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1 Burnside Literature- A to Z

Mariette in Ecstasy

by

Mariette in Ecstasy Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

The highly acclaimed and provocatively rendered story of a young postulant's claim to divine possession and religious ecstasy.

Review:

"A beautiful young girl defies her family to enter the cloistered world of a nunnery. She displays extraordinary devotion; her piety seems almost passionate. In time the wounds of Christ, the stigmata, appear on her hands. The convent turns upon her in disbelief. Seventeenth-century Italy? A backward mountain village in prerevolutionary Mexico? Neither. The story is set in 20th-century America, and the time and place—upstate New York—make it that much more intriguing. Hansen's delicate treatment of the idea of religious rapture, an idea that seems curious or even perverse to today's reader, takes us beyond skeptical rejection and makes this unlikely tale very accessible. He creates the cloistered world and allows us, ever so quietly, to peek within. We do not solve the mystery, but he helps us discover its spiritual power." Reviewed by Daniel Weiss, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)

Review:

"The feelings of skepticism, jealousy and adoration evoked in the nuns, Mariette's own response and that of the Mother Superior are delicately, indelibly drawn in Hansen's authoritative prose." Publishers Weekly

Review:

"Mr. Hansen succeeds--miraculously, it is tempting to say--in sustaining his portrait of Mariette's spirituality as well as her charm amid this drama. . . . The novel pulls its taut plot-thread smartly along from start to finish, weaving flash-forward patches of dialogue from the investigation of Mariette's 'case' into the unfolding action of her entry into the life of the convent. The finale is a stunner. . . . The majesty of the ordinary turns out to be the greatest mark the Lord lays on her. It is a testament to Mr. Hansen's art that it is possible to weep for Mariette's lost glory as if forthe death of a great love." Patricia Hampl, New York Times Book Review

Synopsis:

The highly acclaimed and provocatively rendered story of a young postulant's claim to divine possession and religious ecstasy.

About the Author

I believe that it is risk that energizes a writer," says Ron Hansen. "I am challenged when I write from a woman's perspective or set my work in a historical period, because there is so much more that I have to imagine." Hansen has been imaging fictional worlds since his childhood in Nebraska, when stories of old west outlaws helped shape his future writing. In fact his first two novels, Desperadoes and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, retell Wild West legends. His other novels are Mariette in Ecstasy and Atticus, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Nebraska, a collection of short stories, received an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. With fellow novelist Jim Shepard, he edited the anthology You've Got to Read This: Contemporary American Writers Introduce Stories That Held Them in Awe. He also wrote the screenplays for Mariette in Ecstasy and, more recently, for Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Hansen graduated from Creighton University in Omaha, and went on to the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop where he studied with John Irving. Having spent many years as an itinerant scholar, he is now Gerard Manley Hopkins, S. J., Professor in Arts and Humanities at Santa Clara University in northern California. Hanson earned a Masters degree in spirituality from Santa Clara in 1995.

His strong personal interest in the connection between religion and literature is the focus of his next book, A Stay Against Confusion: Essays on Faith and Fiction, which HarperCollins will publish in January 2001.

A conversation with Ron Hansen about Hitler's Niece

When did you first hear the nearly forgotten story of the strange love affair between Hitler and his niece, Geli Raubal?

I was reading Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives by Alan Bullock, and he mentions Geli Raubal several times. I had never heard about her, but was struck by the fact that she was the only woman that Hitler every loved or wanted to marry. I at first intended to write a short story about her, a story that would consider what it might have been like to be loved by this evil man, one of the monsters of the 20th century. Was she seduced by Hitler, was she an accomplice, or was she in love with him? I started reading other books, mostly reminiscences of people who knew her, and as I got into it I realized that there was so much more than a short story. I had a novel.

What was it about Geli's story that attracted you and inspired you to write a novel?

I've long been fascinated by Hitler's character. How did this monster have such control over people and almost win his war? He was an unprepossessing character with no education--seemingly nothing going for him except his incredible oratory skills. Why was that enough to sway a whole country? I thought that by looking at Hitler through Geli's eyes, from her perspective, we might gain some insights.

What did you feel you, as a novelist, could bring to the story that may have eluded historians and biographers?

Historians are stuck with the facts as they've been presented, and in some ways they are facts that were massaged by the machinery of the Nazi party. And, in the case of Hitler, there are enormous gaps. But if you read between the lines, it all makes perfect sense. And that's what novelists do. I try to take the facts and fill in based on what I've observed about human behavior--to try to figure out what would be the likeliest way for a character to get from one point to the next. That's what I've done with Geli Raubal in Hitler's Niece.

And, as a novelist, you needed to get inside Hitler and, sometimes surprisingly, imbue him with human characteristics.

I think the one thing we learn from fiction is that people are never totally good or totally bad. As hard as it is to believe, this has to have been true about Hitler as well. He had that extraordinary ability to dominate and control people, to keep people coming back to him. He had to be more than a selfish bore or people would not have been drawn to him.

Many years after the war, Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, was released from prison and he watched film footage of Hitler for the first time in many years. He said he was struck by how dull Hitler seemed on film, as opposed to how he really was. Hitler must have had qualities that have been lost to history, that we might even label redeeming.

So you think Hitler had a human side?

