object of a good club is to provide a home away from home for every member, wining and dining him splendidly, isolating him from the outside world, and, above all, offering him sanctuary from his womenfolk. For most of clubland’s history, its discreet habitats had the primary purpose of providing refuges wherein the British male could seek protection from his natural predator: woman. (pp.234-235)

Any one of the topics discussed in this highly readable volume could make a book in itself. Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries does not pretend to be an exhaustive source of knowledge on secret societies and weird hideouts but rather a compelling travelogue throughout a veiled world, sifting for evidence from among the myths. Although it is a layman’s guide rather than a heavy scholarly work, there is enough information to pique one’s interest and inspire one to sally forth on a quest of one’s own. Well-written and erudite, the undercurrents of humor and pathos make it a book of immense charm. I would recommend it for all ages, but especially for the young who want to know the truth behind so many books and films that are passed off as history. Most fascinating to me is the patterns of human behavior, the desire to be among one’s own kind, which keeps asserting itself in spite of progress and political correctness. As the conclusion affirms:

As these richly variegated examples have demonstrated, humanity’s urge to squirrel itself away in inaccessible sanctuaries is an ingrained instinct from the womb….It is an interesting paradox that while this instinct is, at first blush, unsociable and isolationist, it usually expresses itself in a desire to gather in secret places with like-minded individuals, which actually constitutes a kind of communitarianism….Sometimes, as we have shown, there is a nefarious or evil purpose to such covert behavior. But, as we have also illustrated, there is a legitimate right to privacy that only a totalitarian society will invade. (p.251) 
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Horror and Faith

Scott Richert on the film The Exorcist.
October 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of the supernatural thriller The Exorcist. The 1973 film version of the novel, starring Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller, and Linda Blair, became one of the highest-grossing movies of all time and inspired not only a series of less interesting sequels but dozens of other horror movies in the 1970's and 1980's. For many filmgoers and readers, The Exorcist set the bar for horror and, decades later, still sparks the occasional sleepless night.

Yet the novel's author, William Peter Blatty (who also penned the Academy Award-winning screenplay for the film), has marked the 40th anniversary of the novel's appearance by writing a column for FoxNews.com, in which he reveals that "I haven't the faintest recollection of any intention to frighten the reader, which many will take, I suppose, as an admission of failure on an almost stupefying, scale." Rather, Blatty, the son of devout Lebanese Catholic immigrants, reveals "'The Exorcist's Secret Message": It is "a novel of faith in the popular dress of a thrilling and suspenseful detective story—in other words, a sermon that no one could possibly sleep through."

That is not, of course, the way that the novel and the subsequent film have been portrayed by either their fans or their detractors. Indeed, many Christians have accused Blatty of opening up readers and filmgoers to demonic influences—missing not only the point of the novel but misunderstanding Christ's own teaching regarding the principalities and powers of this world. Demons hold no sway over those who are firm in their faith; but they do, in the words of Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel, "prowl about the world, seeking the ruin of souls." By denying their existence, and treating the world of spiritual warfare as a parlor game, we open ourselves to their influence and even, in extreme cases, to possession. (Read entire post.)
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Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Woman Out of Legend

Gareth's two part series on Eleanor of Aquitaine is a pleasant pastime for a Sunday afternoon.

Part I
“Reared with abundance of all delights, you had a taste for luxury and refinement and enjoyed a royal liberty. You lived richly in your own inheritance, you took pleasure in the pastimes of your women, you delighted in the melodies of flute and drum ... You abounded in riches of every kind.” 
- The poet Richard of Poitiers, writing on Eleanor of Aquitaine (c. 1176) (Read entire post)

Part II
In 1966, the playwright James Goldman wrote The Lion in Winter, one of my favourite plays and a stupendous piece of writing, dramatising a reunion of Henry, Eleanor and their children during the Christmas of 1183, ten years after the rebellion. Reflecting on why it all started, Eleanor says, ‘Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war: not history’s forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can’t we love one another just a little – that’s how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children. We could change the world.’ In short, the war of 1173-1174 was probably the most epic example of familial dysfunction since the Ptolemies. (Read entire article.)
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Contemporary French Nobility

"The problem with France is that there is no king." (Via The Inn at the End of the World.)
Across Europe, nobles have weathered the effects of the rise of the middle class, fluctuating farming revenue, financial crises and tax increases. But in France the situation is particularly complicated. Following a series of revolutions, no official nobles have been created since around 1870, says the ANF. In today's French Republic, a noble title confers no formal power.

Hindered by the fact that it was long considered un-noble to have a job—unless it was to serve the king—some French nobles fell on hard times. Today many have simply inherited the financial burden of caring for an old castle. In the past 50 years, without a king to promote new members, about 600 French noble family names disappeared, many of the nobles having married into obscurity. (Read entire article.)
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Saturday, October 29, 2011

What Did Louis Look Like?

From History and Other Thoughts:
Louis XVI is often described as fat and ugly but when I look at pictures of this king painted in his youth, that's not what I see at all. Although I don't find him particularly good-looking, he's not ugly either and it's easy to see why his contemporaries thought him handsome. He was a tall, strong, athletic man with blue eyes, nice lips and an aquiline nose. Here's how Nesta Webster describes him in her book, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette before the Revolution:

Five foot ten inches in height, heavily built but not yet too fat, with well-shaped legs, a pleasant ruddy countenance and pale blue eyes, of which the benevolent expression was veiled only by short-sightedness, Louis XVI at nineteen was not unpleasing. His voice, harmonious in its normal key, only rose discordantly under the stress of emotion. Unfortunately he walked badly, with the swaying motion peculiar to his family, trudging, instead of sliding smoothly after the fashion that was de rigueur, over the polished floors of Versailles. [...] Simple, honest, kindly, plainly dressed in his unenbroidered coat of brown or grey, he looked in no way regal. [...] Louis himself was delicate in childhood, and only by the age of sixteen had he begun to acquire the robustness and strength of muscle which drove him to find a vent for his energies in hunting, shooting and working at his anvil.
Louis XVI may have put on weight in his later years, but as a young price, he was nice-looking. I think the only thing he lacked to really look regal was a good dose of self-confidence. What do you think? (Read entire post.)
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Publishing with Amazon

Rewriting the rules. I love it. To quote:

Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide. Several large publishers declined to speak on the record about Amazon’s efforts. “Publishers are terrified and don’t know what to do,” said Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House, who is known for speaking his mind.

