Tuesday, November 06, 2012

"Sacred Hearts," by Sarah Dunant

The Primary Cast:

Suora Zuana: The dispensary mistress whose unique upbringing by a doctor left her with significant medical and herbal training as well as a burning scientific curiosity. Sometimes, however, she fears her scientific mind keeps her from truly getting in touch with God.

Suora Serafina: A teenage girl forced into the convent against her will for having an affair with her music instructor. Despite her furious desire to escape, she and Suora Zuana develop a reluctant friendship.

The Secondary Cast:

Madonna Chiara: The Abbess of the convent of Santa Caterina. While she and Suora Zuana share a personal friendship, she cannot show favouritism while keeping a close watch on the political currents that might bring unwelcome reform to convent life.

Suora Umiliana: The novice mistress. Exceedingly devout, she believes in reform and wants to bring a more rigid way of life to the convent - as well as a change in leadership.

Suora Magdalena: An extremely pious and elderly sister kept in seclusion who purportedly experiences stigmata and religious ecstasies. Her presence signifies the conflict between Madonna Chiara and Suora Umiliana: the Abbess keeps her in isolation in order to keep unwanted attention away from the convent, but Suora Umiliana wants to proclaim the presence of this "living saint" to bring change to the convent's way of life.

The Word: The story takes place entirely within the convent of Santa Caterina, settled within the Italian city of Ferrara in the 16th century, while religious reform is running rampant throughout Europe. It's a period of history in which dowry prices are so high most families can't afford to marry off more than one daughter - except to Christ, that is.

Suora Zuana has spent sixteen years in the convent, ever since her physician father died, leaving her with his books and his knowledge but no family to take her in. Now working as the convent's dispensary mistress, she is responsible for developing remedies, practising medicine, and studying her father's craft. While she sometimes finds convent life restricting, she also appreciates that she would never be able to pursue her scientific curiosity anywhere else in the outside world.

Her remedies come in handy when the convent acquires a new novice - the 16-year-old Suora Serafina, who comes with a dowry as wealthy as her heart is unwilling. Furious and despairing at being torn from her privileged life and forced to take the veil after her romance with her music teacher was discovered, Suora Serafina feels convent life is akin to being buried alive. When her wild howling threatens to keep the entire convent awake, Zuana gives her a potent sleeping draught. To reward Suora Zuana for her quick thinking, the abbess, Madonna Chiara, orders Serafina to assist Suora Zuana in the dispensary. There, the two women end up forming a delicate friendship.

But not everyone is calm and content with convent living. In the outside world, as a result of Protestant accusations of lechery and corruption within monasteries and convents, the Council of Trent has declared that nunneries should be reformed - by separating them even more fully from the outside world. Musical instruments other than the organ would be removed, the style of musical compositions would be severely restricted, convent-performed theatricals would be banned, and bars and grilles and bricks would be applied to convent windows to prevent moral "contamination."

Suora Zuana knows that such changes would make life unbearable for the nuns of Santa Caterina, many of whom have, like Suora Zuana, discovered their secondary vocations as passionate musicians, playwrights, and craftswomen within the autonomy of the convent. While the abbess' political connections and their current arrangement with the local bishop help to shield Santa Caterina from the Papal inspectors, any undue scandal within its walls could draw the wrathful eye of the reformers to their doorstep.

However, as Suora Zuana builds a friendship with the deeply troubled Suora Serafina - a girl who refuses to accept her fate as a nun and continually develops plans to escape - Zuana comes to wonder whether the maintenance of the convent's peace is worth the squashing of one girl's sanity and future.

As a practising Catholic, I took a lot away from this book, in the spiritual sense as well as the literary sense. I really appreciated the attention to detail and the exploration of every nun's personal search for God, and the way convent life was designed to open the spirit and bring people closer towards an intimate relationship with Christ. Even Suora Umiliana, who is essentially the antagonist, is far from a hypocrite in her beliefs and is sincere in her motivations for reforming the convent.

The characters are all splendidly realized and fleshed-out. I enjoyed reading how the scientific Zuana - herself an unwilling novice - came to sympathize with Serafina, while at the same time understanding how Serafina's actions could negatively impact the whole convent. These characters undergo significant struggle, both externally and with their own belief systems and goals. While the ending seemed a little bit easy, at the same time, half the story is the description of convent life and the intricate relationships of the women within. In many ways, the plot itself is rather simple and almost a secondary aspect of the novel.

That being said, this is a richly detailed and spiritual historical novel about a fascinating way of life in the 16th century - a way of life that allowed female autonomy and artistic expression in a period when few other institutions did. Definitely worth checking out.
A

You can purchase Sacred Hearts here.

31 comments:

  1. Anonymous11:22 AM

    "Sometimes, however, she fears her scientific mind keeps her from truly getting in touch with God."

