"Magnificent stuff. Readers who have already been captivated by Connell's departures from conventional fictional form will be eager to follow him down this curious and remarkable book's intricate, pristine, and illuminating path." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"As presented by Connell, the medieval mind is a promiscuous mix of piety and brutality....Connell's antiquarian 'forgery,' which is in the line of novels like Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian, is a great feat of historical empathy." Publishers Weekly
"Connell uses his remarkable imagination to craft stories full of vivid, minute details....Using remarkably vivid imagery, Connell researches with the eye of an expert historical scholar and writes with the hand of an expert novelist." Michael Spinella, Booklist
"A book so richly detailed and gorgeously composed, so meticulously and profoundly researched that one can only wonder that its creation took but a decade....Here is one of the great books of our time, written by a living master. Read it and see." Jim Paul, San Francisco Chronicle
Evan S. Connell long recognized as one of the most important literary voices of the latter part of the century is author of seventeen books, including the best-selling Mrs. Bridge, Mr. Bridge, and Son of the Morning Star. He recently won the Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
AN OVERVIEW OF
Whether we judge them to be one of the great epic quests of history or the last
of the barbarian invasions, the Crusades were a formative experience for Western
culture. When they began, Western Europe was just emerging from the long turmoil
of what we now call the Dark Ages; when they ended, it was on the verge of the
Renaissance. Did the Crusades themselves have any effect on this progression,
or were they merely, as many historians believe, an irrelevant and unfortunate
In practical terms, the Crusades were an undoubted failure. Their original
purpose or their pretended one was to aid Byzantium in its fight against the
encroaching Muslims. By the time they ended, all of the former Byzantine territories
were under Muslim rule, the ancient power of Byzantium had been destroyed in
large part by the Crusaders themselves and the always-precarious Crusader kingdoms
of Western Syria had been smashed. In the meantime, the consistent savagery
and intolerance of the Westerners, or Franks, had engendered a matching ruthlessness
in the once-tolerant Muslims. The resultant hostility between and West continues
to poison international politics and relations to our own day.
In the late eleventh century, the Byzantine Emperor Alexius II, hard pressed
by the advance of the Turks into the heart of the Greek territories, called
on the papacy for assistance. Pope Urban II, envisioning the "liberation"
of the Holy Land from the Muslims who had held it for 400 years, seeing a chance
here for Western advancement in Byzantium, and hoping to find employment for
some of the rowdier elements among the Western nobility, launched the Crusades.
While princes, warlords, and territorial magnates carefully prepared for the
long journey East, a huge rabble of civilians set out on what is now known as
the People's Crusade. These fanatics ran rampant through the German territories,
massacring thousands of Jews, made it to Constantinople where their barbaric
behavior terrorized the population, and were finally mowed down by Turkish armies
soon after crossing the Bosporus into Asia Minor.
The First Crusade that followed was the only crusade that can genuinely be
called successful. It conquered and established Christian principalities in
the cities of Edessa, Antioch, Tripoli, Beirut, Saida and Tyre. In 1099 the
Crusaders took Jerusalem and established it as the capital of the Frankish kingdom.
The slaughter and rapine with which they sacked the Holy City, though, and their
depredations throughout Syria, brought a new and hitherto unknown level of savagery
to the region.
Over the next three centuries the crusades would continue in waves. The second
Crusade, led by the French King Louis VII, ended in fiasco almost immediately.
The unification of much of the Middle East under the great Saracen leader Saladin
nearly ousted the Franks, and lost Jerusalem for them. The Third Crusade under
Richard I of England and others gained a good deal of the ceded territory; still,
the Frankish possessions in the East Outremer, as the kingdom was known back
home never recovered from Saladin's blows. In spite of numerous other Crusades,
including the famous expedition led by the French King Saint Louis IX, Outremer
shrank, then finally disappeared.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Several years ago the eminent writer Evan S. Connell, author of many books including
Mrs. Bridge, Mr. Bridge, and Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little
Big Horn, read and was fascinated by the eyewitness chronicles of, among others,
Jean de Joinville, who accompanied Saint Louis on his ill-fated Egyptian Crusade.