“Everyone’s afraid of Amazon,” said Richard Curtis, a longtime agent who is also an e-book publisher. “If you’re a bookstore, Amazon has been in competition with you for some time. If you’re a publisher, one day you wake up and Amazon is competing with you too. And if you’re an agent, Amazon may be stealing your lunch because it is offering authors the opportunity to publish directly and cut you out.

“It’s an old strategy: divide and conquer,” Mr. Curtis said.

Amazon executives, interviewed at the company’s headquarters here, declined to say how many editors the company employed, or how many books it had under contract. But they played down Amazon’s power and said publishers were in love with their own demise.

“It’s always the end of the world,” said Russell Grandinetti, one of Amazon’s top executives. “You could set your watch on it arriving.”

He pointed out, though, that the landscape was in some ways changing for the first time since Gutenberg invented the modern book nearly 600 years ago. “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader,” he said. “Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.”

Amazon has started giving all authors, whether it publishes them or not, direct access to highly coveted Nielsen BookScan sales data, which records how many physical books they are selling in individual markets like Milwaukee or New Orleans. It is introducing the sort of one-on-one communication between authors and their fans that used to happen only on book tours. It made an obscure German historical novel a runaway best seller without a single professional reviewer weighing in. (Read entire article.)
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Friday, October 28, 2011

The Salon of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte

In the Tuileries palace, when she was Dauphine of France from 1824-1830. (Via Vive la Reine.) Where Amber finds rare pictures like this, I do not know. Notice the spartan quality of the room. Share

Controversial Historical Characters

A recent post for the Catholic Writers Guild.
How do we write about controversial Catholic historical characters? I think that the key to dealing with controversial characters and situations in Catholic historical fiction is to be faithful to the facts. The more research you do, the more information you will have, and the clearer your picture of the past will be. Stay away from caricatures of good and evil. Remember that everyone has potential for redemption and very few situations are black and white. And many Catholic characters, such as Marie-Antoinette, Mary Queen of Scots, Isabella of Castile and Catherine de Medici are only “controversial” because they have been misrepresented in the Whig version of history. (Read entire post.)
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Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Table for an Empress

As Empress Maria-Theresa wrote to her daughter Marie-Antoinette in 1777:
How grateful I am to you: the magnificent table arrived in perfect condition ten days ago and everyone is admiring this marvelous piece of work.
 (Read entire post.) Share

More on Modern Witchcraft

Some musings on an on-going tragedy by the Pittsford Perennialist:
 Ugandan Christians find themselves combating "members of the country's new elite [who] are paying witch doctors vast sums of money... in a bid to increase their wealth" — Where child sacrifice is a business.

...Returning to contemporary Africa, the article says, "The ritual... was almost unheard of in the country until about three years ago, but it has re-emerged, seemingly alongside a boom in the country's economy." If it was almost unheard of but re-emerged, it must at some point have been heard of.

Likewise, Witchcraft was almost unheard of during the Age of Faith, when our Europe was firmly in the care of Holy Mother Church. It had been known in the pre-Christian times that Wicca wants to reanimate, and only re-emerged with the upheavals resulting from the Protestant Reformation. (Read entire post.)
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Last Communion of Marie-Antoinette



Some artistic renditions. Via Vive la Reine. Share

The Sociopath Next Door

For anyone who has ever dealt with a  sociopath, this article will ring true.
The covetous sociopath thinks that life has cheated her somehow, has not given her nearly the same bounty as other people, and so she must even the existential score by robbing people, by secretly causing destruction in their lives. She believes she has been slighted by nature, circumstances, and destiny, and that diminishing other people is her only means of being powerful. Retribution, usually against people who have no idea that they have been targeted, is the most important activity in the covetous sociopath’s life, her highest priority. (Read entire article.)
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Young Patriot

Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, the Dauphin Louis-Charles and a young guard. Share

Warlords

John Zmirak and his heroes.
Such lofty magnanimity breathed forth from enormous souls like St. Edmund Campion, who earnestly prayed for his Anglican torturers from the scaffold; St. Maria Goretti, who forgave her murderer (and would-be rapist) with her dying breath; St. “Padre” Pio, who patiently endured campaigns of slander that led to his suspension from the public exercise of the priesthood; and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose long years in labor camps led him to conversion, and to novels in which he treated even Communist kapos with compassion.
Compared to such spiritual grandeur, the thin-skinned vanity of Achilles, the transgressive glee of Machiavelli, seem petty and adolescent. The pre-Christian “honor” ethos that led so many noblemen to kill or die in duels was not in fact “tougher” or more realistic than the Christian code of humility and patience. Genghis Khan may have left behind more descendants than St. Francis of Assisi, but which one left a better taste in history’s mouth? The pagan love of “glory” that Jesus deconstructed both by word and example gave way to something much more powerfully enduring: a love of the Good for its own sake, despite the hungry urgings of man’s insatiable ego. (Read entire post.)
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Monday, October 24, 2011

The Tea at Trianon Forum

Please visit the new Tea at Trianon Forum. It will be a place to discuss the same topics we discuss on the blog, but in more detail. Anyone can join. On the forum people will be able to introduce topics for discussion. Comments will be posted immediately, without having to wait for me to moderate them. Members will be able to post links and pictures and make block quotes, which is so much easier for trying to get one's point across.

There are three main rules: 1. Be polite. 2. Be polite. 3. Be polite. The forum is for ladies and gentlemen. If you are not a lady or a gentleman then it is not the forum for you. Courtesy must be observed at all times. Members are asked to refrain from personal attacks, sarcasm, slanderous remarks about ANYONE and general snarkiness. While questions and inquiries are welcome, any attacks upon the Catholic Church or the Pope will be deleted immediately. We also ask that our guests stay on topic. Off topic comments will be subject to deletion. Please be prepared to back up any news or historical assertions with a reference, either the title of a book, the name of an author, or an internet link to a reliable source.

I think it is possible for people to debate topics, to agree and to disagree, without it becoming ugly. It does not mean that we ever compromise the truth but it does mean that others have a right to their point of view (even if it is the wrong point of view.) I really want it to be a forum for shy people, for those who do not usually enjoy forums as well as for those who do. I want it to be one place where people can express their ideas without being attacked. We may agree to disagree, we may express contrary opinions, but we will do it with regard for the basic humanity of our fellow members. Share

Henry Norris

One of the men who was unjustly accused of (and killed for) committing adultery with Anne Boleyn.
On May Day, Norris took part in the jousts. When his horse became uncontrollable, Henry VIII gave him his. Did the king know at this point about the accusations against his Queen? We'll never know, but towards the end of the jousts, he received a message (probably informing him that Mark Smeaton had confessed to adultery with the Queen) and just left. While the Queen (and everyone else) wondered at his behaviour, Norris rode back with the King to Westminster. Henry VIII interrogated him, promising him he would be forgiven if he would confess the truth. But he maintained his innocence. When they arrived at York Place, Norris was placed in the custody of Sir William FitzWilliam. He and other members of the Privy Council questioned him. On 2nd May, Norris was taken to the Tower. (Read entire post.)

