cover image Heart: A Personal Journey Through Its Myth and Meanings

Heart: A Personal Journey Through Its Myth and Meanings

Gail Godwin. William Morrow & Company, $24 (308pp) ISBN 978-0-380-97795-6

Well known for her many exquisitely crafted and bestselling novels (three, including Violet Clay and A Mother and Two Daughters, were National Book Award finalists), Godwin blends the scholarly and the personal in her first work of nonfiction--a thoroughly researched study of the meaning of the heart in political and religious history, literature and poetry, philosophy, psychology and medicine. Beginning with the first known image of the heart, in a prehistoric cave drawing of an elephant, and the conception of the organ in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which prescribes weighing the hearts of the deceased in judgment of their lives, she shows that heart lore is as old as humankind. Ancient myths and religions alike revered the heart as the seat of wisdom and the home of the soul, until, as Godwin explains, science gained ascendancy during the industrial revolution and assigned a lesser role to the heart than to the brain, as the locus of the mind. Godwin considers literature's representations of the heart's diverse properties, including heartbreak, descents into darkness, ""changes of heart,"" as well as the coldhearted ""invalids of eros"" who lack any heart at all. Accounts of loss, depression and suicide prompt the author to ask, ""Are some of us born with strong hearts, others with fragile ones?"" She studies Shakespeare's sonnets as models for modern treatments of love, and the writings of Teresa of Avila and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin for their portrayals of religious rapture. Concluding with illustrations of people full of ""hospitality of heart,"" Godwin brings the book full circle, proffering hope for ""a coherent culture in which mind and heart are partners, not competitors, in perception."" Agent, John Hawkins. (Feb. 14) Forecast: While Godwin's fans will appreciate her occasional references to her characters and the glimpses of her personal life here, her scholarly approach is unlikely to capture the fancy of most of the readers of her novels, despite the publisher's five-city tour and 15-city NPR campaign.