In August, 1831, a few dozen slaves in Southampton, Virginia, revolted, slaughtering whites mercilessly.
The confession of the revolt’s leader, Nathaniel Turner, presented at his trial and subsequently published as a pamphlet, is the factual basis of William Styron’s novel.
The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
Random House, 1966, 1967; 428 p. 1967 bestseller #2. My grade: A.
Nat Turner’s capture.
Nat’s mother was a cook, so Nat became a “house nigger.” The Turner family taught him to read and figure, gave him carpentry training, bought a Bible, and promised he’d be given his freedom at age 25.
By the time Nat was 25, faced with dwindling income from over-worked land, Turner family had sold all their possessions—including Nat—and left Virginia for good.
Nat’s freedom disappeared with Marse Samuel.
Nat’s Bible reading and his ache for companionship with like-minded people, gradually twist into the conviction that God wants him to lead a slave rebellion.
Styron avoids the familiar clichés of slave novels. Characters, both black and white, are victims of conditions they can’t control. The worst physical and mental suffering among blacks and whites occur among those least affluent even at the best of times.
Styron’s tale could easily be moved to Baltimore or St. Louis in 2015.
His novel is a wrenching reminder that how we treat individuals matters more than our opinions about race.
© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni
Rather than post the list of 1943 bestsellers I’ve slated for review, since today is Easter on the Christian calendar, it’s perhaps appropriate to mention a novel related to the events of Holy Week.
I first reviewed The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas on the 50th anniversary of its first appearance on the bestseller list, which was in 1942. The novel not only stayed on the list a second year, but rose from seventh place in 1942 to first place in 1943.
In 1953, The Robe made a comeback, again hitting the top spot on the bestseller list, as the film version of the novel appeared in movie theaters with Richard Burton in the role of Marcellus Gallio, the Roman centurion who presides over Christ’s crucifixion.
A novel that makes the bestseller list three years out of 11—and two of those in the number one spot—deserves rereading if for nothing more than the novelty. However, I think you’ll find the story worth your time.
© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni
Here are the answers to Wednesday’s quiz. If I have previously reviewed a novel whose title is an answer to a question, I’ve provided a link to the review.
- Jacob’s 12 boys: Joseph and His Brethren (H. W. Freeman, 1929)
- King David said it first: My Son! My Son! (Howard Spring, 1938)
- The last great battle: Armageddon (Leon Uris, 1964)
- Isaac’s 7-year-itch: Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier, 1938)
- Samson at his last public appearance: Eyeless in Gaza (Aldous Huxley, 1936)
- A first for Noah — and everyone else: The Rains Came (Louis Bromfield, 1937)
- Peter was given them: The Keys of the Kingdom (A. J. Cronin, 1941)
- Worth a gamble: The Robe (Lloyd C. Douglas, 1953)
- Describes Goliath perfectly: Giant (Edna Ferber, 1952)
- Stephen was the first Christian one: The Martyred (Richard E. Sim, 1964)
- Departure from Egypt: Exodus (Leon Uris, 1959)
- Time for circumcision: The Eighth Day (Thornton Wilder, 1969)
- Where Joseph was when the Midianites came along: The Pit (Frank Norris, 1903)
- Passover comestible: Unleavened Bread (Robert Grant, 1900)
- The lawgiver: Moses (Sholem Asch, 1951)
Bible stories have not only provided plots for novelists for decades, but have also been rich sources of allusions and book titles.
The 15 clues below are each related to familiar Bible stories. The answer to each clue is the title of a best-selling novel twentieth century published 50 or more years ago. The novels’ are not necessarily religious novels or related to Bible themes.
- Jacob’s 12 boys
- King David said it first
- The last great battle
- Isaac’s 7-year-itch
- Samson at his last public appearance
- A first for Noah — and everyone else
- Peter was given them
- Worth a gamble
- Describes Goliath perfectly
- Stephen was the first Christian one
- Departure from Egypt
- Time for circumcision
- Where Joseph was when the Midianites came along
- Passover comestible
- The lawgiver
Answers will be posted April 14.
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni
Sholem Asch’s novel Mary has to follow the familiar Biblical narrative about the mother of Jesus, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for surprises. Before you open the cover, you know what’s going to happen.
The most intriguing part of the plot is in how the young Jesus grows into a knowledge of his destiny. The explanations Asch has Mary and Joseph give to Jesus’ questions about the scriptures are thoughtful and thought-provoking.
As in most religious novels, the interest is in the detail rather than the main story. Asch pads his tale with tidbits about geography, climate, history, and contemporary customs. While I’m glad to know Jews were required to feed their animals before they ate, I don’t find that fact particularly exciting.
None of Asch’s characters seems like a real person—not even the people who were real people.
Asch invents Nazarenes in an attempt to bring in some local color. But instead of creating a sense of reality, the invented characters read like a list of dramatis persona.
Asch has characters speak long passages from the Torah and other religious materials, which only makes them sound more fake.
Mary is somewhat interesting, but never entertaining.
By Sholem Asch
Trans. by Leo Steinberg
G. P. Putnam’s Sons 1949
1949 bestseller #3
My grade: C-
©2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni
Writing fictional biography is a hazardous occupation.
Authors are expected to stick to account plausiably for all the mistakes, foibles, and inconsistencies that make the characters interesting, while sticking to historical facts.
Dear and Glorious Physician illustrates just how difficult the task is.
The physican is, of course, Luke, widely believed to have penned the gospel that bears his name and the book of Acts. Taylor Caldwell’s task is to show how a Greek doctor came to know all the history in those books.
Caldwell has Luke raised in the home of a Roman soldier, mentored by a Chaldean physician, taught by Greek philosopher, educated in Egypt. As Luke moves through the Mediterranean world, Caldwell makes each locale’s sights and sounds come alive.
Unfortunately, she is less successful at making Luke himself come alive.
In the picture Caldwell draws, Luke is a loner who makes friends everywhere he goes. He’s afraid of dogs, but cuddles wild jackels. If that seems plausible to you, you’ll probably accept that is a world-class athlete (judo’s his speciality), handsome as Apollo ,the confidant of Caesar, and that he can can raise the dead when his brilliant medical skills fail.
Dear and Glorious Physician is worth reading for the setting and scenery.
Look elsewhere for entertainment or for better understanding of people.
Dear and Glorious Physician
By Taylor Caldwell
1959 bestseller # 7
My Grade: C+
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni