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Saint Therese of Lisieux (Penguin Lives) Hardcover – August 18, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Viking/Penguin (August 18, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670031488
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670031481
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,477,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Harrison pens an impressionistic biography of "the little flower," the beloved French saint Therese of Lisieux, who died of tuberculosis at the age of 24. Harrison suggests that a more accurate term might be "the little nettle," since the 19th-century saint's legacy is not just sentimental but also stinging. The much-petted youngest child in a close-knit, pious French family, Therese was just four and a half when she lost her mother to breast cancer, a void she filled with her four older sisters as well as visions of the Holy Mother. The precocious and sickly Therese received a special papal dispensation to enter the cloister at the tender age of 15. (Initially refused by both the Mother Superior and her local bishop, Therese overrode their authority and went straight to the pope.) This is no hagiography; Harrison can be quite critical of the cosseted and self-righteous young Therese, whom she finds to be "at once girlishly naive and infuriatingly self-important." It also sometimes veers too far in the direction of psychobiography, with Harrison dwelling on what she calls Therese's repressed sexuality and the emotional nature of her early illnesses. Readers may disagree with Harrison's interpretations, but few could quibble with her writing style, which is simply gorgeous. Her prose sings like the novels she is known for (Thicker Than Water; Poison; Seeking Rapture), and the biography reads like a particularly juicy novella.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The latest entry in the excellent Penguin Life series is a reexamination of the life of Saint Therese of Lisieux. Canonized in 1925, only 28 years after her death in 1897 at the age of 24, Therese is one of only three women recognized by the Vatican as a Doctor of the Church. Though her life was brief, her influence was far-reaching, owing to her best-selling autobiographical legacy, Story of a Soul . Published after her death, this popular account of her spiritual life established the "Little Flower" as a bona fide religious icon. Best-selling novelist and memoirist Harrison places Therese's story firmly into historical, cultural, and psychological context. Although her portrayal of this complex and headstrong young woman is not always flattering, it never fails to be less than fascinating. Separating the flesh and blood Therese from the sentimentalized holy-card version, Harrison provides an intriguing, multifaceted portrait of a flawed human being destined for sainthood. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

Author Photo by Joyce Ravid.

Kathryn Harrison was born in 1961 in Los Angeles, California, where she was raised by her mother's parents. She is a graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers Workshop, where, in 1986, she met her husband, the novelist Colin Harrison. They had a first date on Friday, April 25, and on Monday, April 28, they moved in together. The Harrisons married in 1988, and live in Brooklyn with their three children. Kathryn writes novels, memoirs, personal essays, biography, and true crime. She is a frequent reviewer for the New York Times Book Review, and teaches memoir at Hunter College's MFA program in Creative Writing, in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Kathryn Harrison's biography of Therese Martin is a brilliant work from a variety of perspectives.
Stephen Coffey
This biographer seems unable to dive into or convey much of Therese's spirituality, due to a lack of understanding or excessive skepticism of spiritual experience.
P. Elliot
The book alludes to Therese's writings, but really does not, in my estimation, make the case for her immense popularity.
James Gallen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Michel bettigole on March 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a beautifully writtten book and it certainly uses modern knowledge of psychology and historical and literary research to shed light on Therese and her times. The author's focus on Therese's ascetical practices (masochistic to the author) presents the saint as a very unattractive woman. Reading this book one is left in awe of Therese's self-discipline and love of suffering but one cannot fint her attractive or open one's heart to her. Nowhere in the book does one find the compassion of this saint for all "sinners"; nowhere does one find her words of solace to those who suffer from guilt and problems with faith;nowhere does one find her as a "little sister" who acts as an intercessor to God for those who tremble to approach Him.
A recent video highlights the tour of Therese's relics to churches in the United States. Everywhere the relics were presented tens of thousands of people caame merely to be able to see or to touch the glass cannister that contained her bones. Reader's of Bishop Ahern's, The story of a Love, would understand this outpouring of emotion. Readers of Ms. Harrison's biography would not.
Brother Michel Bettigole -
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Renee McElwee on December 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Although Therese Martin may be loved by millions and revered as a saint by many, the fact is she was a human being and subject to nature and nurture in her formative years as all human being are. In this exceptional biography, Harrison explores many facets of Therese's entire life and history and, in my opinion, gives a very compelling, fair and realistic presentation of who Therese was, what shaped her into the woman - and later saint - she became, and what motivated her personal sense of passion and purpose in life that is viewed by many as a model of religious piety, perfection and purity to this day. I emphasize though that the focus is on Therese Martin, not so much the "St. Therese" she would later become after death and upon canonization.
It is for this reason that I can see why some who wish to transcend Therese's humanity and see her only as an untouchable and iconic saint would be disappointed in this book. Harrison makes Therese very real to the reader and focuses on her humanity and the possibilities of what may have made her tick based on insightful and grounded interpretations of the numerous family letters, documented testimony given at Therese's beatification after her death by her sisters and surviving family members as well as others who knew her, and clues given as revelation to support Harrison's biographical portrayal of the inner person with the use of Therese's own words.
And yes, Harrison does view Therese's life through the lens of modern day research, logic, fact and psychology rather than the more superstitious or supernatural perception that contemporaries in Therese's day might have viewed similar - but I think that's what makes this biography so wonderful.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By P. Elliot on March 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Unfortunately this was the only biography of Therese in my local public library. All biographies are to some extent seeing the subject thru a lens, but this lens filters out much of what is of the most value in Therese's writings in my opinion. This biographer seems unable to dive into or convey much of Therese's spirituality, due to a lack of understanding or excessive skepticism of spiritual experience. Biographer doesn't seem to be convinced that spiritual experiences are real. She continuously suggests that Therese's spirituality may be just neuroses and offers up superficial pop-psychological comments for every spiritual experience. Its like a biography of a mountaineer but the biographer is not at all sure that mountains really even exist at all, and they may be a figment of the fevered imagination. Biographer thinks this point of view is attuned to what "contemporary readers" expect but it just ends up missing most of whats there spiritually.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Linda Bulger VINE VOICE on April 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Author Kathryn Harrison's biography, Saint Therese of Lisieux (Penguin Lives), explores the life and times of this young icon of the Catholic Church for the Penguin Lives series. "The Little Flower" is one of the most revered of the Church's saints.

Therese Martin, born in 1873, was the youngest of five surviving daughters of Louis and Zelie Martin, successful lacemakers at Alencon. Zelie died when Therese was four years old; though the child was indulged by her father and sisters, she held herself from a very young age to the highest standards of piety and religious devotion. Religious fervor ran deeply in the Martin family, as it did in so many Catholic families in late 19th century France. All five Martin daughters eventually went to the convent, five as cloistered Carmelites. Therese was so sure of her vocation that she applied to enter the Carmelite monastery at Lisieux at the age of 15. When she was turned away because of her age, she petitioned the bishop (her uncle Isidore) and eventually the Pope for permission.

Therese distinguished herself by her self-denial, suffering and mortification, notable even in that cloistered world. In her writings she repeatedly referred to herself as the "Bride of Christ," the "toy of Jesus." Her letters, poems and plays from this period reflect her belief that deep spirituality can be found in an ordinary life, "the little way," and do not require great achievements. When she contracted tuberculosis, Therese glorified her illness as a "burning away of her corporeal being." She died in 1873 at age 24, after suffering horribly from her disease.
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