For more on Henry Norris see the extensive articles at The Anne Boleyn Files. Share

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Princess of Royal Blood

Versailles will be having an exhibition devoted to Madame Elisabeth of France in 2013. In the meantime, the Versailles website has an interesting entry about the French princess who died at the age of thirty in the violence of the Revolution.
Princess Elisabeth de France was the last-born sibling of Louis XVI. A figure remarkable for her exuberance and piety, throughout her life she showed a strong attachment to her brother and sister-in-law, whom she followed to their final place of incarceration.
Born in the palace of Versailles in 1764, Elisabeth de France, called Madame Elisabeth, was the youngest sister of Louis XVI. Orphaned at the age of 3, she received an excellent education during which she was noted for her talents in mathematics and the sciences. Her contemporaries said she was a skilled rider, gifted for drawing and embroidery but a mediocre singer. From her childhood, she revealed an ambiguous personality, her great devotion combining with her dissipated and original character – she signed some of her letters “Elisabeth la Folle” (Mad Elisabeth). At an early age she showed great attachment to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, with whom she lived all her life, refusing to marry to be able to remain with them.
In 1783, when Madame Elisabeth was 19, Louis XVI gave her a plot of land and a house in the village of Montreuil, which can still be seen today in the Montreuil district of Versailles and is known as the “Domaine de Madame Elisabeth” (her estate). Although she was not allowed to sleep here before coming of age (25), she rode there every day from the palace of Versailles. The life she lived there, simpler than at the court, was dominated by the leisure activities that she had adopted in her childhood, and by the pious practices and works of charity that earned her the nickname “Bonne dame de Montreuil” (good lady of Montreuil).
When the French Revolution broke out, Madame Elisabeth adopted a very firm stand against the supporters of a constitutional monarchy and was opposed to any search for a compromise. Her attachment to Louis XVI led her to refuse the exile chosen by her aunts and other brothers. So she followed Marie-Antoinette to Varennes, to the Temple prison, and then to the scaffold on which she died in 1794 before being buried in a common grave.

Her attachment to her brother and sister-in-law, her intransigent opposition to the Revolution’s aspirations, her piety, her charitable work and the way she met her death led to the formation of a cult built around her personality in the first half of the 19th century. This cult was fostered within the royalist movement which developed in favour of a restoration of the monarchy and militated for the beatification of Madame Elisabeth.

An exhibition will be devoted to Madame Elisabeth in 2013, for more information
 (Read entire article.) Share

Beginning the Day

As part of the Life Well Lived Getting Happy campaign, the BlogHer Network is inviting women all over the world to share what they do to get their days off to a good start. Sometimes it is the little things which make us or break us. The negative patterns of thinking, the prayers left unsaid, the interior complaints and the lack of gratitude, can chip away at both body and soul, draining us of energy and of hope. When we allow ourselves to become bogged down in discouragement, then we make it easier for ourselves to underachieve, to be inconsiderate of others, and to generally give in to sloppy living. It is within our power to change the course of our lives by adopting good habits.

One habit which I have found to be indispensable is to make an effort to begin the day well. The way to do this is easy. It means making an effort to focus my waking moments in a positive way. It sounds trite but it is true. I try to turn my thoughts to God and thank Him for giving me another day in which to serve Him and work out my salvation. When we think of God, it puts our troubles in perspective, all the pinpricks, all the headaches, because God is forever; everything else shall pass.

After making a short morning offering to God and the Blessed Mother, I head for the coffee. Coffee helps the material to catch up with the spiritual. As I drink my coffee, I check my email. I am finding it is a bad idea to check Facebook first thing in the morning, because being bombarded with bad news, controversies and quarrels is not always the best way to get oneself motivated.

We live close to the local YMCA, so as many mornings as I can, I like to start the day with a swim. Swimming is the best exercise in the world. You can get the best work-out almost effortlessly. I have found that swimming relaxes my mind and in doing so helps me to clear out the cobwebs. For those of you who write, you know how important it is to keep the mind uncluttered, since writers' brains tend to become as chaotic as our desks. I have found, however, that a brisk forty-five minute swim restores order and harmony to my thoughts. After a good swim, I am ready for anything.

Please share your secret for starting the day on a positive note by going HERE. By the way, BlogHer is offering a $250 prize. Please click HERE to find out how you can win.

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Oskoruša

An ancient tree with healing fruit.
This tree is generally rare and very hard to find in almost all of Europe (although there are farms in France and Germany). It originates in modern day Turkey and it was brought to the rest of Europe by the ancient Romans. The oldest tree is believed to be one in Czech Republic and it is believed to be 400 years old. Service tree lumber was mainly used for making wheels and other heavy duty parts of mills and ships as it is very hard. In the past, nearly every house was planting this tree and even the Empress  Maria Theresa ordered that every household in Austrian Empire needs to plant this tree. The fruit was used for medicinal tea (good for stomach ache and constipation) and even as a supplement to  flour that was used to make bread. Especially good was the liquor made of the fruits! Service tree fruit has about 15% of sugar. (Read entire post.)
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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Edith Cavell

The story of a heroic World War I nurse.
"Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone." Last words Edith Cavell .

Although The Story of Nurse Edith Cavell happened in the year after the beginning of the First World War one can barely read a history of the war with out coming across her name. Her death by firing squad was used by the Allies to advantage for propaganda.

The opening days of the First World War saw the Belgians almost overrun. With the occupation of the cities, anything of value that could be moved was. As the population of Belgium and France fled from the invading Germans, with cities almost deserted, one who stayed behind was...

Edith Cavell (1865-1915) was a British nurse serving in Belgium who was executed on a charge of assisting Allied prisoners to escape during World War One. (Read entire post.)
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Patrick Brontë

Things I never knew about the father of the marvelous Brontë sisters.
In 1802, Patrick entered St John's College, Cambridge. This was no small achievement considering the modest financial means of his family. It was also during this time that he changed the spelling of his name from Brunty to Bronte. No one knows for certain why he did this. Maybe he wanted to hide his humble origins? But what does Bronte mean? It is the name of a Greek god and means thunder, but he could also have chosen the name in honour of Lord Nelson, on which was bestowed the honour of Duke of Bronte by King Ferdinand of Naples. Patrick graduated from college in 1806.

After his graduation he went to Ireland to see his family. That was the last time he ever set foot on Ireland. The following year he was ordained into the Church of England and then held several curacies. In 1812, Patrick met Maria Branwell. The couple married in December of that same year and had six children: Maria (1814), Elizabeth (1815), Charlotte (1816), Branwell (1817), Emily (1818) and Anne (1820). The year his younger daughter was born, he was appointed perpetual curate of Haworth. His wife Maria died here of cancer the following year.

Maria's sister Elizabeth moved in with the Brontes to assist her during her illness and decided to stay even after her death to help Patrick take care of his many children. Struggling to bring up his large family and failing to remarry to give a mother to his children, in 1823 he decided to send his four eldest daughters - Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte and Emily - to the Cowan Bridge school, a school for clergymen's daughters. During their second year there, Maria and Elizabeth contracted tuberculosis and died. Charlotte blamed the harsh regimen and the poor sanitary condition of the school for their death. After that, he personally took charge of his children's education. (Read entire post.)
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Friday, October 21, 2011

Late Eighteenth Century Hats

The type worn by Marie-Antoinette and her contemporaries.
A popular hat throughout the 18th century was the Bergère Hat (French for shepherdess).  Made of straw with a shallow crown and flat brim, this hat was worn perched upon the head or with the brim folded back or turned down.  A wide ribbon tied in an easy but artful bow under the chin would keep it securely upon the head.  In the portraits below, both women are wearing this type of hat.  The lady on the left, from Brittany, has a wide brim and a veil attached.  An ostrich feather and flowers adorn the brim of the lady on the right, who happens to be the famous painter Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun. (Read entire post.)
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An Atheist Convert

The faith journey of author R. J. Stove.
We Catholics repeatedly make a very stupid error when we try to play the Pentecostal holy-rollers' game. The demagogic televangelist will always do that sort of thing better than we can. Shrieking rapture is not our religion's chief didactic glory. As to what is, Waugh admirably phrased the matter in his life of Campion: "the [Catholic] faith is absolutely satisfactory to the mind, enlisting all knowledge and all reason in its cause...it is completely compelling to any who give it an 'indifferent and quiet audience'." How many mainstream Australian Catholics today, I find myself wondering, have ever encountered this sentence of Waugh's? How many would be capable of regarding Catholicism as providing anything other (let alone anything more) than the same emotional buzz as a football telecast?

When in the course of my literary duties I came to learn in depth about two outwardly unrelated sixteenth-century events—the battle of Lepanto, and the Elizabethan martyrs' via crucis—I could no longer resist entry into the Catholic Church. In honor of the pope who had done so much to make Lepanto possible, as well as of his twentieth- century namesake so vilely slandered as "Hitler's Pope," I took Pius as my baptismal name.
(Read entire article.)
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Holy Borgia

Yes, one of the Borgias became a saint; there is hope for all of us.
Great-grandson of Alexander VI, on the paternal side, he was, on his mother’s side, the great-grandson of the Catholic King Ferdinand of Aragon. This monarch had procured the appointment of his natural son, Alfonso, to the Archbishopric of Saragossa at the age of nine years. By Anna de Gurrea, Alfonso had two sons, who succeeded him in his archiepiscopal see, and two daughters, one of whom, Juana, married Duke Juan of Gandia and became the mother of our saint. By this marriage Juan had three sons and four daughters. By a second, contracted in 1523, he had five sons and five daughters. The eldest of all and heir to the dukedom was Francis. Piously reared in a court which felt the influence of the two Poor Clares, the mother and sister of the reigning duke, Francis lost his own mother when he was but ten. In 1521, a sedition amongst the populace imperilled the child’s life, and the position of the nobility. When the disturbance was suppressed, Francis was sent to Saragossa to continue his education at the court of his uncle, the archbishop, an ostentatious prelate who had never been consecrated nor even ordained priest. Although in this court the Spanish faith retained its fervour, it lapsed nevertheless into the inconsistencies permitted by the times, and Francis could not disguise from himself the relation in which his grandmother stood to the dead archbishop, although he was much indebted to her for his early religious training. While at Saragossa Francis cultivated his mind and attracted the attention of his relatives by his fervour. They being desirous of assuring the fortune of the heir of Gandia, sent him at the age of twelve to Tordesillas as page to the Infanta Catarina, the youngest child and companion in solitude of the unfortunate queen, Juana the Mad. (Read entire article.)
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Occupy the Catholic Church?

Scott Richert on those who would subvert the Church.
I very rarely comment on the bad aspects of other Catholic publications. I'd rather focus on the positive things to be found in each than on the ways they might contradict or subvert Catholic teaching. That's why, for instance, I occasionally cite or discuss John Allen's columns in the National Catholic Reporter (Allen is perhaps the best Rome correspondent employed by any English-language Catholic newspaper), but keep my silence about the rest of that publication.

But every once in a while, a publication runs something so monumentally stupid that it would be wrong not to say anything. That is the case with a blog post on "In All Things," the group blog of America, the Catholic weekly run by the Jesuits.

The post, entitled, "What If 'Occupy Wall Street' Could Be Attempted in the Catholic Church?", was written by Tom Beaudoin, a Boston College Ph.D. who is an associate professor of theology in the Graduate School of Religion at Fordham University, where (according to his website Rock and Theology—that's rock music, by the way, not Peter or the rock of our faith), "he teaches courses in practice-based theologies." The Jesuits used to understand that "practice-based theologies" is redundant; any true theology implies practice. Of course, that's not really what Professor Beaudoin means by this awkward phrase. (Read entire article.)
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The Mighty Macs (2011)

Here is an excerpt of an interesting review from Aquinas and More:
Now let's take a look at the actual content of the movie. First I'm going to ask you to set aside all the feel-good warm fuzzies about the story and focus on the actual message of the film. First, there is the uplifting "have trust in each other and have heart and you can do anything" theme. No problem here. Just about every underdog sports movie from Hoosiers to We are Marshall has this as a theme.
The problems lie in the other themes of the movie.

