Exiles

Ron Hansen, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $23 (227p) ISBN 978-0-374-15097-6

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)

Reviewed on: 03/03/2008
Release date: 05/01/2008
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