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.