Back in 1940 Mortimer Adler wrote How to Read a Book. While it was specifically aimed at print, it can easily be adapted to film. Two of the rules are especially of interest when watching The Mighty Macs.
  • Mark the most important sentences in the book and discover the propositions they contain.
  • Locate or construct the basic arguments in the book by finding them in the connecting sentences.
Let's start with the opening scene which has Cathy Rush driving her red micro bus to the Macs campus to interview for the job as coach. She's listening to the news on the radio. The first story announced has to do with President Nixon and since he is never brought up again you can assume that it is used to set the time period of the film. The second story is about protests in Washington, D.C. for equal pay for women. This feminist goal is our opening introduction to the film and feminist themes run the length of the film so it is clear that, like the opening scene of Henry V, we are being provided with a lead in to the theme of the movie.
Once Cathy gets home and tells her husband that she got the job we find out that this was not something they had discussed and agreed upon but something that she had done in spite of whatever plans they had originally worked out for their marriage. She tells her husband that "I know you wanted to have a family but I really want to do this." (I don't have the movie in front of me so that is a paraphrase) He is justifiably upset but the whole scene is set up to make us sympathetic to her and her dreams over her husband's outdated notions of having a family. Come on! She has dreams to live!

Just in case you didn't get the womyn power message from that outdated frying pan over the head, the film tosses in a few more:
  • From the trailer - Cathy Rush is "A woman ahead of her times"
  • From one of the players - "She already has a husband, why would she want to work?"
  • From another player who quits during a practice because of the coach's methods "This is so unlady-like."
  • From her husband - "This (our marriage) isn't working out the way we planned." Her response - "Well you're just going to have to adjust."
  • From Cathy to her husband - "You'd rather I just sit at home all day while you travel the country?"
  • From her husband - "I travel to pay for this apartment and everything in it. What they pay you, that's not even legal (Remember the movie opening?) Most women, they would be grateful (for everything I do for you)." Her response - An incredulous "Grateful?!"
  • From the featurette about the film. The real Cathy Rush says approvingly "The girls at Immaculata bought into the idea that they could do anything." In opposition to the norm of getting married and having a family.
  • Sister Sunday, while drinking with coach Cathy in a bar, tells Cathy she needs to tell her husband that she loves him. Great idea, but it's her husband who makes the first move by abandoning his archaic notions of family and leaving her a basketball and rose as a gift. It isn't until he decides to support her dreams that everything with their marriage gets hunky-dory again. (Read entire review.)
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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Compiègne Today

The former hunting lodge of kings. (A famous Carmelite monastery is there, too.)
The town is only 40 minutes by fast and frequent train from Paris, and what drew me there was the famous chateau, a place beloved of Louis XV, who hunted in the nearby forest, as well as Marie Antoinette; and also a favourite place of resort for members of the Fourth Dynasty to rule France. Napoleon was fond of Compiègne and spent time there, and so did the Empress Marie Louise, some of whose furniture is still in situ. Compiègne was also the scene of the house and shooting parties of Emperor Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie, where the great and good of the Second Empire gathered. The chateau is beautiful and more restrained than Versailles and the park, laid out in the English style, extremely attractive; it was a pity that the museum of the Second Empire was shut, as were the apartments of the Prince Imperial and those of the King of Rome – all because of lack of staff, I was told.

By chance I had time to spend in the pleasant town itself, and was pleased to discover a very fine parish church, St Jacques. The church contains several interesting features: a memorial to Joan of Arc, who was arrested in Compiègne; and altar rails that once surrounded the royal bed in the chateau – the gift of Louis XVIII: having once guarded the bed of Louis XVI, they are relics of a martyr. And at the back of the church there was a side chapel dedicated to the Blessed Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne. You can read a full account of their martyrdom here.

The 16 Blessed martyrs were victims of the French Revolution, and the first such victims to be beatified. That the revolutionary government of France took such trouble over them is quite incredible. Remember, these were enclosed nuns, so they could have been safely ignored, as they were pretty much unseen. But no, the revolutionaries simply could not leave them alone. First they harassed them, and declared that their vows were not binding (though why secularists should have an opinion, yet alone legislate, on the validity of religious vows is beyond me). Then, when the nuns refused to disperse voluntarily, they confiscated their priory and turned them out on to the street. The nuns went into lodgings, and adopted lay dress, as the law dictated, but continued to live a life of prayer, and continued to worship in the parish church. Finally, they were arrested, imprisoned, taken to Paris, condemned by the revolutionary tribunal, and guillotined. They wore religious dress for their execution. They were among the last victims of the Terror: within a few weeks Robespierre himself had been overthrown and guillotined.

But why on earth did the Revolution consider them worth persecuting? Their martyrdom exposes the supposed secularism of the French Revolution as a mere mask for rabid anti-clericalism. Anti-clericalism has a long track record of hatred for nuns, particularly enclosed nuns. Many were the convents attacked and destroyed in Spain at the start of the Civil War. There too Carmelites were martyred. I wonder why this should be. (Read entire article.)
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Black Robe (1991)

Some thoughts from Joshua Snyder.
The film's major goof was a casting issue. While there is nothing wrong with having the lovely Eurasian Sandrine Holt play an Indian maiden, hearing the Algonquin language butchered with a Chinese accent by some guy named Harrison Liu was grating on the ears. And Catholic nerd that I am, I also noticed the anachronism pointed out on International Movie Database page for the movie: "In one of the flashbacks to France, Father Laforgue's mother says she is praying to St. Joan. However, Joan of Arc was not canonized until 1920."

Those quibbles aside, this movie stands the test of time after twenty years. It would be an insult to compare it with the laughable Dances with Wolves (1990), and it is better than either The Last of the Mohicans (1992) or even The Mission (1986), both excellent films in their own rights. Aside from the monumental Little Big Man (1970), the only such film to give Indians a more central role in a story about them (other than Cheyenne-Arapaho Chris Eyre's delightful Smoke Signals (1998), obviously) was right-wing Catholic Mel Gibson's Apocalypto (2006), and Berenson's film ends on an even more apocalyptic (for the Indian) and ambiguous note. (Read entire review.)
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Stealing Jenny

Stealing Jenny, the third novel by award-winning Canadian author Ellen Gable, combines crime drama with psychological thriller in a book that I found impossible to put down. We read from time to time in the news about attacks upon pregnant women and the kidnapping of infants by certain deranged persons, finding it hard to believe that anyone could be that crazy. Unfortunately, the unique circumstances created by our time, in which women can have almost total control over the procreative process, have some unsettling repercussions. Babies come to be seen not as gifts from God but as commodities to be bought, manufactured or stolen. Furthermore, postponing conception for years and years while remaining sexually active can sometimes result in infertility. The more we try to bend nature and make it conform to pure pleasure, the more we must deal with the by-products of nature when it rebels.

