Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Widow Capet

Above is a posthumous portrait depicting Marie-Antoinette in the Temple prison after the murder of her husband. A bit idealized (I doubt that she had a bust of Louis XVI at hand) it is nevertheless based upon a Vigee-Lebrun portrait. The queen did have her missal with her, because it is recorded that the Revolutionaries later took it away when she was sent to the Conciergerie. Antonia Fraser mentions in Marie-Antoinette: The Journey that the queen would ask her sister-in-law Madame Elisabeth to read the words of the Mass to her from the missal. (In the Temple prison they were forbidden to receive the sacraments.)

Here are the statements of Louis XVI concerning his wife from his Last Will and Testament:
I commend my children to my wife; I have never doubted her maternal tenderness for them. I enjoin her above all to make them good Christians and honest individuals; to make them view the grandeurs of this world (if they are condemned to experience them) as very dangerous and transient goods, and turn their attention towards the one solid and enduring glory, eternity. I beseech my sister to kindly continue her tenderness for my children and to take the place of a mother, should they have the misfortune of losing theirs.
I beg my wife to forgive all the pain which she suffered for me, and the sorrows which I may have caused her in the course of our union; and she may feel sure that I hold nothing against her, if she has anything with which to reproach herself.

Another Captive Queen

The imprisonment of Margaret of Anjou. According to historical novelist Susan Higginbotham:
Two records for 1475, Margaret’s last year of captivity, are of interest. Sometime in 1475, Margaret joined the London Skinners’ Fraternity of the Assumption of the Virgin: her membership is commemorated by a miniature (shown above) in the fraternity’s records. Katherine Vaux, Margaret’s faithful lady-in-waiting, also joined the fraternity that year and may be depicted alongside Margaret in the miniature. It may well be, then, that Margaret was residing in London at this time, and that her imprisonment was not rigorous. She certainly had the ability to petition for a papal dispensation, for on November 18, 1475, she was granted one.

In Bermuda Waters

In search of a long lost ship. Share

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Sistine Tapestries

Woven into the fabric of the Church.
Imagine a first-time-ever, five-week museum exhibition with a subject as familiar as Raphael (1483-1520). That's what London's Victoria & Albert Museum is serving up, displaying four of the master's Sistine Chapel tapestries alongside the museum's own cartoons (i.e., immense drawings created as models) for those grand woven works. Even Raphael never got to see his paintings, depicting scenes from the lives of St. Peter and St. Paul, next to the finished tapestries.

Commissioned by Lorenzo de'Medici's son, Pope Leo X , in 1515, the tapestries followed the earlier Sistine Chapel decorations, including Michelangelo's renowned ceiling frescoes, commissioned by Leo X's predecessor, Julius II. Seven of the woven works were unveiled in the Sistine Chapel with great ceremony in 1519, and due to the tapestries' fragility the Vatican's entire set of 10 is displayed only on special occasions.


La vie en rose.
"Pink at dawn, red at midday, mauve at twilight" — so goes an old saying describing Toulouse, an architectural marvel of rose — pink brick on the banks of the Garonne River. Just five hours from Paris by TGV high-speed train, France's vibrant Ville Rose is a sunny Southern belle of a city, famous for its gaiety, gastronomy and cosmopolitan charm.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The King's Example

 St. Louis IX saw himself as a father to his people, a duty which he took very seriously.( He had zero tolerance for blasphemy or lewd speech, it seems).
Jean Sieur de Joinville relates:

...THE King loved God and His sweet Mother so well that if anybody within his reach used any foul language or lewd oath about God or His Mother, the King caused them to be very severely punished. For this I saw him cause a goldsmith at Cesarea to be put on a ladder in his shirt and breeches, with the entrails of a pig hung round his neck, right up to his ears. I heard say, after I returned from over-seas that he had a burgher of Paris seared through the nose and lips for the same offence, but I did not see it. And the holy King said, " I would gladly be branded with a hot iron, on condition that all lewd oaths were done away with out of my kingdom."

I was about twenty-two years in his company; and never heard him swear by God, nor by His Mother nor by His Saints; but whenever he wanted to affirm anything, he used to say, " Truly it was thus," or " Truly it shall be thus."

Never did I hear him name the devil, unless it were in some book where the name came in, or in the life of the Saints of whom the book was speaking. And a great disgrace it is to the realm of France, and to the King who allows it, that a man can hardly open his lips without saying " Deuce take it!" and a great abuse it is of language to devote to the devil a man or woman who was given to God at baptism. In the household of Joinville, whoever uses such an expression, pays for it with a buffet or a slap, and such bad language has been almost entirely put down.

Before he went to bed, he used to send for his children, and would tell them stories of the deeds of good kings and emperors; and he used to tell them that they must take example by people such as these. He would tell them too, about the deeds of wicked rich men, who by their lechery and their rapine and their avarice, had lost their kingdoms. "And these things," he used to say, " I tell you as a warning to avoid them, lest you incur the anger of God."


Reasons for Using a Nom de Plume

Some advice from a literary agent. Share

Monday, September 27, 2010

Making Possible the Impossible

Here is the story of how I published and marketed the first edition of Trianon. Share

Christianity and France

A brief historical sketch.
France continued to be a deeply religious nation until the revolution of 1789. Undergirded by the ideas of the Enlightenment, the French revolution represented a concerted and deliberate attempt to dechristianize the nation, including:
  • The implementation of a new calendar to replace the Christian one. The calendar, which was adopted in 1793 and used for the next 12 years, employed a ten day week (in a 10 day week, no one could ever know which day was Sunday) and had 1792 (the year Louis XVI was taken into custody) as year 1. This was known as ‘the year of liberty.’
  • The dispossession, deportation and brutal martyrdom of thousands of clergy
  • Christians being denied freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of thought if it contravened the secular humanist ideology of the revolution.The criminalization of all religious education
  • The elimination of all Christian symbols from the public sphere, including removing the word ‘saint’ from street names and destroying or defacing churches and religious monuments
  • The replacing of Christian holidays and symbols with civic and revolutionary cults like the ‘Cult of Reason’ and ‘Cult of the Supreme Being.’ A statue to the goddess Reason was even erected and worshiped in Notre Dame Cathedral on 10 November 1793.
In these and many other ways, the French revolution tried to create a new man through civic regeneration. French society has never fully recovered from the impact of this paradigm shift and all of the successive French government have born the mark of the revolution upon them, including an institutionalized antipathy to the Christian faith.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Louis XVI in Louisville, Kentucky

Here is the beautiful statue of Louis XVI in the American city named in his honor.
The statue was sculpted in France in 1829, nearly destroyed during the 2nd French Revolution, kept in a warehouse in disrepair, and finally gifted to the city of Louisville in 1966. Louisville gets its name from Louis XVI, for his support of the American Colonies during the revolutionary war

Preppy Pitfall

Did the preppy obsession of the 1980's help to create a lazy generation? To quote:
The clothes may have been the most visible part of the preppy phenomenon, but they represented only a small part of the upper-class way of life Ms. Birnbach was championing (however cheerfully sly and subversive her advocacy may have been). Much of the book was devoted to a world-view that was casually aristocratic. Ms. Birnbach promised to make that outlook available to one and all. "In a true democracy," she wrote, "everyone can be upper class and live in Connecticut."

