Having read two of Robert Hugh Benson’s novels I have been looking to read Come Rack! Come Rope! which has been highly recommended. When I was looking over the new Catholic Digital Downloads section at Aquinas & More Catholic Goods I noticed they had this novel available and so bought and downloaded it.
This historical novel takes place during the reign of Elizabeth I of England with a mixture of fictional and historic figures such as St. Edmund Campion. This is the time of the Recusants where not attending an Anglican church resulted in a heavy tax. Attending both a Catholic Mass and the Anglican service had been disallowed by the Pope. This was a time of increased persecution and the martyrdom of many priests and lay people. A time where the famous priest-holes were built where priests could hide in what were sometimes quite elaborate hidden rooms.
The novel starts by telling the story of a father who decides to stop paying the Catholic tax and to attend the Anglican parish while his son can not do so in obeying his conscience. This conflict between father and son is written so well you have to wonder how much of it was in a sense autobiographical. Robert Hugh Benson was the youngest son of the Archbishop of Canterbury and he left the Anglican priesthood to be ordained a Catholic priest and was later named a monsignor. It is easy to imagine that he drew upon this real life tension and experience when writing of the relationship between the father and son in the novel.
The whole novel is in fact is extremely well written with totally believable characters. I was totally wrapped up and involved in the story and the history of this time period. The inevitable conclusion also had me emotionally involved in a way similar to classics such as Shusaku Endo’s Silence or Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, but with a more faithful priest. Just reading about this sad era almost makes laughable the complaints Catholics have against the anti-Catholic media. We are only in danger of being slandered or slimed, but not getting stretched on the rack or being hanged, drawn and quartered. I loved Evelyn Waugh’s novel Edmund Campion and Come Rack! Come Rope! reminds me of it, but it also has a more expansive look at this era. Highly recommended.
No. It’s not laughable that we’re “only” worried about the anti-Catholic media. Elizabethan England started with the same vicious and relentless anti-Catholic propaganda. It’s where they ended that should worry us all. And they weren’t even operating in the same culture-of-death envioronment that hates Christ in general as the culture we currently live in does.
Benson is one of my favorite authors, and this is one of his very best novels. The ending is so moving, as is every step to get there.
If you haven’t read them already, read “The King’s Achievement” and “By What Authority”, in the same loose series.
You can also find Robert Hugh Benson at Project Gutenberg, in epub format suitable for use on the iPad with iBooks.
I’m reading “The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest” by John Gerard, the life of a Jesuit in Elizabethan England. I am at the part where the priest-hunters are banging at the door. The servants delayed them just enough so they could hide. Oh, I was crying; I could only think how scared I’d be!
It reminded me of my family history in Mexico. My great-grandparents had to smuggle a priest in to baptize their daughter. It was all very quiet, with the doors locked and people watching out for the authorities. This was in the 1920s.
Love that book..
I read the book some time ago, and liked it a lot.
However, Msgr. Benson’s father died a good while before his son’s conversion, so the father-son material isn’t autobiographical. It may be based in speculation on his own life, though. (“If Dad had still been around when I became Catholic, what would he have done ? ” )
I also read the book a few years ago, and liked it.
At the moment, I’m reading Sigrid Undset’s ‘The Burning Bush’ (which forms a double book, duology, two-parter, or whatever you’d call a trilogy if it only contained two books… 🙂 ), and it’s absolutely amazing.
Did you read “Lord of the World” yet?
Yes, it was the first of his that I read.
Yes, I have read it. It is not impossible that we may know persecution as well. I cannot imagine butchering priests but these agendas are demonic and that fury is directed against the holy priesthood, the Holy Eucharist and the Church. Think of the Spanish civil war where in the diocese of Valencia, I think it was, every single priest was murdered. And these things have happened in Mexico. We have not learned from history and allow evil agendas to come to power.
Lord of the World is recommended too.