Human, if not good. But, I believe he was a brilliant actor who could only present himself publicly through these personas. We have no way of knowing how he transmitted this energy, yet the millions of people he seduced could not have all been idiots. He must have been charming. Of course, the idea that Hitler was charming is startling. We think of him as that figure on the podium, spewing vengeance against the Jews.

Back to Geli, who is at the center of the novel. What did you gain by casting the novel from her perspective?

For me, she was the pleasure of the book, because unlike the others in Hitler's circle, she could make wry comments. She treats him with irony, she is not swayed by his politics. She never becomes a Nazi and even holds herself up in opposition to his ideas and gets away with it. She becomes a heroine for these reasons, a stand-in acting the way I hope I could have acted in that situation.

But she doesn't really get away with her ideas? She is killed because of her independence....

True, she is doomed from the very first moment that Hitler falls in love with her. Everyone he ever fell for was doomed, because he didn't know how to have a love affair. Eva Braun had a terrible life, and was force to commit suicide. Renata Mueller committed suicide or was pushed out of a window. I think Geli was murdered.

Yes, of the numerous theories explaining Geli's death, you have chosen the one in which Hitler himself killed her. Did you make this choice for the purposes of narrative drama, or do you believe it is the most plausible solution to the mystery?

It seems clear to me that it was not suicide. Everything goes against that, especially the conflicting testimonies of what happened the day of her death. So, once you say it was a homicide, then you're left with only a few people who could have possibly done it. That Hitler would have allowed someone else to kill her and get away with it is preposterous. It's possible to dream up a scheme where one of the others plotted the killing, but they were so afraid of Hitler than they never could have carried it out. That Hitler did it makes the most sense--he was in love with her and needed to control her. And, even it she did commit suicide, it would have been because of Hitler, so it's metaphorically, if not historically correct to put the blame on Hitler.

Geli is simultaneously repulsed and seduced by Hitler's hypnotic hold. Is this duality symbolic of Germany's seduction?

Yes. I was consciously making that connection. You could say it was true about everyone he came in contact with. He was a seducer, and he did what he could to draw people in. Contemporary accounts talk about how Hitler worked on people--he would spend the first hour he met someone just listening, then after an hour he had that person figured out, and then he used that knowledge to manipulate him or her. They would feel that he was a person that understood them completely. They were in his thrall. All these fierce people who headed the Nazi party and caused irreparable damage and homicides by the score, they all confessed that they felt like children around Hitler. He had some sort of talent for mind control. I used Geli to show that in the same way that he imprisoned her in his apartment, he imprisoned people in a psychological way. In some ways Geli was more resistant, but in some ways she was equally susceptible.

On the surface, your novels might seem very different from one another, but are there common themes or concerns that you find yourself returning to in your fiction?

One thing I would say is that almost all my novels are about outlaws, people on the fringe, outside of normal society. People who don't fit in. Nuns in a cloister are women who have removed themselves from society and yet are trying to establish their sense of worth. Jesse James, the Dalton brothers--all these people feel excluded from the conversation, and yet they have the ambition to realize their goals and they do it in their mangled way. Even Atticus, so in control at home in Colorado, is walking on the fringes when he gets to Mexico. And Hitler and Geli, too, were outsiders.

Once again, as with Mariette in Ecstasy, you've written a penetrating story of a female point of view. Isn't this unusual for a male writer?

I believe that it is risk that energizes writers. I think writers are in many ways contrarians, we like threats. Writers like to imagine things, so the more imagining we get to do, the happier we are as writers and, we hope, the better our work is. I am challenged when I write from a woman's perspective or set my work in a historical period, because there is so much more that I have to imagine. Concrete details are what make fiction believable, what writers need to create for their readers. If I constantly push myself in creating these details, to try to see things the way other people would have seen them, it makes me a better writer. And that, of course, is better for my readers.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780060981181
Author:
Hansen, Ron
Publisher:
Harper Perennial
Author:
by Ron Hansen
Location:
New York, NY :
Subject:
General
Subject:
Fiction
Subject:
Young women
Subject:
Christian fiction
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Young women -- New York (State) -- Fiction.
Subject:
Nuns -- New York (State) -- Fiction.
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Series Volume:
90-17
Publication Date:
19940101
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Yes
Pages:
192
Dimensions:
8.03x5.28x.49 in. .32 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Film and Television » Novelization
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

Mariette in Ecstasy Used Trade Paper
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Product details 192 pages HarperPerennial,1992. - English 9780060981181 Reviews:
"Review" by , "The feelings of skepticism, jealousy and adoration evoked in the nuns, Mariette's own response and that of the Mother Superior are delicately, indelibly drawn in Hansen's authoritative prose."
"Review" by , "Mr. Hansen succeeds--miraculously, it is tempting to say--in sustaining his portrait of Mariette's spirituality as well as her charm amid this drama. . . . The novel pulls its taut plot-thread smartly along from start to finish, weaving flash-forward patches of dialogue from the investigation of Mariette's 'case' into the unfolding action of her entry into the life of the convent. The finale is a stunner. . . . The majesty of the ordinary turns out to be the greatest mark the Lord lays on her. It is a testament to Mr. Hansen's art that it is possible to weep for Mariette's lost glory as if forthe death of a great love."
"Synopsis" by , The highly acclaimed and provocatively rendered story of a young postulant's claim to divine possession and religious ecstasy.
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