How could the suburban teenager from Peoria or Pomona all of sudden be "upper class"? It was less a matter of pink oxford cloth and Kelly-green poplin than of adopting an aristocratic lassitude, an attitude that exuded privilege by treating effort with contempt. One simply mustn't try too hard. A key principle of what Ms. Birnbach called the Preppy Value System was Effortlessness: "If life is a country club, then all functions should be free from strain."

There's no denying the seductive appeal of the old aristocratic disdain for those who strive. How much nicer (and, of course, easier) it is to adopt a blasé and boozy contempt for the grinds and geeks who put in effort than it is to compete with them. The original Handbook warned acolytes not to waste their college days studying "Professional majors" such as engineering, chemistry or mathematics, because they "all reek of practicality." Nor, we were told, did the preppy go for intellectually demanding subjects such as philosophy or linguistics because, "they smack of an equally undesirable effort."

And there's the rub. Unless you actually have a fat trust fund to underwrite your nonchalance, an aversion to effort is hardly a strategy for success. Which may explain some of our national woes.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Highland Mary

The story behind the painting and poem.
Although painted circa 1881 by which time he was living in London, Archer looks back to his Scottish history and takes an incident in the life of Scotland's most celebrated poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) as the subject for this painting. Burns' great love was Jean Armour, the daughter of a master-mason, whom he eventually married. Their courtship, however, was tempestuous and in the spring of 1786, after Jean had destroyed the document that testified to their commitment to marry upon discovering she was pregnant by him, she was sent off to Paisley to stay with relatives and avoid scandal. Burns went into hiding and turned for consolation to another girl, Mary Campbell, whom he called his 'Highland Mary'. She was a dairymaid at Coilsfield, an estate near the village of Mauchline in Ayrshire. Despite meeting at Failford on 14 May 1786 and pledging to marry, the episode came to nothing as Mary died of a fever at Greenock shortly afterwards.
Here is the entire poem "Highland Mary" by Robert Burns. Share

Scenes from the Pyrénées

Here is a blog about life in the Pyrénées, with photos of the spectacular landscape. It reminds me of why I chose the region as the setting for The Night's Dark Shade. Share

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Jewels of Marie-Antoinette

Historical novelist Catherine Delors provides some information about the fate of the French crown jewels, particularly a certain famous diamond. Madame Delors has thoroughly researched the French royal family and the Revolution. It is well-known that Marie-Antoinette had a fondness for diamonds, although she never even thought of purchasing Boehmer's necklace of the scandal; she preferred the money to be spent on ships for the French navy. The diamond necklace was not to her taste, anyway, which tended towards light, aerial creations.

In the famous ensemble painting by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, the queen is shown wearing only a few pearls, while sitting near the jewel cabinet. The symbolism of this has been discussed by J.M. Charles-Roux and by some art historians. It was to emphasize that for Marie-Antoinette her children were her true jewels. When the painting was begun in 1786, the queen was expecting baby Sophie; the gown she is wearing is a maternity gown, as can be seen by the open and adjustable front. The emphasis of the painting was supposed to be the other children getting the cradle ready for the new baby. However, by the time the picture was completed in 1788, little Sophie had been born and had died. Hence, the cradle is shrouded in mourning cloth.

After the death of her oldest son Louis-Joseph, Marie-Antoinette had the image hidden away; she could not bear the sight of it. Nevertheless, it was considered a highly accurate likeness of her. Louis XVI declared to the artist when first gazing at the portrait of his wife and children: "I do not understand much about painting, but you make me love it."

Take Some Tea

Lauren discusses Anglomanie in France, which Marie-Antoinette encouraged by having her own tea parties in the English manner. To quote from the novel Trianon:
They came to a white octagonal building with a large window on each of its sides. It overlooked the small lake, and was not far from the grotto. A table with a linen covering was in the center of the one-room, neo-classical structure, the walls of which were decorated with murals of the Four Seasons. In the middle of the table was a silver tea service, with scarlet and white Sèvres porcelain plates, cups and saucers. There were crusty baguettes, gooseberry and apricot jams, fresh fruits, ices, chocolate and cream-filled puff pastries, raspberry tarts, pâté, charcuteries, and cheeses. The table was decorated with Elisabeth's lavender, sage, and asters, strewn amongst the dishes. There were large bowls of the Queen's fresh butter, made at the dairy at Trianon, along with pitchers of her cream and milk.... The ladies and children sat on benches, chairs and stools, drinking their tea. It was all so very English, and the Queen admired English customs....
~from Trianon by Elena Maria Vidal

Marie-Antoinette and the Last Garden at Versailles

(Photo: Interior of the Belvedere in the gardens of Trianon from Marie-Antoinette and the Last Garden at Versailles by Christian Duvernois.)

The Other Inkling

Charles Williams.
Williams was an editor at the Oxford University Press, which had moved its offices to Oxford when the blitz began hitting London. He was a self-educated and omnivorous reader, and he seems to have been a sort of animating spirit in the group's meetings at The Eagle and Child ("Bird and Baby") pub or in Lewis's rooms at Magdalen College. Lewis and Tolkien managed to secure a lectureship for him at the University. T. S. Eliot describes Williams lecturing -- hopping about, perching on the desk, jingling coins in his pockets, and pouring out a torrent of coruscating prose. In one place, Eliot remarks that he looked somewhat like a monkey.
Williams also poured out books: poetry, literary criticism, theology, drama, and novels. It was his novels that gained him a modest measure of fame.

They are hardly novels in the ordinary sense. Eliot tried the category "metaphysical thrillers" to refer to them, and that is perhaps the closest anyone can come to describing them. The thing is, it turns out in each of his seven novels that heaven and hell lie under every bush.

