|Togher Castle, County Cork. Daniel O'Connor was born nearby.|
Here is a review from May at The Cross of Laeken:1. Your first two novels were about Marie Antoinette and her daughter, so you researched the lives of famous historical personages and recreated them as historical fiction characters—particularly with Marie Antoinette, a historical person many people think they know all about. Was or how was your research different when writing about your ancestors?
The research was extremely difficult because, even as there is a great deal of information available on Marie-Antoinette, the information on my ancestors is largely unpublished, except for some scant information on Daniel himself. So my research had to consist in sifting through private family archives, those I was able to access, that is. I had a cousin, Mary O'Connor Kaiser, who was helping me, but she died in 2005, a great tragedy. I was able, however, to go do a great deal on my own and with the help of other relatives, accessing public records and going through letters and memoirs. The book is history at the grassroots level. Also, because there is so much unknown about their lives I had to be much more creative than in my books on the French Royal Family.
2. Anti-Catholicism is a threat to Daniel and his family both in Ireland and in Canada. Why do you think hatred, ignorance, and fear of Catholicism is so persistent and often so deep in English/Canadian/American culture? what effects did the Irish penal laws have on the O'Connor family?
The Irish penal laws forced the O'Connor family in Ireland into poverty. The O'Connors had been among the High Kings of Ireland and lords of their own land, but when the penal laws were passed in the late 1600's they had to pay rent for the land they had always lived on. They had been part of the Irish nobility but in order to live they had to become farmers and tradesmen, since they were barred from receiving any formal education or having a profession. Of course, if they had become Protestant, they could have had everything, full civil rights.
As for the deep anti-Catholic prejudice in the UK and Commonwealth, it goes back to Tudor times when Protestants saw Catholics as being allied to Spain or France, and placing obedience to the Pope higher than allegiance to the King or Queen. It was an obedience to the Pope as a spiritual leader, not as a temporal ruler. But in those times when religion was a state affair, many people assumed that Catholics were natural traitors to a Protestant government.
3. I loved the scene at the dinner table as Daniel defended the Catholic faith--the humor in that scene was delicious (just like the dinner)--did you have some record of such a conversation from family history?
The fact that Daniel would invite the ministers to dinner is mentioned in his obituary and in several private family memoirs. The purpose of inviting the ministers was so he could debate religion with them in order to teach his children the truths of the Catholic faith. At this time, many Irish Catholics in Ontario were becoming Anglican or Methodist for social and political reasons. None of Daniel's children ever left the Catholic church. The topics of the conversation I gleaned from a notorious book called Fifty Years in the Church of Rome by a Canadian ex-priest named Fr. Chiniquy, a highly anti-Catholic diatribe. I built the discussion around accusations against Catholics mentioned in that particular book.
3a. I also have to tell you that the high point of that discussion was the defense of the Church's use of Latin: as though Anglo-Saxon English was less pagan than Roman Latin!
There are times in writing a novel when the characters take over and speak their minds and the author does not feel he or she has much to do with it at all. That scene was one of those times. It all came together. It was pure grace. (Read more.)
The Paradise Tree is the fourth novel published by Elena Maria Vidal, who has been a kind friend to this blog. In Trianon and Madame Royale, she meditated on the lives of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and their family during the tragic times of the French Revolution. In The Night's Dark Shade, she created an imaginative, moving story of a young noblewoman struggling to be a good Catholic and a faithful bride during another tragic and complicated period, the Albigensian Crusade. In The Paradise Tree, Elena Maria Vidal returns once again to the themes of religious persecution, love and sacrifice.And here is an interview by Christine Niles for her radio program Forward Boldly:
This time, Vidal shares with us some of her own family history, focusing on the life and legacy of one of her Irish forebears, Daniel O'Connor, his beloved wife Brigit, and their large family. As a young man, Daniel is forced to flee his homeland to Canada in order to survive without betraying his faith. In his new country, he founds a wonderful family, stricken by terrible sufferings and hardships, poverty, illness, exile and bereavement, but bravely persevering and triumphing over many misfortunes, with an almost regal sense of personal dignity.
A strong sense of mortality permeates the story. There are some particularly harrowing descriptions of the deaths of children. Despite the sadness of many of the scenes, there is great charm in the lively portrayal of a family filled with love of learning and poetry. The hope of eternal life sustains Daniel, his wife and children through many tragedies. Joy continually mingles with sorrow. Happily, though, after many years of pain and struggle, Daniel and Brigit are richly blessed in their beautiful family. (Read more.)
The Paradise Tree is available from Amazon and Barnes and Nobles. Share