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What a wonderful coincidence that I read this book immediately after reading C. Milosz essay collection To Begin Where I Am: Selected Essays!For C. Milosz was trying to analyse the reasons behind the unimaginable horror surrounding the two World Wars, and the Russian and French Revolutions in his essays. His analysis was that man from the time of Renaissance and Reformation believed only in the nature of man and in his faculty (Reason). Man became the absolute deciding norm of moral values and he became the sole judge of his actions. In other words, the place that was due to Divine was taken over by man. That initiated the horror.In this novel, Gertrud Von Le Fort speaks exclusively of the execution of the Carmelite nuns of Compiegne during the French Revolution. It was the time when the mob ran the show and conformity was obligatory. If anyone was not conforming to the New State he or she was executed mercilessly. In such a situation the religious order was seen as a threat for it showed its allegiance to someone else (God) and not to any man made ideas. The religious institutions were seen as prisons of religion and belief in God was mocked at. Using the opportunity the Church institutions were confiscated and religious orders were dissolved with state law. To enter a convent was a crime. Those who had made vows were charged under some fabricated law suit for which the only punishment was to face the Guillotine. Interestingly C. Milosz in one of his poems speaks of French Revolution as an act of killing in the name of universal, beautiful ideas.This novel is based on a true event - the execution of the Carmelite nuns of Compiegne who faced the Guillotine singing SALVE REGINA and VIENI CREATOR. But the author has introduced a fictional character in the figure of novice Blanche and through that character explores the inner spirit and struggle that went through the characters before facing the final moment of execution. It is here the author shows her skill in analyzing deep into the psychological depths of the characters. The questions of sacrifice for the nation, sacrifice for the faith, pure sacrifice (a sacrifice without any hope), and the mortal fear of death get special attention. The ending of the novel can inspire as well as shatter you. In a simple sentence it is a story of simple, weak, mortal, fearful human being made strong by God.In analyzing the French Revolution she is in alliance with C. Milosz. Or may be, it is the other way round. Milosz is in alliance with Von Le Fort. Both of them do not entirely believe in human nature as the foundation for moral values. The Reason can not only be the final deciding principle. I end with two quotes that serve as authors commentaries on French Revolution:1. You know that people had decided to reverence Reason alone! Ah! but Reason was betrayed as well as Faith!.2. O dear disciple of Rousseau! As always I admire your cheerful and noble faith in the indestructible nobility of human nature even when mankind is tasting most desolate failure.
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