This would seem to be a wild overstatement, of course. There may be grass or twigs or insects under the shrubbery: but heaven and hell?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Now on Amazon

 The paperback edition of Madame Royale is now available on To quote from the Preface:
The period which follows the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, called by historians "the Bourbon restoration" (1814-1830), was outwardly one of rest and peace for France. Yet beneath the surface, the forces of revolution were engaged in a ruthless duel for power with those of the reaction. The conflict, played out in salons and boudoirs, in newspapers, novels and pamphlets, was nevertheless a fight to the death, from which one party would emerge the conqueror, while the other would sink into the oubliette of exile or imprisonment. The Left had many weapons....As for the reactionaries, they possessed mediocre, frail or aged princes, with followers whose religious convictions were sometimes prone to be superficial or bigoted. They had, however, one weapon, and that weapon was a woman, a woman who embodied in herself the tradition of legitimacy, of a heritage reaching far back into the mists of the early centuries of Christianity. Of cold demeanor with a heart of fire; of bitter aspect, with an unfailing generosity, her undying faith and zealous devotion to God, His Church, and the poor led her to be the heroine and defender of the idea of the Christian state. Daughter of a martyred king and queen, she was Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France, the Duchesse d'Angoulême, who from childhood had been called "Madame Royale."
To quote from the back cover:
They say that the greatest story in History is the Truth and in Madame Royale, Elena Maria Vidal certainly proves that’s the case. The sights, sounds and smells of 19th-century Europe are all brilliantly captured in this immaculately researched and exquisite novel, which recalls the great writers and memoirists of the 1800's. It is an unforgettable portrait of a royal life torn between religion, politics, revolution, mystery, heartache and intrigue and Madame Royale is a fantastic tribute to one of Europe’s most tragic, but courageous princesses.
- Gareth Russell, author of The Audacity of Ideas and Popular

Radix de Sainte-Foix

Financial advisor of Artois and later of Louis XVI, he tried to manipulate the course of the Revolution. What a snake in the grass. Share

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Great Libraries of the World

A compendium of magnificence.
Everyone has some kind of place that makes them feel transported to a magical realm. For some people it’s castles with their noble history and crumbling towers. For others it’s abandoned factories, ivy choked, a sense of foreboding around every corner. For us here at Curious Expeditions, there has always been something about libraries. Row after row, shelf after shelf, there is nothing more magical than a beautiful old library.

An Unusual Book Club

Maryland inmates read the classics.
Murray founded the book club in 2006 at the request of an inmate who told her that one of the hardest parts of being in prison was the intellectual deprivation.

In the past five years, book group members have plowed through some of the most demanding texts in the modern and classical canon. They've read Sophocles' "Antigone" and Shakespeare's "Othello." They've immersed themselves in works by William Faulkner, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and Gabriel Garcia Márquez.
But, their response isn't only, or even primarily, intellectual. They also relate, at times emotionally and profoundly, to the women depicted in the pages they read.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Child Slaves of Britain

The horrors of the Industrial Revolution are further exposed in a new work of scholarship.
These were the real David Copperfields and Oliver Twists. Beaten, exploited and abused, they never knew what it was to have a full belly or a good night's sleep. Their childhood was over before it had begun. Using the heartbreaking first-person testimony of these child labourers, Humphries demonstrates that the brutality and deprivation depicted by authors such as Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy was commonplace during the Industrial Revolution, and not just fictional exaggeration.

She also reveals that more children were working than previously thought - and at younger ages.
As British productivity soared, more machines and factories were built, and so more children were recruited to work in them. During the 1830s, the average age of a child labourer officially was ten, but in reality some were as young as four.

While the upper classes professed horror at the iniquities of the slave trade, British children were regularly shackled and starved in their own country. The silks and cottons the upper classes wore, the glass jugs and steel knives on their tables, the coal in their fireplaces, the food on their plates - almost all of it was produced by children working in pitiful conditions on their doorsteps.

But to many of the monied classes, the poor were invisible: an inhuman sub-species who did not have the same feelings as their own and whose sufferings were unimportant. If they spared a thought for them at all, it was nothing more than a shudder of revulsion at the filth and disease they carried.

Living conditions were appalling. Families occupied rat and sewage-filled cellars, with 30 people crammed into a single room. Most children were malnourished and susceptible to disease, and life expectancy in such places fell to just 29 years in the 1830s. In these wretched circumstances, an extra few pennies brought home by a child would pay for a small loaf of bread or fuel for the fire: the difference between life and death. A third of poor households were without a male breadwinner, either as a result of death or desertion. In the broken Britain of the 19th century, children paid the price.
 Read More.

Anatomy of a Swindle

Looking back at Live Aid. Did the money raised actually go to the Ethiopian troops rather than the starving citizens? Share

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Counterfeit Traitor (1962)

Eric Erickson: When other people hate you it's unfortunate. But when you hate yourself, it's unbearable. ~ The Counterfeit Trader (1962)
The Counterfeit Traitor is a film that intrigued me long before I ever saw it. In the days before home video and cable television, it was difficult to see some of the old classics as often as one might like. One of my mother's favorite films was The Counterfeit Traitor. Since there was no way for us to see it, she would tell us the story so vividly that when I finally did see the film I felt it was for the second time. I had already envisioned the scene in which Lilli Palmer, almost fifty but more beautiful than ever, is being led to her execution, and does not hear Bill Holden calling to her from his prison cell, until he shatters the glass. I already knew how she makes the sign of the cross before the shots ring out. Even before I saw the film I was horrified at how the Gestapo have one of their own masquerade as a priest in order to violate the sanctity of the confessional.

The Counterfeit Traitor is a thriller about a Swedish businessman (Holden) who reluctantly becomes a spy for the Allies. A man with no faith and little principle, he is stunned to find in his fellow spy, Marianna (Palmer), a person of true nobility and heroism. Marianna spies on the Nazis because her conscience tells her she must work against the forces of Antichrist. She finds herself, however, in a moral quandary, concerning both her work and her feelings for Holden. The inner tension magnifies the overall impact of the movie in which the viewer is placed in the middle of a global conflict where good seems destined to be overwhelmed by evil. It was the efforts of those who fought in the hidden arena of espionage who helped to turn the tide.

To quote from DVD Review:
The intelligence community tends to play by their own rules, usually out of necessity. Granted, the environment in which they work does not lend itself to hard and fast rules—it's a dynamic, ever-changing climate. They are expected to complete tasks without considering the repercussions, but certain officials in the field must resort to measures that may not be entirely moral. Sadly, that's the nature of war, and neither side of a conflict is immune to such situations. Does that make it right? This is where utilitarianism comes into the picture; how much wrong can be justified to achieve a good end result?

This is a question that comes to haunt Eric Erickson (William Holden). American born, he has made a comfortable life for himself as a prominent oil magnate in Sweden during WWII. He has resided in Stockholm for years, far before Hitler's rise. Thanks to Sweden's neutrality, he has seen good business from both sides of the war, and has enjoyed a sterile distance provided by such a political position. What he is doing is not illegal, and he seems to have a lack of American loyalty that may stem from years of absence from his country of birth.

When his name appears on a list of Nazi collaborators, his position is suddenly made precarious. Being blacklisted for no good reason may be unsettling enough, but he is met by a British intelligence agent (Hugh Griffith) with a proposition: Help the allies spy, and his name will be taken off. He agrees, and is recorded without his knowledge as insurance in case he changes his mind. An anonymous delivery of the wax cylinder to the Swedish authorities would surely land him in jail. Between a rock and a hard place, Eric is forced to spy. His reasons are initially selfish, but events will change his motivations.

Up until now, he has acted as an opportunist, looking out for his own interests. Change comes with a series of frequent meetings with another agent: The beautiful Marianne (Lilli Palmer), who fights for very different reasons. She is a devout Catholic, and to her, Hitler is the Antichrist. She feels it is her moral duty to risk her life to end his tyranny. Eric does not understand this at first, but after witnessing the brutality of the Nazis firsthand, his information-gathering missions become personal. And so it goes as Eric travels back and forth, gathering intelligence and dodging Gestapo suspicion, until tragedy strikes, and he embarks on a daring, final mission to help those who helped him, at his own risk.

This is a stunning, plot-driven under-the-radar film. Beautifully shot in cities such as Stockholm, Berlin, and Copenhagen (they picked some fine locales), the story is set in the authentic locations. George Seaton's script, adapted from the book by Alexander Klein, is intelligent and manages to capture the many shades of European relations with Nazi Germany from the neutrality of Sweden, to the passive resistance of occupied Denmark, seen through a powerful civilian rebellion when Eric most desperately needs it. Things are by no means black and white here. Seaton makes it clear who the true enemy is, but he does not forget the moral violations of those on the right side, including Eric's intelligence "betters," who enjoy a steady diet of fine cheese and lobster while others risk their lives.
Once again it is shown how one soul who takes a stand can influence others for the better. Marianna is by no means a flawless heroine but through her Eric becomes the hero he is meant to be. Share

The Beatification of John Henry Cardinal Newman

What a glorious day. Our Holy Father Pope Benedict quoted Blessed John Henry Newman, who wrote:
I want a laity not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it.
The full text of the Holy Father's homily, HERE. Share

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Debate of the Moment: Skirts vs. Slacks Revisited

Yes, I have written about it before but, once again, the skirts vs. slacks debate is all over the Catholic internet. People seem to get very emotional about it. I do not understand the level of ire that is expressed through the mockery of fellow Christians. If a grown woman with a fully formed conscience makes a choice to dress in a manner which she decides is conducive to fulfilling her vocation, whatever that vocation might be, then she should be at peace. Who cares what other people say? But some women seem to get so mad. If you like pants and feel comfortable in pants, then wear them. Don't rant like a feminist who feels like her rights are being threatened. No one is going to take your slacks away from you.

As for the men who feel they have to publicly tell everyone what effect seeing women in certain outfits has on them, please keep your lust (or lack thereof) to yourself. What a way to talk about your sisters in Christ! Yes, Christian women have a duty to dress modestly, although there seems to be a great deal of confusion over what exactly that entails. As I was discussing with a friend yesterday, ideas about modesty have changed over the years. It used to be considered the height of immodesty not to wear a corset. One of the reasons the English imputed immorality to the Irish was because the Irish women were corset-less. Marie-Antoinette was considered a loose woman when she went without a corset. It also used to be immodest to show one's ankles but perfectly acceptable for ladies of the world, and a matter of etiquette on formal occasions, to wear a low cut dress. Ideas of modesty have indeed changed.

As anyone can see, slacks, as long as they are not skin-tight, are certainly more modest than mini-skirts or certain revealing dresses. I understand how some people feel uncomfortable in skirts and are unable to work in them. Since I was a nun for five years in upstate New York I know how to do all kinds of work in long skirts. I have shoveled snow, scrubbed floors, climbed ladders, and gardened. However, other women who are not used to skirts or dresses might find it awkward to work in them or even go places. They might trip; it could be dangerous. The clothes have to fit the duties at hand. That's how I see it. 

Cardinal Siri, however, made some excellent points in 1960 when he composed his Notification Concerning Men's Dress Worn by Women. It is not dogma and was never even meant for public consumption but worthy of consideration nevertheless. The Cardinal did not think slacks on women were immodest but feared they were a symptom of the eventual and overall masculinization of women to the detriment of their role in the family and in society. In many ways, his words were prophetic.

More HERE and HERE.

Mozart's Requiem

The Holy Father discusses Mozart and his final great work.
Everything is in perfect harmony in Mozart, every note, every musical phrase is as it is and could not be otherwise; even those opposed are reconciled; it is called "mozart’sche Heiterkeit" (Mozart's serenity), which envelops everything, every moment. It is a gift of the Grace of God, but it is also the fruit of Mozart's lively faith that, especially in sacred music, is able to reflect the luminous response of divine love, which gives hope, even when human life is lacerated by suffering and death.

In his last letter written to his dying father, dated April 4, 1787, he wrote, speaking precisely of the final stage of life on earth: "For about a year I have become so familiar with this sincere and greatly loved friend of man, [death], that its image no longer holds anything that is terrifying, but it even seems to me tranquilizing and consoling! And I thank my God for having given me the good fortune of having the opportunity of recognizing in it the key to our happiness. I never lie down without thinking that perhaps the next day I might not be. And yet anyone who knows me will not be able to say that in their company I am sad or in a bad mood. And for this good fortune I thank my Creator every day and I desire it with all my heart for each one of my fellow men."

This writing manifests a profound and simple faith, which also appears in the great prayer of the Requiem, and leads us at the same time to love intensely the ups and downs of earthly life as gifts of God and to rise above them, contemplating death serenely as a "key" to go through the door to happiness.

Mozart's Requiem is a lofty expression of faith, which recognizes the tragic character of human existence and which does not hide its dramatic aspects, and for this reason it is an appropriate expression of Christian faith, conscious that the whole of man's life is illuminated by the love of God.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Our Love Affair with Fairs

I sadly missed our Grange Fair this year and so appreciated even more this article from the WSJ. To quote:
Fairs embody our roots in agriculture, entrepreneurship and rabble-rousing. Where else can you, in a matter of minutes, buy a tractor, ride a camel, sample the latest in waterless car-washing technology, marvel over a 20-pound cucumber and then saunter a few hundred feet to hear Hank Williams, Jr. belt out "Family Tradition"? Let's face it: no matter how sophisticated we become, a life-size statue of Elvis sculpted from 800 pounds of butter will always fascinate us.

And if you don't understand this, then I'm afraid you don't understand America. Don't look for enlightened insights about American culture from those like Frenchman and "American Vertigo" author Bernard-Henri Lévy, who could afford no more than a "quick visit" to the Iowa State Fair, but who lingered over prisons in a manner that would make Foucault blush. If you've never hurled a tattered baseball at a pyramid of milk jugs, run your hand along a shiny new combine, or cheered at a pig race, then save your opinions for people who roll their eyes at Lee Greenwood.

Come to think of it, perhaps a qualification for commentators on American culture should be the ability to explain a cheese curd. The food alone can make fairs worthwhile, all of it from heaven or hell, although I'm not really sure which.

There are the funnel cakes, steak sandwiches, and roasted and buttered corn on the cob so hot you can brand cattle with it. And let's not forget the panoply of fried delicacies. Every year brings an item that nobody before had thought—or dared—to fry and eat: pickles, Twinkies, HoHos, and—surely a sign of the apocalypse—bacon-cheeseburger doughnuts. Alongside these are all manner of skewered delights: pork chops on a stick, potato chips on a stick, cheesecake on a stick, waffles on a stick and, as ever, corn dogs and candy apples on sticks.

Give Pizza a Chance

My cousin Kateri, journalist and mother of three, gives a touch of whimsy to the challenges of cooking with the family. Share

Friday, September 17, 2010

Marie-Antoinette in the Pamphlets

It is here that one of her most violent opponents, Jacques René Hébert, found his preferred mode of attack. It was Hébert who authored the ‘great joys’ and ‘great angers’ of Père Duchesne, a regularly published column which has been credited with as many as one million subscriptions. Describing her as the “monster that Hell vomited onto the Earth”, her execution came as “the greatest of all the joys of Père Duchesne", and he acerbically greets her judgment with the words ‘better late than never.’

Behind the Scenes

In the Golden Age of Film. Share

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Pope and the Queen

 History is made. (Via Fr. Blake.) In the words of Our Holy Father:
As I begin my visit to the United Kingdom in Scotland’s historic capital city, I greet in a special way First Minister Salmond and the representatives of the Scottish Parliament. Just like the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, may the Scottish Parliament grow to be an expression of the fine traditions and distinct culture of the Scots and strive to serve their best interests in a spirit of solidarity and concern for the common good.
The name of Holyroodhouse, Your Majesty’s official residence in Scotland, recalls the “Holy Cross” and points to the deep Christian roots that are still present in every layer of British life. The monarchs of England and Scotland have been Christians from very early times and include outstanding saints like Edward the Confessor and Margaret of Scotland. As you know, many of them consciously exercised their sovereign duty in the light of the Gospel, and in this way shaped the nation for good at the deepest level. As a result, the Christian message has been an integral part of the language, thought and culture of the peoples of these islands for more than a thousand years. Your forefathers’ respect for truth and justice, for mercy and charity come to you from a faith that remains a mighty force for good in your kingdom, to the great benefit of Christians and non-Christians alike. 

We find many examples of this force for good throughout Britain’s long history. Even in comparatively recent times, due to figures like William Wilberforce and David Livingstone, Britain intervened directly to stop the international slave trade. Inspired by faith, women like Florence Nightingale served the poor and the sick and set new standards in healthcare that were subsequently copied everywhere. John Henry Newman, whose beatification I will celebrate shortly, was one of many British Christians of his age whose goodness, eloquence and action were a credit to their countrymen and women. These, and many people like them, were inspired by a deep faith born and nurtured in these islands. 

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).
More HERE.

The Pope's Mass in Glasgow. Share

The Diaries of Elizabeth Wynne

A glimpse into a tumultuous era. (Via The Old Salt Blog)
As a young woman Elizabeth Wynne witnessed some of the key events of the 18th century, noting meticulously in more than 40 volumes of diaries experiences from nursing Admiral Lord Nelson following the loss of his arm to the bloody aftermath of the French Revolution. But despite her remarkable life, "Betsey" was lost to history.

Now a historian at Bath Spa University has been awarded a £100,000 grant to write the first definitive biography of Wynne after her journals were rediscovered at her ancestral home, Swanbourne House in Buckinghamshire. 

Children and Fashion

Sue Shellenbarger reports on how some parents are teaching their children prudence and economy.
Now, amid tight household budgets and a growing belief that today's youth will face a lasting drop in their standard of living, many parents are working to reshape children's expectations. The result is "a massive, painful shift" in behavior, as kids learn to economize or work to pay for consumer goods they want, says Jason Dorsey, an Austin, Texas, consultant to employers on intergenerational issues.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Death of Katherine Parr

She was the first Queen of England not to receive the Last Rites. I always thought her last years to be especially sad, a tragedy both for her and the Princess Elizabeth, as shown in the film Young Bess. As author Gareth Russell says:
Katharine Parr, famous for being the wife of Henry's who "survived," had not had the happy ending we might have hoped for. She did not suffer the public martyrdoms to history of either Anne Boleyn or Catherine Howard, nor the humiliations of Katherine of Aragon, which were to secure for her an almost immaculate historical reputation in the centuries to come. Instead, Katharine suffered the far more subtle tragedy of domestic unhappiness, when her fourth husband - the man she married for love after the terror of being Henry VIII's queen - betrayed both her happiness and her trust by molesting the teenage princess whom Katharine had brought into her care.  It was a cruel and tragic betrayal which few women can have deserved less than Katharine Parr.

The Science of Public Education

The system must come first.
Taylor distilled the essence of Bismarck’s Prussian school training under whose regimen he had witnessed firsthand the defeat of France in 1871. His American syntheses of these disciplines made him the direct inspiration for Henry Ford and "Fordism." Between 1895 and 1915, Ford radically transformed factory procedure, relying on Taylorized management and a mass production assembly line marked by precision, continuity, coordination, speed, and standardization. Ford wrote two extraordinary essays in the 1920s, "The Meaning of Time," and "Machinery, The New Messiah," in which he equated planning, timing, precision, and the rest of the scientific management catalogue with the great moral meaning of life:
A clean factory, clean tools, accurate gauges, and precise methods of manufacture produce a smooth working efficient machine [just as] clean thinking, clean living, and square dealing make for a decent home life.

