The Letters of Magdelen Montague by Eleanor Bourg Nicholson

by | Jun 24, 2021 | Historical Fiction, Uncategorized

Genre

Historical Fiction

Audience

11th grade and Up

Author’s Worldview

Catholic

Year Published

2011

Themes

Modernity, WWII, WWI, nuns, priests, priesthood, vocations, prayer, intercessory prayer, saints, suffering, end of times

 

Reviewed by

A.R.K. Watson

This novella is comprised of a collection of fictional letters sent by a man in England to his friend in Europe at the start of the 20th century. The first few letters mostly revolve around descriptions of Miss Magdalen Montague, for whom the writer carries a deep romantic admiration. But let’s be frank here: the writer is a stalker, and not the innocent, awkward kind. It is clear that he is the sort of rebellious person who takes pride in debauchery and irreverence, and who bears a superstitious level of animosity toward anything holy or pure.

His overblown grief and outrage when his object of obsession enters a Catholic convent is, therefore, difficult not to enjoy.

It will be clear to the Catholic reader that Magdalen’s prayers and intercession continue to haunt this man for the rest of his life. Just when his despair leads him to a state that hints at demonic oppression, he miraculously finds his way into the arms of the Church he once despised. The letters between him and his still stubbornly heretical friend become more spaced out as his conversion strains their friendship. Still, these letters trace the two men’s paths as they encounter one, then two, world wars. Much like in her novel, A Bloody Habit, Nicholson starts out making us laugh at her protagonists, but by the end we are instead moved to grief for their sufferings. The whole story is a beautiful meditation on the lies and temptations of modernity, and how we as Christians and Catholics encounter the world and keep faith when it feels as though the world is going to end. Reading this on the heels of a global pandemic was oddly comforting. If you need something short and entertaining to refill your cup with hope, this little novella is an excellent choice.

Having read her book, A Bloody Habit, I was already familiar with Nicholson’s talent for the tone and style of writing common in pre-20th century England, and I was not disappointed. If you are a fan of Victorian literature, Chesterton, or any of the Inklings, you will find this an enjoyable story, with prose on par with the quality of Lewis or Tolkien. Protestant Christian readers may find this just as beneficial if they have no aversion to loving descriptions of Mary. However, this is probably not the best book to give to a secular friend who hasn’t yet clued into the pitiable comedy of many modern heresies. But for Catholics, Nicholson is the very voice of ironic and cathartic humor.

Subscribe

Subscribe to Catholic Reads to get access to Catholic Literature from 50% off to FREE

A Printer’s Choice by W.L. Patenaude

The first nation in space has sworn off religion, but now they need the help of Fr. McCellan to solve a murder and save them from religious terrorists.

McCracken and the Lost Lady by Mark Adderley

McCracken gives us the grounded swashbuckling Catholic hero that our inner child has always wanted.

The Table by Dennis Lambert

A table built by the grandfather of Jesus Christ survives the darkest moment in history to bring peace to a widowed musician

Daughter of Light, by Corwyn Alvarez

A Greek princess from a tiny island kingdom becomes one of the early Church’s most famous martyrs.

Finnian and the Seven Mountains (Vol. 1) by Philip Koslowski, Michael Lavoy, and Jim Fern

Join Finnian as his quest for a legendary sword takes him to the monks of Skellig Michael, a real life inspiration for the Jedi temple.

Somewhither by John C. Wright An Unwhithering Realm

What if the Multi-verse were not a theory to disprove God? What if he created it, and all humanity must unite to fight the powers of Babel?

Freedom & Responsibility in “Citizen of the Galaxy” by Robert Heinlein

One of the masters of science fiction delivers a story exploring the limits of freedom and the ongoing battle against fallen human nature.

Julia’s Gifts by Ellen Gable

A story of love and God’s providence in times of war.

A Pius Man by Declan Finn

A hilarious espionage action adventure in the Vatican. Also a halberd fight scene. Nuff Said.

How the Dragon Awards Could Uplift Catholic Fiction

If you don’t like current state of mainstream publishing and wish there were more widely available alternatives, this is your chance to help make that a reality.

From Afar by Roger Thomas

Three astronomers follow the stars in a search for order and meaning. An action adventure based on the three wise men of the Gospels.

Why Reading Fiction Made Me a Better Catholic

How reading fiction became a crucial step in my conversion to the Catholic Church.

A Distant Prospect by Annette Young

Lucy has been broken by the horrors of polio and the war for Irish Independence. Can Australia offer her a new life and a new home?

Do Carpenters Dream of Wooden Sheep? by Corinna Turner

A poignant retelling of the Holy Family in a cyberpunk universe.

Sunrise on the Icewolf by Colleen Drippe

Helen grew up on a world ruled by women where showing interest in your father is taboo, but she will journey across planets to save him.

Someday by Corinna Turner

Ordinary schoolgirls face a terrible fate: abuse, forced marriages, and even death at the hands of Islamic extremists.

A Fisher of Women: The Tale of the Forgotten Healer of Galilee by Catherine Magia

Before she and husband were Saints, Peter and his wife struggled just to heal themselves

The Pre Persons by Phillip K. Dick

The pro-life Phillip K. Dick story so prophetic it was buried.

Old Man & The Void by Karina Fabian

When Dex decides to catch the treasure of a century, he is pulled into a black hole and must fight the robotic ghosts of an alien war.

Nightside The Long Sun by Gene Wolfe

A groundbreaking classic that conveys the practical need for ritual and a Priesthood to a secular world.