    Historical novels with modern points of view. They drive me crazy. ;) This would not have been a fear in the middle ages. She would have been studying God's world - the act would have brought her closer to God, not farther from him. The separation of science and religion is a modern idea.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's not what I really meant. She did feel that it was God's creation, but she noted how she never experienced any of the ecstasies etc. that some other nuns did, and occasionally wondered if this was because she treated them like illnesses. She just noticed that while she had faith, she never was so supremely devout or spiritual as some of the other nuns,

      Delete
  2. คาสิโน ออนไลน์ ฟรีเครดิต บาคาร่า เว็บพนันออนไลน์ ISC888 ให้บริการ คาสิโนออนไลน์ มีเกมให้เลือกเล่นมากมาย สล็อต บาคาร่า รูเล็ต เกมไพ่ ยิงปลา ฝาก-ถอน 10 วินาที ไว ที่สุดในไทย

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for sharing a great article.
    You are providing wonderful information, it is very useful to us.
    Keep posting like this informative articles.
    Thank you.

    Get to know about 1887x

    ReplyDelete
  4. What’s up to all, it’s genuinely a fastidious for me to visit this
    website, it consists of priceless Information. 토토사이트

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is very interesting, You are a very skilled blogger.
    I have joined your feed and look forward to
    seeking more of your magnificent post. Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks! 온라인경마

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks , I’ve recently been searching for information about this topic for a
    while and yours is the greatest I have found out till now. 사설토토

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you for posting such a great article! It contains wonderful and helpful posts. Keep up the good work

    TN Elections Portal, TN Voter Id Registration, Apply Online, Status and List Check, elections.tn.gov.in

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks for sharing this with so much of detailed information, its much more to learn from your article. Keep sharing such good stuff.
    KuttyMovies assortment delivers video clips of the hottest movies that are uploaded here. As a result of which even though the movies really are superb hits, although the number of audiences and also the number of movie lovers is decreasing. The reductions completed to world wide web series and film manufacturers by these piracy sites have surpassed hundreds of thousands.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks for sharing this with so much of detailed information, its much more to learn from your article. Keep sharing such good stuff.
    Write fo Us Betting Guest Posts providing an opportunity to submit a guest post on our General Blog. Gambling Online Betting compelling guest posts on Gambling, Casino, Betting, Sports Betting, Guest Blogging, and various categories topics to write for us. Do you have expertise on a topic that you’d love to share with our audience? These are a great way to share your experience and advice with others so that they can start, grow business and their financial situations. Write for us to get Expand your outreach, Promote your Business and Products at a high authority website.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks for sharing this with so much of detailed information, its much more to learn from your article. Keep sharing such good stuff.
    Digital Marketing Guest post With technological advancement, we have made our lives more comfortable and easier. However, since technology is advancing fast, not everyone can pace up with its speed. Most importantly, common people who have less knowledge about technology and technological advancements find it challenging to understand the new technologies.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Write for Us SEO is important for reaching these potential clients online. By optimizing your website and content for search engines, you can make sure that your firm appears as one of the top results when people are searching for legal information.

    ReplyDelete
  12. ดูหนัง av ญี่ปุ่น jav เอวีซับไทย หนังโป๊ ฟรี ตลอดทั้งปี av thhttps://av-thai.vip/ แหล่งรวม หนัง xxx เล่าเรื่องเสียว ที่จะทำให้คุณได้รับความเพลิดเพลินในการรับชม javmost

    ReplyDelete
  13. You can select the best dining table for your home from the different variety Browse exquisite range of dining tables now at craftatoz. If you have more people in your family or you keep visiting guests then the option of a rectangular table is better for you. Craftatoz offers every size of 4 Seater Dining Sets online.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Nice Blog !
    Here We are Specialist in Manufacturing of Movies, Gaming, Casual, Faux Leather Jackets, Coats And Vests See. yusuke urameshi jacket

    ReplyDelete
  15. Your site is good Actually, i have seen your post and That was very informative and very entertaining for me. Wolverine Leather Jacket

    ReplyDelete
  16. I'm writing on this topic these days, totosite, but I have stopped writing because there is no reference material. Then I accidentally found your article. I can refer to a variety of materials, so I think the work I was preparing will work! Thank you for your efforts.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Markwood4:50 AM

    I wish to show thanks to you just for bailing me out of this particular trouble.As a result of checking through the net and meeting techniques that were not productive, I thought my life was done.
    Disneyplus com/begin
    disneyplus.com/begincode
    disneyplus begin code
    disneyplus.com/begin

    ReplyDelete
  18. Thanks for sharing such information and if you are looking this site Flight Cancellations Philippine Airlines

    ReplyDelete
  19. I really enjoyed this post and hope you write more like this

    ReplyDelete
  20. Virtual birthday cards resemble a symphony of sentiments, where each person's message harmoniously blends with others to create a beautiful melody of love, support, and celebration.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Hello, the blog post is current, which is quite helpful for a beginner like me. For myself, as well as maybe for some others, it was completely unfamiliar. if someone looking for a shower seat with back so you can visit our site.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I appreciate your ideas so just keep sharing like this, you can also visit my website wall art painting design

    ReplyDelete
  23. Thakyou for sharing this blog with us. Are you looking for CA classes in pune? Then Good Shepherd Academy is right choice for you. They provide the complete study material, expert faculity.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I will certainly digg it and personally suggest to my friends.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I am confident they will be benefited from this web site. Feel free to visit my website;

    ReplyDelete
  26. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you?

    ReplyDelete

  28. Thanks for sharing with us a great article, its give so much information that help us alot. i would like to recommanded this site too sir, hope you visit back.
    https://activatorwinz.com/

    ReplyDelete