Why God Matters

 I just finished reading Why God Matters, a series of stories and meditations by Deacon Steve Lumbert and his daughter, Karina Lumbert Fabian. With frankness and simplicity the authors tell of how God can be found in the very ordinariness of life, in the performance of our daily duties, in every joy and sorrow. Replete with quotes from Scripture, the Catechism and the writings of the saints, the book is not only deeply inspiring but offers a practical guide for organizing one's activities so that there will always be time for prayer. I enjoyed the family stories and feel that I have met the precious lady to whom the book is dedicated, Mrs. Lumbert, Steve's wife and Karina's mother, whose strong faith was passed on to those she loves. How happy she must be to see this short but powerful book which will surely lift many hearts to God. Congratulations!
More information on Why God Matters, HERE.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fashion as Art

The iconic creations of Judith Leiber are "no mere bagatelles."
A native of Budapest, Mrs. Leiber learned to make bags in the ateliers of Hungary during World War II. After moving to America, she rapidly made her mark: In 1953, she designed a glittering pink purse for First Lady Mamie Eisenhower to wear at Dwight Eisenhower's inaugural ball.

Ten years later, she founded her own company then marketed it aggressively—sending a Leiber bag as a gift to every First Lady. Nancy Reagan was a fan, as was Barbara Bush, who came to her showroom. For Hillary Clinton, Mrs. Leiber made a bag in the shape of Socks, the White House cat.

In 1993, Mrs. Leiber sold her company, which had grown into a $24 million business, and her brand name. New Judith Leiber bags continued to be sold, but were no longer her personal designs.

The Leiber bag obsession is a mystery to some. "I can't fathom the average young woman working a crystal asparagus purse into her outfit—and I know I wouldn't spend two months salary for a purse shaped like a Dachshund," says Jessica Misener, 26, editor of Lovelyish, a fashion blog for young women. "They can barely fit an iPhone."

For those interested in New York Fashion Week, the WSJ also reports on the view of fashion as art. To quote:
Fashion allows individuals to create public images for themselves and to enjoy the pleasures of imagining those images. Against both custom and classicism, fashion reminds us that the pleasure of novelty is a human universal, both served and intensified by modern commercial culture. Though the fluctuations of Western dress date to the Middle Ages, fashionable variations become more frequent and less predictable as societies move away from inherited status and customary authority toward the fluidity of markets, social equality and republican government. The recent return of big shoulders to women's clothes is thus a tribute not merely to the 1980s, the 1940s, or men's suits but to the creative dynamism of an open society.
In its broadest and deepest meaning, fashion specifies no medium. It refers to any aesthetic change for its own sake. Painting and sculpture reflect changing fashions. So do music and dance, poetry and prose.
Fashion simply means that "something is now more attractive than what was previously deemed attractive," writes the Harvard sociologist Stanley Lieberson in his 2000 book, "A Matter of Taste: How Names, Fashions, and Culture Change." Camel-colored clothes look perfect this fall, while two years ago, purple was the color of the moment.

This fickleness makes fashion suspect. To rationalize it, two centuries of intellectuals have agreed, with slight variations, that fashion serves a basic purpose: to signal and enforce social status. Fashion was equated with conspicuous consumption and represented envy, snobbery and waste. The lower orders copied their betters, and fashion changed as the upper class sought to separate itself from its less prestigious imitators. Styles of music and painting might evolve in pursuit of truth and ultimate form, but the fluctuating styles of skirts or sofas were seen merely to entice the gullible or put down the hoi-polloi.

Mass with the Borgias

We all have enemies. It just so happens that most of mine are other Catholics. While we are commanded by Our Lord to love our neighbors and pray for our enemies, it is impossible to like every single person, or expect them to like us. Love, being an act of the will, often precludes warm sentiments, demanding that we act contrary to our natural feelings, feelings which may be those of genuine repugnance. We must deal with those around us in a kindly and loving manner in spite of what we might feel. We have to go places and do things in spite of the chance of running into those who have tried to harm us.

One morning while getting ready for church, I braced myself  knowing that I would indubitably run into  those who have tried to hurt my family by word and deed. I was comforted by the thought that Mass is a microcosm of the Last Judgment: everyone will be there, good and evil, whether we like it or not...there is just no way to avoid it, since presence will be required. Remembering the eschatological dimension of Mass will get one through anything. A friend reminded me of the words of St. Thomas Aquinas from Lauda Sion: Sumunt boni, sumunt mali: sorte tamen inaequali, vitae vel interitus. ("Both the wicked and the good eat of this celestial Food: but with ends how opposite!") 

In the meantime, it is a bit like going to Mass with the Borgias. They might be a bunch of sociopathic wretches but then they have to save their souls, too. After all, the Church is a hospital for sinners, myself included. We each must answer to God for our own behavior, not the behavior of others. Praying for our adversaries can seem to require superhuman effort at times but then it also opens the door to peace, forgiveness and, ultimately, to Heaven.

(Image) Share

Monday, September 13, 2010

St. Hildegard and the Cathars

From a reflection by Pope Benedict XVI.
With the spiritual authority with which she was gifted, in the last years of her life Hildegard began to travel, despite her advanced age and the difficult conditions of the journeys, to talk of God to the people. All listened to her eagerly, even when she took a severe tone: They considered her a messenger sent by God. Above all she called monastic communities and the clergy to a life in keeping with their vocation. In a particular way, Hildegard opposed the movement of German Cathars. They -- Cathar literally means "pure" -- advocated a radical reform of the Church, above all to combat the abuses of the clergy. She reproved them harshly for wishing to subvert the very nature of the Church, reminding them that a true renewal of the ecclesial community is not achieved so much with a change of structures, but by a sincere spirit of penance and an active path of conversion. This is a message that we must never forget. (Read entire article.)
Further reflections by the Holy Father on the mysticism of St. Hildegard, HERE. To quote:
In those centuries of history that we usually call medieval, several women are outstanding for their holiness of life and the richness of their teaching. Today I would like to begin to present one of them to you: St. Hildegard of Bingen, who lived in Germany in the 12th century. She was born in the Rhineland in Bermersheim in 1098, in the region of Alzey, and died in 1179 at the age of 81, despite having permanently frail health....

This is, dear friends, the seal of an authentic experience of the Holy Spirit, source of every charism: The receiver of supernatural gifts never boasts, does not exhibit them and, above all, shows total obedience to ecclesial authority. Every gift distributed by the Holy Spirit, in fact, is destined for the edification of the Church, and the Church, through her pastors, recognizes their authenticity.
 More about St. Hildegard's life, HERE. More on the Cathars, HERE.

