From Publishers Weekly
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)
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*Starred Review* Veteran historical novelist Hansen (whose previous works include Atticus, 1996, and Hitler’s Niece, 1999) brilliantly, if soberly, weaves two interrelated story lines into a riveting novel based on the factual background to the writing of Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’ classic epic poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” The two story lines—one, about what drew Hopkins to write the poem, and, two, about the lives of five Catholic nuns who drowned in the grounding of the German liner off the coast of England in 1875—are thematically connected, in addition to the literal one between author and poetic work. Born and raised in the Church of England, Hopkins as a young man not only converted to Roman Catholicism but also became a Jesuit priest. Thus, he was in spiritual exile from his original church and from his family, who were uncomfortable with his conversion, and when sent by the Jesuits to teach in Dublin, he was cast into physical exile from his native country. The five nuns, whose individual stories Hansen brings to light, were being sent into exile in the U.S. by their convent in Germany, in the shadow of the anti-Catholic laws being promulgated by the Bismarck regime. The tragic voyage of the ship the nuns were unfortunate enough to book passage on is itself chronicled with a heart-thumping vividness. --Brad Hooper