Stealing Jenny deals with the use and abuse of our natural procreative gifts on several different levels. During the course of the highly suspenseful narrative there are brief flashbacks to certain incidents in the lives of two  different women, to their first sexual encounters, and the decisions which follow. It is a scary and inevitable reality that choices made when we are in the midst of our youthful follies can haunt us for life. They can set off quite a chain of events from which it can be difficult to extricate oneself. The words of the Psalmist were brought home to me once again: "The sins of my youth and my ignorances do not remember." Psalm 24(25):7 They are especially true in Ellen's novel, where mercy and redemption are offered again and again, to be accepted or rejected by the characters. Free will is a awe-inspiring and terrifying gift.

Another aspect of Stealing Jenny is that while we are able to see the characters from the outside we are also given a glimpse of their inner troubles and struggles. The Callahan family, who appear to be the perfect Catholic family from the outside, have their own set of problems and worries. Their existence is far from perfect, although it arouses the envy of a malevolent outsider. We are shown, as so often happens in reality, how jealousy and envy can destroy lives as quickly as a hand grenade. In Ellen's book, however, the love between a husband and a wife, being a force of nature with supernatural connotations, is able to reach across the darkness caused by evil. I would highly recommend this book for older teens and women of all ages.

(*NOTE: Stealing Jenny was sent to me by the author in exchange for my honest opinion.)

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Mental Health Disorders

Do Americans have more than anyone else? According to the Atlantic:
Over a 12-month period, 27 percent of adults in the U.S. will experience some sort of mental health disorder, making the U.S. the country with the highest prevalence. Mental health disorders include mood disorders, anxiety disorders, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and substance abuse. Over one’s entire lifetime, the average American has a 47.4 percent chance of having any kind of mental health disorder. Yes, that’s almost one in two. The projected lifetime prevalence is even higher: for people who reach age 75 it is 55 percent. The WHO data does not take into account eating disorders, personality disorders, and schizophrenia; the incidence of these disorders together is about 15 percent in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
(Read entire article.)
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Monday, October 17, 2011

Marie-Antoinette in the Conciergerie

An engraving of the imprisoned Queen being consoled during prayer. Via Vive la Reine. It looks like she is having a vision of the Sacred Heart. Share

The Legal Dangers of Cohabitation

If you don't get married, it's hard to get divorced.
A study by the Pew Research Center found that 39 percent of Americans think marriage is becoming obsolete. But it still takes a marriage (or some other legally binding agreement) to get a divorce. And as the number of couples choosing to live together rather than marry has increased drastically, so have the spats over their splits. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that almost half of its 1,600 members are seeing an increase in court battles between cohabiting couples. Nearly 40 percent of those lawyers said they’ve seen an increase in demand for cohabitation agreements — the equivalent of a prenup, sans wedding ring.

“It’s pretty heartbreaking,” Luxenberg says. “People don’t have rights unless they have the title — their name is on a piece of property or a bank account or something like that.”
Luxenberg recalls one client who lived with her partner for 20 years. They’d had a child and built a home together. The woman’s income was about $50,000, Luxenberg says, and her boyfriend’s was “six or seven times that.” When the couple split, the woman hired Luxenberg to see what recourse she had. The answer: not much.

There would be child support, “but she didn’t get any of his pension benefits or any of his profit sharing. And she wasn’t going to get alimony,” Luxenberg says. “I don’t think people think about those kinds of issues.” (Read entire article.)
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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Understanding Marie-Antoinette

Marie-Antoinette on the day of her death, approaching the tumbril
I have always believed that the only way to fully understand Marie-Antoinette is to understand her in the light of the faith to which she adhered. In his first public speech in 1929 Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira eloquently describes how Marie-Antoinette's religion dictated her behavior, in marriage, during the fiascoes of the Revolution and at the hour of death. It is a superb article although I venture to mention two points on which I disagree. The article refers to Louis XVI as weak. I just wish to add  that early in his reign, Louis XVI often displayed confidence and resolution in his decisions, especially in legislating reforms for his people, in the matter of Bavaria and in the War for American Independence. However, the time of his oldest son's death in June 1789 coincided with the Estates-General and the outbreak of the Revolution. Louis sank into what I think can be considered clinical depression which, combined with the tuberculosis that he had become infected with as a child, left him in a very bad state.

As for Madame de Polignac, she is not someone I would necessarily characterize as "frivolous" as the article says. For one thing, she was much older than Marie-Antoinette. In spite of her annoying, ever-present in-laws,  Madame de Polignac was not a bad soul. She preferred simple attire and actually encouraged the Queen in that direction. She was a good mother which was why Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI wanted her to be the Governess of the royal children. When Madame de Tourzel became governess after Madame de Polignac's departure in 1789, she found that the royal children knew their lessons, which means they received careful training under Madame de Polignac's watch.

The following are some excerpts from Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira's magnificent homage to Marie-Antoinette:
Amid the collapsing social and political edifice of the Bourbon monarchy, when everyone feels the ground crumbling beneath their feet, the joyful Archduchess of Austria and youthful Queen of France, whose elegant bearing resembles a statuette of Sevres porcelain and whose laughter conveys the charms of cloudless happiness, drinks with admirable Christian resignation, aplomb and dignity, from the bitter yet immense cup of gall with which Divine Providence decides to glorify her....

Louis XVI...was known for his austere conduct and for the piety, kindness and honesty that adorned his character. His bitterest opponents were able to raise only three charges against him: being apathetic, a glutton and a highly skilled locksmith. In the new princely family, formed without deep bonds of affection, the Christian spirit that imbued the spouses more than compensated for the absence of love. Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were always exemplary spouses who built the undeniable happiness of their family life on the solid foundations of mutual respect and absolute morality....

Not for an instant did the dethroned sovereign cease to be Queen. Greater in suffering than in glory, confronting unarmed with her son in her arms the furious mob of drunkards that invaded the royal palace, she showed herself to be from a race that fears no danger, particularly when embodying a just cause. With royalty dragged into the Paris mud and Louis XVI’s weak personality bent low under the weight of misfortune, Marie Antoinette became the sole bastion of resistance. Turning her misfortune into a dazzling throne for her personality, armed in the face of suffering only with the sublime breastplate of faith and Christian resignation, she fearlessly confronted the tidal wave about to overwhelm France....