Faith and Faithfulness

How prayer helps married couples stay together.
INFIDELITY is rampant in nature. Birds, mammals, amphibians and even fish all cheat if the conditions are right, forcing mates to remain perpetually vigilant. People are no different. Although cheats are publicly condemned, or in some cases impeached, infidelity is common and public disapproval does little to dissuade the sinner. The disapproval of God, however, is a different matter, and a new study suggests that prayer can indeed guide people away from adulterous behaviour.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Fairy Harp

A very old fairy tale. Share

Dressing a Royal Bridegroom

How the Duke of York, the future James II, dressed for his wedding to Mary of Modena.
The embroidered suit that James wore to his second wedding miraculously still exists, and is on display in the Victoria and Albert  Museum, London. Only the waistcoat is missing. Here it is on the V&A website:

This suit has its own story to tell. James had it made for his wedding to his second wife in the winter of 1673, and like all royal weddings of the time, it was a political alliance, not a love match. The bride was a fifteen-year-old Italian princess, Mary Beatrice (her name already anglicized) of Modena. She was also Roman Catholic, and because James himself had recently converted to that faith as well, the wedding was wildly unpopular in Protestant England. In protest the princess was burned in straw effigies in London, as was James. A proxy wedding had already taken place in Modena, but the first time the couple were to meet would be when Mary Beatrice landed in Dover. Given England’s hostility, it was decided that the two should be wed in Dover, as quickly and quietly as possible.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Little Prince

The future Henry VII with his mother Margaret Beaufort. To quote:
Blair Leighton's title derives from Henry VI, part II, the penultimate in Shakespeare's cycle of history plays, chronicling the struggle for power between the two warring dynasties of Lancaster and York. He puts visual shape to a prophetic reference to the young Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond:

This lad will prove our country's bliss
His looks are full of peaceful majesty
His head by nature framed to wear a crown
His hand to wield a sceptre, and himself
Likely in time to bless a regal throne.

In Search of Sir Charles Petrie

One of Britain’s finest, and yet most completely forgotten, modern historians.
Meanwhile other men who called themselves historians, and lacked even one tenth of Petrie’s learning, received honours piled on honours, such as Petrie never enjoyed. This was the case even when they consciously and deliberately betrayed Britain itself, by siding with civilisation’s enemies. More of them later on.

First of all, Petrie belonged to a very different social class, and a very different geographical background, from the average British academic. He was born in 1895 in Liverpool, where his father was Mayor; but his family derived from the Irish Catholic aristocracy, and his father had been educated in Dublin. Through his father he met, at an early age, a great many notabilities, both British and, in particular, foreign.

Liverpool was, and is, largely Hibernian-Catholic in its population; and during Petrie’s youth it was mostly despised in Oxford, Cambridge and London. The days when the Beatles would make Liverpool’s public image not merely interesting but fashionable lay unimaginably far ahead. As a consequence of this background, Petrie, while he did go to Oxford, was separated from most of his fellow Oxford students by his creed and his city of origin. This separation marked his whole life. For all his conviviality of temperament, he had what was very much a Latin outlook, a European outlook, retaining little patience for English parochialism. It was not at all that he wore his Catholicism on his sleeve. Indeed he seldom discussed religion overtly in any context. (When he helped establish the Military History Society of Ireland, he insisted on the complete avoidance of sectarian disputes; to this end, he successfully offered society membership to Lord Rathcavan — Protestant Speaker of the Ulster Parliament at the time — and De Valera.) Nevertheless Petrie’s Catholicism did give him a habit of mind which he would not have harboured if he had sprung from the agnostic or atheist upper-middle-class environment which has produced most recent British scholars.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Passing of Henrietta Maria

Author Stephanie Mann writes of the exiled Queen, saying:
Perhaps she led the widowed life in exile denied Marie Antoinette. There are certainly other parallels between the two monarch couples--the strained relationship at first; the deepening love and interdependence; the loyalty and faithfulness; the queen's role in the king's difficulties in ruling the nation--the role of the executed monarch as a saintly figure--except that Louis XVI had been deposed and Charles I still held his title. The great difference between them is that Henrietta Maria escaped.
More about Henrietta Maria, including her connection to Maryland, HERE.
In the lone tent, waiting for victory,  
She stands with eyes marred by the mists of pain,
Like some wan lily overdrenched with rain:
The clamorous clang of arms, the ensanguined sky,
War's ruin, and the wreck of chivalry
To her proud soul no common fear can bring:
Bravely she tarrieth for her Lord the King,
Her soul a-flame with passionate ecstasy.
~from "Henrietta Maria" by Oscar Wilde

A review of the movie Cromwell, HERE. Share

Radical Feminism

The unfinished business. Rebecca Walker shares her story.
The ease with which people can get divorced these days doesn't take into account the toll on children. That's all part of the unfinished business of feminism.

Then there is the issue of not having children. Even now, I meet women in their 30s who are ambivalent about having a family. They say things like: 'I'd like a child. If it happens, it happens.' I tell them: 'Go home and get on with it because your window of opportunity is very small.' As I know only too well.

Then I meet women in their 40s who are devastated because they spent two decades working on a PhD or becoming a partner in a law firm, and they missed out on having a family. Thanks to the feminist movement, they discounted their biological clocks. They've missed the opportunity and they're bereft.

Feminism has betrayed an entire generation of women into childlessness. It is devastating.

But far from taking responsibility for any of this, the leaders of the women's movement close ranks against anyone who dares to question them  -  as I have learned to my cost. I don't want to hurt my mother, but I cannot stay silent. I believe feminism is an experiment, and all experiments need to be assessed on their results. Then, when you see huge mistakes have been paid, you need to make alterations. 
Read More.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mean Girls of History

A delightful rant from historical novelist Susan Higginbotham on the misogyny that is perpetrated by some popular authors in their romance novels. To quote:
Now, as we've discussed on this blog, there is no evidence--only Yorkist propaganda in Margaret's case and Richard III's unproven allegations in Elizabeth's--that Margaret had extramarital affairs or that Elizabeth Woodville was a practicing witch. These allegations were politically useful to those who made them. They also have their roots in misogyny and sexism, accusations of sexual misconduct and of sorcery being convenient weapons to use against women one needed to discredit or to get out of the way.

Which brings me to my point (you knew I would get there soon or later, didn't you?). The author of the novel I mentioned above is a woman, as are the authors of most other novels that depict Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville in this manner. Why would a female novelist want to perpetuate these stereotypical views of these women, or of any other historical woman? Why not make an effort to separate fact from propaganda?

The quick answer, for female and male novelists alike, is laziness. After all, most of the novelists who deal in stereotypes of historical women also deal in stereotypes of historical men. One can write a novel that's unsympathetic to, say, Margaret of Anjou or Elizabeth Woodville without turning Margaret into a slut or Elizabeth Woodville into a sorceress, but it requires a little more work on the author's part. Sadly, many authors appear unable or unwilling to undertake such labor.

Gareth Russell agrees, naming names. Share

American Public Education

The Prussian Connection.
Prussia was prepared to use bayonets on its own people as readily as it wielded them against others, so it’s not all that surprising the human race got its first effective secular compulsion schooling out of Prussia in 1819, the same year Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, set in the darkness of far-off Germany, was published in England. Schule came after more than a decade of deliberations, commissions, testimony, and debate. For a brief, hopeful moment, Humboldt’s brilliant arguments for a high-level no-holds-barred, free-swinging, universal, intellectual course of study for all, full of variety, free debate, rich experience, and personalized curricula almost won the day. What a different world we would have today if Humboldt had won the Prussian debate, but the forces backing Baron von Stein won instead. And that has made all the difference.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Cause of Katherine of Aragon

A brave defense of Katherine the Queen. To quote:
Her story speaks loudly enough for itself and serves as the perfect justification as far as I can see for either placing her name on the list and gifting her with the title of Blessed Katharine of Aragon or given a special recognition by the Church. From everything history tells us we know that Katharine of Aragon lived a model life of piety, patience and faith. She proved herself a worthy daughter of the Church. Her example of faith and perseverance should no longer be forgotten. The people of Peterborough – Anglicans not Catholics – have never forgotten this good woman and continue each year to recognize and honor her. Perhaps I overstate or over-dramatize when I go so far as to suggest that she should be named the patroness for the cause of reunification between the Roman Catholic and Anglican Church; perhaps not.

Under his holiness, Pope John Paul II, many were made blessed and many made saints. And although Katharine may not qualify for martyrdom, surely she has earned recognition by the Church – some title that would honor her faith and her defense of the sacrament of marriage. The Holy Father recognized the importance of acknowledging holy people and I believe that Katharine of Aragon earned her right to be placed among them.
More HERE.
Over 500 years ago a Spanish Princess become Queen – beloved by the people of her adopted English homeland, and dying in the arms of the friend who had accompanied her to their new world when they were girls.  Yet she died abandoned by her husband of nearly 25 years, cast out from the royal life she was born to, separated from her daughter, so poor she had to be provided with food by the people in the village who loved her and , at last, dying in conditions less than hospitable or decent.  Such was the end for Katharine of Aragon, Queen of England – wife of King Henry VIII and the central figure of the English Reformation.
She was abandoned by her husband, by her nephew, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and by the Roman Catholic Church.  And yet, she never waivered in her faith.  Katharine of Aragon lived the model Christian life; one of piety and devotion to her faith.  Why then, has she never been considered a holy person worthy of recognition by the Roman Catholic Church.  If not recognition by including her on the List of English Martyrs or sainthood, then some special recognition acknowledging her faith and sacrifice as a devoted daughter of the Church and true Servant of God?

The Company Town

A book review.
The prince of "The Company Town" is Milton Hershey, the chocolatier who dreamed of a city with "no poverty, no nuisances, no evil." Hershey, Pa., located far from the candy-craving crowd but surrounded by dairy farms, clean water and "industrious folk," was informed by the Mennonite values of Milton's childhood. Milton frowned on drunkenness and immorality on Chocolate Avenue. He despised the uniformity of other planned communities, so his streets, he decided, would exhibit more variety than his candy bars. Hershey provided a zoo, a library, a golf course, free schools, a model orphanage and a "cornucopia of benefits" for workers. "Employees seemed to find contentment in the well-appointed town of Hershey," writes Mr. Green. He also singles out Maytag (Newton, Iowa), bane of appliance repairmen, and Hormel (Austin, Minn.), bane of gourmets, as companies that, in their heyday, cultivated a sense of community.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Murder in the Vatican

Here is an interview with author Ann Margaret Lewis about her new collection of Sherlock Holmes stories.
EMV: Ann, congratulations on the publication of your most recent book, Murder in the Vatican.  I commend you for reviving the characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in a series of new adventures. I enjoyed becoming reacquainted with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. You captured the essence of the original Holmes stories, while finding your own voice in the telling of the tales. What were some of the challenges of writing a novel with characters who are already so well-known?
AML: The real challenge is to being true to the original. With Holmes pastiches, that is often not the case, so there are many bad ones. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created a specific character that folks know, so I had to make sure Holmes and Watson lived up to their expectations. If I deviated at all, I needed to give a very good reason for it. In other words – I needed to remain “orthodox.” I wasn’t going to make any major changes to Holmes or Watson, or even to Father Brown who has a cameo in the book or the Holy Father Pope Leo. To be true to all of them, I really had to know them like I know my own family.
EMV: Your portrayal of Pope Leo XIII is especially vivid.  Pope Leo has long had my admiration, but after reading Murder in the Vatican, I feel as if I have had an audience with him. Can you share a little about what it was like to depict the pope in a work of fiction?
AML: Intimidating. I wanted to wear a veil as I typed.  
Seriously, I wanted to reflect him as he was, but I knew to tell a story about him some literary license would be necessary. It was like the process of converting a book to film. To make a novel work in another medium, one has to tweak the storytelling, To make a real person (Leo) into a character in a story, I had to tweak him ever so slightly—and yet remain true to who he was. Nevertheless, I felt guilty even doing the mild change I did. I repeatedly asked his forgiveness for taking what license I did. (I had him be a little more physically active than I’m sure he really was—but no Jackie Chan moves from this pontiff!).
EMV: I enjoyed the scenes that take place in Rome and at the Vatican, and while I was reading I thought that you must have spent time Italy because you really transport the reader there. Am I guessing correctly?
AML: Back when I was in college I stayed in Italy for three months studying Italian language and Renaissance art. But I really only managed to stay two days in Rome. Wisely, I spent most of that time at the Vatican. So, I was relying on my memories, photographs and books I purchased while I was there as well as others I checked out of the library to remind myself of where everything was. The difficult part was the inside of the papal palace, though, because one can’t go in there. So I lucked out in that I found an article from an 1890s magazine that described the inside of the palace as it was during Leo’s reign. And the artist even made sketches! So that helped a good deal.
EMV: Fascinating! Many historical details of what was going on in the Church and the world are subtly woven into your narrative, which enrich the impact of the mysteries that Holmes must solve. Could you tell us a little about the research that went into crafting a mystery in an authentic historical setting?