Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) wrote some of the most beautiful and innovative poetry in English of the late 19th century. In Hansen's vivid fiction, Hopkins is a promising Oxford graduate who writes verse throughout college, converts to Roman Catholicism in his early 20s and takes church orders. Those acts ostracize him from his family and silence his poetry. In parallel with Hopkins's story, Hansen explores the event that jolts Hopkins back into writing in 1875: the sinking of the Deutschland--whose victims include five Catholic nuns exiled from Germany by Bismarck--at the mouth of the Thames. Delivering a deft blend of literary biography and disaster tale, Hansen (Mariette in Ecstasy, etc.) wrings a white-knuckled drama out of the lives of the poet/priest and five extraordinary German women, who were headed to St. Louis, Mo., to lead the American branch of their order. As for Hopkins, his poetry is poorly received for its unconventionality, and his Jesuit superiors punish him for his "oddities" (Hansen steers clear of Hopkins's sexuality). Hansen finds in the difficult paths of six remarkable people the pursuit of "a tranquil, soothing God of intimacy and tolerance and unquenchable love." Fans of Hopkins's verse will cherish the chance to revisit the astonishing 280-line "The Wreck of the Deutschland," reprinted as a coda. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
An exquisite, elegiac novel about Gerard Manley Hopkins's composition of the poem "The Wreck of the Deutschland," as well as the five nuns whose death in the wreck inspired it. The novel opens at St. Beuno's School of Theology in northern Wales, where Hopkins is studying in the final years of his Jesuit training. He reads of the Deutschland maritime catastrophe in the London Times and almost immediately begins the struggle, after ten years of silence, to articulate the depth of his feeling about this event. The narrative focuses on Hopkins's production of the poem and on the nuns from Germany forced into exile by Bismarck's anti-Catholic laws barring religious orders. While little is known historically about the lives of the Franciscan nuns, Hansen (Isn't It Romantic: An Entertainment, 2003, etc.) constructs plausible life stories in loving detail. In flashbacks we also learn of Hopkins's initial crisis of faith, his conversion to Catholicism (which Hopkins saw as a corrective to "the triviality of this life") and his subsequent estrangement from his family. Along the way Hansen uses excerpts from Hopkins's letters and journals and also cleverly inserts into the novel images from Hopkins's poetry--the "gear and tackle and trim" of the transatlantic steamer, for example, or a Rhine Valley landscape that is "plotted and pieced" with farms. Because we know what will happen to the Deutschland, the novel has a tone of doomed inevitability as we learn of the nuns' optimistic plans to restart their conventual life in Missouri after the journey. The title refers not just to the status of the nuns but also to Hopkins himself, exiled from ever feeling fully at home in this world. A glorious work about tragedy, creativity and literal and metaphorical shipwrecks. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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