Printer Friendly

In Hope of Heaven: English Recusant Prison Writings of the Sixteenth Century.

The thesis of Paul Strauss's book is expressed in the title In Hope of Heaven; Strauss shows that the writings of four of the priests who were imprisoned, executed, or banished for recusancy have as their common ground the priests' consolation that they would go to heaven. This bald statement displays an interested stance that places the book outside the style of most current scholarship, not because it is interested, certainly, but because it is spiritually interested, and also aimed at an audience that is not exclusively scholarly. Strauss admires the Catholic writers whose consolations he describes, and takes umbrage with scholars who do not express sympathetic appreciation for these persecuted "souls." In this approach, he may be understood as himself participating in the hagiographic tradition.

Strauss's topic is the prison writings of four recusants from two different periods of English history, from the writings of John Fisher (his two letters to his sister Elizabeth, a nun) and Thomas More (Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation) during the reign of Henry VIII, to those of Robert Southwell (Epistle of Comfort, written while Southwell was in hiding but addressed to the imprisoned Earl of Arundel), and Benedict Canfield (The Christian Knight) in the reign of Elizabeth I. Strauss gives a brief summary of the historical circumstances of each priest's imprisonment, but his main interest lies in the Christian, as opposed to classical, traditions that each priest selects in constructing his own consolation, including the prison writings of the apostles Paul and John.

In John Fisher's letters to his sister, Strauss locates the solitary, spiritual, and pastoral nature of Fisher's last writings, as Fisher directs attention to his sister's spiritual needs. Fisher writes not as an influential official - as bishop and chancellor of Cambridge - but as a preacher and brother. Thomas More's Dialogue of Comfort eschews polemics, taking its impetus instead, Strauss explains, from More's fear of being disemboweled and his desire to seek comfort in light of his imprisoned condition.

While Strauss's interest in Fisher and More lies with the private struggle that attends persecution, his interest in Southwell and Canfield rests in their embracing the opportunity for martyrdom. Strauss contextualizes Southwell's enthusiasm for martyrdom - as he writes to the imprisoned Arundel, and as he confronts his own death - by juxtaposing Southwell to John Donne, who, in Pseudo-Martyr, would condemn English Catholic martyrdom as mere suicide. In contrast, Southwell finds glory in martyrdom: "Let them draw us upon hurdles, hang us, unbowel us alive . . . set our quarters upon their gates to be meat for the birds . . . in such chariots do we triumph" (121). Turning to Canfield's The Christian Knight, Strauss summarizes the situation in England after Queen Elizabeth had made the English presence of priests ordained after 1572 illegal, and after invasive Catholic strategies to return England to Catholicism had become well-known. Canfield fits his writing into a charged atmosphere of confrontation by replicating in his treatise the tradition of the knight as "one who attempts to reestablish justice" and "defend the Catholic faith" (132) in his role as a traveler to heaven.

The usefulness of this book to scholars lies in two areas: it provides another means of access to the discourse of early modern religion in England - a subject that is currently drawing the attention of a significant number of scholars; in addition, by focusing on the private and inner life, and on the spiritual as the exemplary, it also stands in opposition, however uneasy at times, to cultural studies that tend to find in all seeming exemplarity a self-interested self-fashioning directed at material gain.

DONNA B. HAMILTON University of Maryland, College Park
COPYRIGHT 1998 Renaissance Society of America
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Hamilton, Donna B.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
Previous Article:A Proper Dyaloge Betwene a Gentillman and an Husbandman.
Next Article:Echoes of Desire: English Petrarchism and Its Counterdiscourses.

Related Articles
The Prison Experience: Disciplinary Institutions and Their Inmates in Early Modern Europe.
Sixteenth Century Europe: Expansion and Conflict.
Utter Antiquity: Perceptions of Prehistory in Renaissance England.
Literature, Politics and National Identity: Reformation to Renaissance.
Manuscript, Print, and the English Renaissance Lyric.
The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism.
Tommaso Campanella and the Transformation of the World.
The Waning of the Renaissance, 1550-1640. (Reviews).
The Unmaking of the Medieval Christian Cosmos, 1500-1760: From Solid Heavens to Boundless AEther and Comets, Popular Culture, and the Birth of Modern...
Surviving the Tudors: The 'Wizard' Earl of Kildare and English Rule in Ireland, 1537-1586.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |