- File Size: 908 KB
- Print Length: 273 pages
- Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
- Publisher: Twilight Times Books; First edition (August 24, 2015)
- Publication Date: August 24, 2015
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B014G39Y1C
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,344,822 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
Dolet Kindle Edition
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The novel begins in Toulouse, France with Dolet witnessing the horrific sight of his friend, charged with heresy, being burned at the stake.
Etienne Dolet, born 1509 in Orleans, France, educated under a series of scholars and later as a university law student, was known for his extensive Latin knowledge and writings. His witty and often cutting political remarks resulted in many enemies, though he also had powerful friends. He often was obliged to suddenly leave an area as a wanted man, or at least under grave suspicion. Often protected and financially supported by friends, he found employment using his extensive knowledge and oratory proficiency.
Dolet became a skilled printer, but his own books were criticized by the Catholic Church for their content. Dolet defends his position believing that his writing represented the true message of Christianity.
During his lifetime, Dolet spent a considerable amount of time in prison either defending himself against a trumped-up murder charge, which was actually self-defense, or because of suspicion by the French Inquisition that he was an atheist, charges made more serious because of his published books. Dolet stood fast on his efforts to reform abuses of the Church, not destroy her. He died a tragic death in 1546 on his 37th birthday.
Dolet is a fascinating read. Florence Byham Weinburg’s research is impressive as she follows the short life and times of this controversial figure.
The book is remarkable in a number of aspects. First among those is Weinberg’s ability to create vibrant, living descriptions of both people and settings:
Guillaume Scève’s study is “cozy and yet large enough to accommodate the group of fifteen, (it) harmonized all shades of brown, from the reddish-brown tile floor to the darker brown of the wainscoting, to the bookshelves containing leather and vellum-bound volumes, to the blackish-brown of the ceiling beams. The whole was saved from dullness by the tile border on the floor with a Greek-key pattern in apple green. The mullioned windows in the wall opposite the door, their small leaded panes opaque against the light outside, reflected the movement inside the room in distorted and fragmented images” (112).
The Inquisitor General Matthieu Orry “was a short man of huge girth, which his ecclesiastical robes emphasized further. His bulging purple neck contrasted alarmingly with his white collar, giving Etienne the impression he was choking. The puffy cheeks, also purple, seemed to have slid partway off his face to form hanging dewlaps on either side of his chin, waggling when he shook his head, or trembling when he became angry” (217).
Similar passages abound.
Weinberg moves seamlessly from the imagined parts of the narrative to the fruits of her meticulous research. Immediately after a created conversation, intimate and tender, between Etienne and his wife and Louise Giraud, we read: “He continued to publish other officially condemned books: a French translation of the Psalms and Song of Songs by Dolet himself, the Exhortation to Read the Holy Scriptures (in French) and a summary of the Old and New Testaments” (212). Either the conversation of the narration would suffer without the other.
The book also contains scenes we all might imagine, but which Weinberg’s skill with visual, poignant details bring to life. “A lone woman … knelt at the spot where Etienne had disappeared among the flames… . With both hands, she gathered ashes until the bag was full. … She stood in slow dignity, shook her skirt, brushed the ash from her shoes, and made her way toward the Rue Lagrange” (283).
Weinberg does not portray Etienne Dolet as some long-forgotten obscure printer, nor even as a martyr in the battle between “Holy Mother the Church” and the “heresies” that became Protestantism. Rather from her pen emerges a free thinker, a man who (to use a cliché) speaks truth to power, a voice many of us recognize: a modern man, admired by and needed in our own time.
I am not an expert on Etienne Dolet, 16th century France, religious controversy, nor printing in the Renaissance. I am an expert on what I enjoy reading, and Dolet by Florence Byham Weinberg (ISBN 978-1-60619-128-6) gave me an oft’-sought and seldom found pleasure.
As a young man, Etienne Dolet witnessed a burning at the stake. The victim had been unjustly convicted of heresy, and was a man Etienne admired. He knew that, already, the reactionaries of the Church had their eyes on him.
A person of great intellect, Etienne attracted the patronage and friendship of many men, several in positions of power and influence. He was admired as one of the foremost thinkers of his time -- and this was his downfall. The Church felt beleaguered by the advent of Lutheran and Calvinist thinking, and saw a heretic in everyone who expressed anything but fervent agreement with the status quo.
So, for much of his adulthood, Etienne was in mortal danger. As well as friends, he had many enemies, for he was intolerant of stupidity, cutting with his wit, and arrogant in his bearing.
His story, as told by Florence Weinberg, is a compelling tale, although not at all comfortable. It is an account of brilliance, courage and decency. It brings to life a little-known period of history, one as grim as for example either of the two World Wars. Above all, it is a gripping story. Once you get to know, respect and like Etienne, you won’t be able to put the book down.