Catholic Novel/Literature: March 2008 Archives

An Evocative Passage--Anne Rice


Anne Rice has published the second book in her extended novelistic meditation on the Life of Christ. The first, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt was an unalloyed success at conveying some of the complexities of the childhood of a man who "was like us in all things but sin." The second promises to be more of the same. I haven't read much of it, wishing to savor it in between passages of Gothic Americana (The Sound and the Fury). But I wanted to share a short excerpt from very early on that exemplifies the style that Ms. Rice has chosen for these works.

from Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana
Anne Rice

I looked at them, the two, lying there as if they were children asleep, amid the heap of stones, and not enough blood between them, really, not enough blood for the Angel of Death even to stop and turn and take notice of them.

Rolling, spare, simple, evocative, lush, and lovely. Trimmed down, to the point and carefully crafted. The story rolls on in sentence after sentence that exhibit this same quality.

I think one of the things that astounds me is this Anderson-like simplicity after the baroque excesses of the Witches novels, the Lestat sequence, and the Ramses book. Ms. Rice has taken care here to produce prose that seeks to evoke its inspiration--straightforward and still poetic, like many of the parables Jesus told.

While it isn't the Passion narrative (one is to hope that that is at least two books away) this will make for fine end-of-Lent reading.

I have said before, and will say again, undoubtedly, in a world full of Sam Harrises , Richard Dawkinses, and Philip Pullmans, it is a pleasure and a relief to come across a novelist who is trying to write something worthwhile and powerful for the reader seeking substance. This series is a departure from all of her previous material and as such, it represents a risk to her. Not much of one, as her other books remain in print and sell well and will support her for some time to come, but she risks her huge fan base and her continued profitability and ability to hand on to a publisher. Like Mel Gibson, she is fashioning a work that is demanded by heart and soul, and it is up to readers like us to support this work. I ardently pray that Ms. Rice's work affects the hearts and minds of some of the fans of the previous books and moves them to explore the beauty of Jesus Christ, Lord, Savior, Friend and Companion. If it is possible for you to do so, you might think of buying this book and sharing it with the next person you see reading Kim Harrison, Anne's previous novels, or other books which, while occasionally fun and entertaining, have as an end escape into unreality. What Ms. Rice is trying to create is an escape into ultimate reality.

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The first person we have speak to us from the realm of the Inconstant (the lowest and slowest sphere of heaven) is a woman named Piccarda. She is consigned to this realm because of her "inconstancy" to her holy vows of a religious. However:

from Paradiso
notes by John Ciardi

Piccarda was already a nun and living in her convent when her brother Corso, needing to establish a political alliance, forced her to marry Rossellino della Tossa of Florence. Various commentators report that Piccarda sickened and soon died as aconsequence of having been so forced against her will and vows.

It is this kind of reasoning that throughout time has bred atheists. Circumstances that we do not will nor do we consent to force us to actions that we would not take for which God, who created and allowed these very circumstances, then punishes or demotes us.

Piccarda had no choice in this matter. For much of medieval time in many places women were just a step (and a very small step) above chattel. A few extraordinary women did rise above these circumstances--but for the most part your lot in life as a woman was to do what the men around you told you to.

But in Dante's mind, a woman who against her will is forced to marry and is basically raped, is inconstant to her vow. I'm surprised she isn't in The Inferno for being false to her vow. Instead God in his infinite love and mercy says--"you were trapped by circumstance and by the situations my will allows, and couldn't puzzle your way out of it--so off to the lowest circle of beatitude and be glad I don't kick you downstairs."

Yuck! This is what I constantly run up against in Paradise. A strange sort of paradise it makes it.

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Beatrice--Snide and Smug

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Here's an example of what I spoke of before. Beatrice speaks to Dante:

from Paradiso
Dante (tr. John Ciardi)

"Are you surprised that I smile at this childish act
of reasoning?" she said, "since even now
you dare not trust your sense of the true fact,

but turn, as usual back to vacancy?

Charming. Simply charming. There's nothing to inspire love and admiration like some smug, self-righteous, overly informed combatant smiling at your stupidity and then telling you so. I'm supposd to be enchanted/enthralled by this? Color me appalled.

Fortunately Dante's goal was not entirely to make me love Beatrice as he did. If so, his cause is utterly lost. Unfortunately, I perceive that this guide to the celestial realms will not be nearly so convivial as our guide through the other two. We can expect to be laughed at, lectured sternly, and variously assaulted and accosted as we try to enjoy the scenery.

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The Divine Comedy Act III


As often as I have read the Divine Comedy, I have found profound difficulty with the third part--the part that should be so compelling. It seems that all forward motion stops and Dante enters into a realm of airy speculation (mostly wrong) and cosmology that is both weird and vaguely uninteresting. The people in paradise maunder on and on about abstruse theological theories and oddities of the medieval sort. In short, it is the "most dated" and least "useful" of the three acts. And yet, I am sure that I am missing something in the reading. I am sure that as often as I have been through it, I have been left out of paradise through my own fault.

So I try again. And once again I am treated so some odd explanation of the spheres of the cosmos and to Beatrice (who if you ask me isn't some Divine avatar but a relentless and self-righteous harridan--see the end of Purgatorio. One is left to ponder what in the world Dante saw in this woman.

Not that the rest of the comedy isn't riddled with similar lectures, cosmologies, and oddities, but somehow amid the grotesques and the "poetic justice" they seem to fit in. If the realm of perfection is nothing other than an endless lecture series on the Divine glories, unless I become a completely different person (by which I do not mean simply abandoning sin and growing closer to God, but having something approaching a spiritual lobotomy) I think that the suffering there would be akin to the suffering of some of the souls in Dante's Inferno.

But then, why might Dante think that this endless lecture circuit is Divine? Perhaps because knowledge was so highly valued a commodity in a time when its dissemination was so difficult? Perhaps it was just that particular poet's mind? I don't know, but perhaps that is a focus to pay attention to as I try to ignore the lectures that get in the way of a tourists view of paradise.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Catholic Novel/Literature category from March 2008.

Catholic Novel/Literature: February 2008 is the previous archive.

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