That sovereign sought to save her throne until the last moment, not out of personal interest but for love of the monarchical principle. And she did it without hesitation, encouraging everyone and never despairing even as the mob dragged her out of the Tuileries, where she had been imprisoned, and took her with cries and jeers into the deadly and grim shadows of the Temple prison; and even as she saw, struck with horror and remorse, at the tip of a rod between the window bars of her dungeon, the severed head of the courageous Princess of Lamballe, eyes gouged out, wig sprinkled with blood, and lips completely livid – attesting to her best friend’s bitter and unmerited death. Behold, gentlemen, the torture of your Queen. It was complete, nothing was lacking; and she endured everything with calmness and resignation, prying, from time to time, cries of admiration from her own adversaries.

As a wife, Marie Antoinette suffered the greatest of martyrdoms. After being the target of most cruel insults, her husband, to whom she devoted all the feelings of an exemplary Catholic wife, was eventually dragged to a death regarded as glorious by posterity but which at that moment seemed utterly depressing....

Yet, gentlemen, it was as a mother that Marie Antoinette suffered her most horrific torture. When the Convention tried to separate her from her son, she covered the innocent prince with her own body, fighting for two hours against the brutal Simon, the shoemaker, and his cohorts. She only let go when her strength failed her. There followed long months of separation. Left alone, terribly alone, locked up with armed guards in a cell in the horrific Temple prison, the unfortunate woman had prayer as her sole, albeit powerful, consolation. To this day, France keeps her daily Missal upon which there surely fell the bitter tears of that mother who, at the height of misfortune and abandonment, always thanked God for the helplessness in which she found herself.

Finally, she was judged by the “Committee of Public Safety” for betraying her country, being a new Catherine de Medici, a bad wife and mother, and especially for the less admissible reason that she opposed the heretical goals of a certain secret charitable association which is not entirely unknown.

During the proceedings, her suffering attains an apex. Brutalized by alcohol, her son had been turned into a little animal, constantly trembling with fear....

 Death finally came. In His immense goodness, God had prepared a worthy place in heaven for her who had suffered so much and loved Him more when He sent her trials than in the fullness of pleasure. October 16, 1793 saw the end of her long martyrdom as the guillotine blade, at the same time criminal and charitable, cut off the thread of her extraordinary life. (Read entire article.)
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Exorcists

Some reflections from Fr. Blake:
Every diocese should have an exorcist. One I know seems to be a charismatic who sees the devil at every turn and will Exorcise anyone at the drop of a hat, another simply says the whole thing is nonsense, and although he is deeply holy, at least in my opinion, he has never actually performed an Exorcism in the 20 years he has had the title. He would tend to describe people as "obsessed" by the the devil or evil rather than "possessed", which in most cases I am sure is true. In most cases, but not all.

The Rituale Romanum has a Rite of Exorcism, a major one, which is reserved to a Bishop, who may delegate its use to a particular priest, the diocesan Exorcist. Its very presence is an indication that if a diocese is thinking with the Church and believes in the principle of lex credendi lex orandi, Exorcism and the office of Exorcist should be taken seriously.

Perhaps their absence in so many dioceses is an indication of the lack of formation in classical spirituality and mystical theology today. Perhaps too their absence indicates a certain theological and liturgical rupture with the past, a deep tradition going back to the Lord. (Read entire post.)
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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Birth of Madame Royale

On December 19, 1778. An account from History and Other Thoughts:
Marie Antoinette began to feel the first contractions just after midnight on December 19, 1778. As soon as the news of the impending birth spread, crowds began to arrive.The King had the tapestry screens that surrounded the bed secured with cords to avoid them being thrown down upon the Queen. In the end, the room was so crowded it was impossible to move and, to get a better site of Her Majesty, two Savoyards even got upon the furniture! The Queen, however, was still able to walk around the room till 8am, when she finally took to her bed.

The baby was born at about 11:30 am, but it wasn't the eagerly, long-awaited hair. Marie Antoinette had given birth to a fair-haired, blue-eyed daughter, Marie Therese. The Queen still ignored the sex of the baby. The Princess de Lamballe was supposed to shout "Il figlio è nato" for a boy, or "La figlia è nata" for a girl to let the Queen know the sex of her newborn baby, but overwhelmed by emotion, she only managed to say "La regina è andato" (the Queen went) before fainting. (Read entire post.)
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Rules of Etiquette

Circa 1866. How things have changed. How men have changed. How we all have changed.
 Gentlemen will not get together in groups to the neglect of the ladies.

In ascending a staircase with ladies, go at their side or before them.

Ladies may walk unattended in the streets, being careful to pass on as becomes their station—neither with a hurried pace, nor yet affecting to move slowly. Be careful not to observe to narrowly the dresses of such ladies as may pass you.

In receiving guests, your first object should be to make them feel at home. Begging them to make themselves at home is not sufficient.

If you have been once in company with an idle person, it is enough. You need never go again. You have heard all he knows.

Never nod to a lady in the street, neither be satisfied with touching your hat, but take it off—it is a courtesy her sex demands.

For a man to go into the street with a lady on his arm and a cigar in his mouth is a shocking sight, which no gentleman will ever be guilty of exhibiting; for he inevitably subjects the woman to the very worst of suspicions.

No gentleman will stand in the doors of hotels, nor on the corners of the streets, gazing impertinently at the ladies as they pass. (Read entire article.)
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The Popularity of Historical Fiction

All history lies to us, but at least historical fiction admits it. (Via Writing the Renaissance.)
The market is booming, the novels are receiving prizes galore, and the public rush to meet their favourite author at events. Hollywood now uses writers like Gregory, Tracy Chevalier, Patrick O’Brian and David Peace for its source material. Even professional historians, for a long time rather sniffy about the historical novel, are using them in their teaching (and increasingly turning their hand to writing them).

So why is this the case? Why are we so fascinated by these fictional versions of the past? How have they become legitimate ways of thinking about history? More to the point, should we be worried by this?
Well, one answer is: this isn’t actually anything new. Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814) sparked an explosion in historical novel writing that makes this current blip look very minor indeed. One could easily argue that without Scott we would not have most of the classics of European literature – Flaubert, Manzoni, Tolstoy, Eliot, Dickens, Pushkin and Victor Hugo all wrote in his shadow.

Those writers saw in Scott a new way to think about the nature of history itself. Fiction allowed them to explore, interrogate and imagine the past. They thought that using fiction as a means of comprehending and representing the past was as valid – and as important – as any other kind of historical writing. Historical novels do historical work. Their unique combination of education and escapism allows the reader to think about the ways in which what we call ‘history’ works.

As the results of a survey I recently conducted of readers of historical fiction make clear, people turn to historical novels to educate themselves as much as to seek enjoyment (you can take the survey yourself at www.meetthereaders.blogspot.com). They recognise that fiction is as legitimate a way of thinking about the past as ‘real’ history.

Historical fiction can give readers a more profound insight into the past, and illuminate an issue in a way that non-fiction prose can never hope to achieve. As one of the survey respondents said, in a phrase that I adore, “reading historical fiction adds a dimension to historical fact”. Yet beyond this, the historical novel boom suggests readers are comfortable with the ambiguities of the past and its representations.

Jonathan Nield, writing in 1902, argued that in reading such work we “allow ourselves to be hoodwinked”. I like this idea: that the books try to fool us and – crucially – we let this happen, even though we know better. Letting the reader in on the deception, the historical novel enfranchises us and makes us part of the process. We know we’re being fooled, but we don’t mind. All history lies to us, but at least historical fiction admits it. It empowers the reader and lets him or her reflect upon the ways in which all ‘history’ works through a system of narratives that strive to legitimise themselves. (Read entire article.)
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Friday, October 14, 2011

Portrait of Madame de Tourzel

Last governess of the children of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. More HERE.
Marie-Antoinette chose as governess as trustworthy and reliable a person as she could find. "I entrusted my children to friendship," she remarked. "I entrust them now to virtue."
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The Tudors in Opera

Stephanie Mann looks at famous operas which have Tudor characters.
I thought I should complete the survey of Donizetti's Tudor operas with a post on Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux, which both feature Elizabeth I in a leading, though not title, role.

The first opera is based on Schiller's play, Maria Stuart, and like the Vanessa Redgrave/Glenda Jackson movie, commits the wild inaccuracy of having Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I meet. Donizetti's librettist Giuseppe Bardari creates a love/hate quadrangle: Elizabeth loves Leicester; Leicester loves Maria; Maria hates Elizabeth; Elizabeth hates Maria. From that you get three acts of bel canto drama, confrontation, but no mad scene. In the end:

Maria's friends lament her fate, and she, facing death calmly, tries to comfort them and give them strength. As the cannon sounds the signal for her execution, Cecil asks for her last requests. She forgives Elisabetta and prays for a blessing on her and the kingdom. She tries to calm the grief-stricken Leicester and hopes that her innocent blood will placate the wrath of Heaven. She goes resolutely to her death as her friends grieve over her fate.
Roberto Devereux gives us the triangle of Elizabeth and Essex and Sara, the Duchess of Nottingham, whose husband plots the death of Essex. There's a great love duet between Essex and Sara--and a tremendous mad scene for Elizabeth before Essex's offstage execution. She abdicates at the end.

There is really a fourth opera in Donizetti's Tudor series, Il castelo di Kenilworth, but even though it features the really great triangle of Elizabeth, Leicester and his wife Amy (Amelia), it does not get as much attention because it is not a tragedy. Amy survives attempted poisoning and does not fall downstairs. The opera is a comedy (not a funny comedy but a comedy in the classic sense): Elizabeth gives her blessing to Amy and Leicester and everybody is happy--except for the villain, of course.

Donizetti wrote other operas with an English or Scottish setting: Lucia di Lammermoor most famously, but also Rosmunda d'Inghilterra about the Fair Rosamund, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Emilia di Liverpool. English royalty also appear in L'assedio di Calais, with Queen Isabella begging King Edward III to show mercy to the burghers of Calais. (Read entire post.)
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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte

The daughter of Louis XVI at the time of the Restoration in 1814. Share

Taking Liberties

Author Susan Higginbotham discusses some of the liberties with history that are taken in some historical novels. (I love Susan's historical rants.) To quote:
Writing about sexual relations between historical figures is a delicate matter, of course. With many historical couples, we can only guess about whether their marriage was happy or otherwise, and we know even less about what went on in the most intimate part of their lives. Some invention, therefore, is inevitable, and indeed inescapable if we are to write a readable novel. But for the responsible novelist, that literary license shouldn’t extend to ascribing sexual crimes or misdeeds to men that history never attributed to them simply because it’s too much trouble to add a few shades of gray to a character’s color palette. (Read entire post.)
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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Be Beautiful

Inside and Out. An interview with Teresa Tomeo about her new book.
 I have felt a need for this book ever since I published my first book in 2007, "Noise: How Our Media Saturated Culture Dominates Lives and Dismantles Families." In my research I began to see how women were being targeted by advertisers, programmers, and Hollywood to accept a certain lifestyle, one contrary not only to Church teaching but to common decency and, frankly, common sense.

Although women have made great strides, the onslaught of pornography, the promotion of sexual promiscuity, the push for contraception and abortion on demand have led to women being more objectified than ever before. This research, plus my own experience in being caught up in the culture, combined with countless conversations I have had with other women, are among the many reasons I felt I had to write "Extreme Makeover."

This book is filled with research concerning the many issues that affect women, including the connection between abortion and breast cancer, side effects of contraception, the latest statistics on sexually transmitted diseases, eating disorders, body image, and the testimonies of reverts and converts. I also give women hope and show them how the Church is a big "yes" and not a big "no." We have also included a spiritual makeover with really good suggestions on how to have true joy and be beautiful inside and out. (Read entire article.)
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The Silent Emperor

Kaiser Frederick III was the husband of Queen Victoria's oldest daughter, Vicky. His death was a great loss to Europe and to the new German Empire.
‘Fritz’ was a sensitive and thoughtful man who views often contradicted those of the Chancellor, Bismarck. Consequently, Bismarck did his utmost to denigrate the Crown Prince and more especially his English wife about whom Bismarck created and publicised various scurrilous and totally unfounded rumours. Perhaps his greatest insult to Fritz, however, was the way in which he completely played down the Crown Prince’s role in the Franco-Prussian War and the subsequent unification of Germany. Despite his hatred of war, Fritz was an extremely competent commander whose ability in the field led to many Prussian victories.
“I know how harrowing and dreadful war is to him,” Vicky wrote to her mother, “how he hates it and how little ambition he has to become a military hero. On the other hand, I know that he is considered our best leader – and that it was not thought necessary to give him the best officers on his staff.... – ...so great was the confidence on the part of Moltke and the King in Fritz’s genius. He is always quiet and self-possessed and determined; having no personal ambitions, he thinks only of what is best not of what makes most effect...”
Even the French observed and commented on his humanity and the kindness with which he treated ‘the enemy’, and a French journalist recorded him saying, “I do not like war, gentlemen. If I should reign, I would never make it.” (Read entire post.)
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