Monday, November 9, 2015

Book Write-Up: Luther and Katharina, by Jody Hedlund

Jody Hedlund.  Luther and Katharina: A Novel of Love and Rebellion.  New York: Waterbrook Press, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

Martin Luther married a former nun, Katharina von Bora.  Luther and Katharina is historical fiction about their relationship up to (and a little bit after) the time of their wedding.

In the book, Katharina von Bora and other nuns sneak out of their monastery because they desire a family.  They have been influenced by the writings of Martin Luther, who states that one does not have to be a nun or a monk to get a quicker route to heaven but can please God in everyday life.  Katharina’s father was a knight, who donated her to the monastery when she was a child because he was running into difficult financial times and could not afford a dowry for his daughter.  Although Katharina flees the monastery, she is still attached, somewhat, to her traditional Catholic heritage, for she feels that the ceremony and the Latin treat God with the respect and majesty that God deserves, whereas she doubts that Luther’s focus on the vernacular and more informal relationship with God does so to the same extent.  Another area of conflict between Katharina and Luther concerns Katharina’s noble heritage.  While Katharina is a good person who is concerned about others, including her servant, she is also proud of her noble heritage, and she expects to be treated as a noble.  This leads to conflict with Luther, who does not like to be talked down to, and who is lower on the class scale, notwithstanding his fame and notoriety.

While Martin Luther is critical of the monastic system because he believes that its focus on chastity is contrary to nature, he himself is reluctant to get married, one reason being that he is continually in danger of being killed, either by the authorities or by fanatics.  His relationship with Katharina is up and down: there is obviously a spark of passion there, but they do argue a lot.

Another topic that is in this book concerns the fine line that Luther was walking between needing the German nobles’ protection and support, and opposing their oppression and exploitation of the peasants.  Luther tried to encourage the nobles to treat the peasants better, and the peasants to respect the nobles.  Luther opposed the peasants’ revolt, and that persuaded the nobles to continue protecting him.  Luther was horrified, however, when the nobles slaughtered the peasants.  The book also explores how people were trying to take the reforms Luther began in violent and revolutionary directions, much to Luther’s dismay.

As Jody Hedlund says in an appendix, the book is historical in some areas, but speculative and imaginative in others.  Yes, Katharina was about to marry a nobleman before she married Martin Luther.  But was Katharina captured and tortured?  Did someone try to poison Martin?  Hedlund states that this could have happened, but that these scenes come from her imagination.

The book is a good read.  In terms of critiques, I wish that it fleshed out more what attracted Katharina to the writings of Martin Luther.  Jody Hedlund does explain this, but she did so very briefly, such that what she was saying did not come across as a significant aspect of Katharina’s motivations, as something that made her tick.

The publisher send me a complimentary Advance Reading Copy of this book, which may differ from the book as it was finally published.  My review is honest.

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