Joinville and his ancestors, who fought in earlier Crusades, spanned two-hundred
years of Christian-Muslim warfare, and Connell began to wonder how he could
make use of Joinville's vivid memories, as well as the events his forebears
would have experienced on earlier campaigns. His solution was to craft, using
Joinville's actual chronicles as part of the text, an extended history of the
Crusades from Urban II's first sermon at Clermont in 1095 to the final fall
of Acre and the extinction of Outremer nearly three centuries later, encompassing,
too, the Albigensian Crusade against heretics in the South of France, and the
treacherous Fourth Crusade in which Frankish and Venetian forces conquered and
sacked the greatest Christian city of the time, Constantinople.
In constructing this eventful narrative, Connell has stuck entirely to known
facts: "Except for the fictional device of Joinville as a spokesman,"
he says, "nothing has been invented. I think of Deus as a book about the
Crusades, not an 'historical novel' a term that suggests imaginary encounters
and unlikely conversations. Monologues and dialogues in the book are paraphrased
or condensed from those in medieval documents. Every meeting, every conversation,
every triumph or defeat, no matter how small, was recorded centuries ago."
Deus lo Volt! gives a rich and uniquely personal view of one of history's most
colorful, bizarre, tragic and contradictory spectacles. The Crusades displayed
the extremes of great heroism and low treachery; of magnificence and intolerance;
of greed and self-sacrifice. In Evan S. Connell they have found their most vivid,
nuanced, and humane chronicler.
1. How would you characterize the narrator, Jean de Joinville? Does he share
in the popular prejudices of his time? Does he question them, and if so, to
2. What opinion, in general, do the Crusaders hold of the Byzantines? Are their
opinions changed or affected by their experiences? How do they interpret the
actions of Alexius II, and how do you, with the perspective of history, interpret
them? Might the People's Crusade of Peter the Hermit and the First Crusade be
justly called barbarian invasions?
3. On seeing Peter the Hermit preach, "some declared him lunatic"
(2). Which of the crusaders would you deem lunatic or fanatic, and which simply
pious by the standards of their day? What lines, if any, do Jean de Joinville
and his contemporaries draw between fanaticism and piety?
4. What was the popular perception of Jews at the time of the First Crusade?
Did that idea change during the course of the centuries treated in this book?
How widely were these ideas still held at the time of the Second World War?
How widely do you think they are held today, and what affect do such ideas have
on contemporary life? What affect might the massacre of Jews during Peter the
Hermit's crusade have had upon subsequent history?
5. In what ways does the religious faith of the average Crusader depart from
modern notions of Christian love and humility? Are love and humility in fact
incompatible with the militant Christianity condoned by the narrator: "Thou
shalt rule with a rod of iron" (118)? Has modern Christianity forsworn
this militancy, or does it continue to influence Western culture?
6. What similarities can you see between the beliefs, ideas, moral codes, and
ways of fighting and praying of the Christians and of the Muslims? To what degree
is either side aware of such similarities? 7. What qualities were most valued
in the medieval leader? Why was a man like Louis IX, who might not be a successful
ruler in modern times, so effective in his own world and by the same token why
was the Emperor Frederick II, who possessed many qualities we would today consider
virtues, seen by his contemporaries as deeply unsatisfactory? Some of the Crusaders Godfrey
of Bouillon, Joscelin of Edessa, Raymond III of Tripoli were both good leaders
and good Christians. Others, like Richard of England, Baldwin I, and Conrad
of Montferrat, would today be deemed brutes but were effective and popular rulers.
What qualities made these men successful? What qualities would doom a Crusading
leader to failure?
8. What effect did the atrocities committed by the Crusaders-the brutal sack
of Jerusalem, the spoliation of so many other cities, the torture, the cannibalism,
the merciless slaughter of helpless prisoners, women, clerics, children-have
upon the Muslims' attitudes towards the Christians, upon their own chivalric
traditions and moral code, and upon their idea of jihad?
9. Reynald of Chatillon was the most infamous of the Crusading knights. Even
by the violent standards of the day he was considered cruel, and to the Muslims
he seemed evil incarnate: as Jean de Joinville writes, Reynald "roused
greater fury in the Saracen heart than one hundred years of war" (167).
He was the one soldier to whom even Saladin denied clemency. What lines did
Reynald overstep? How did he contrive to outrage his difficult-to-outrage contemporaries,
and what chivalric ideals did he sully?
10. Many people think that the greatest leader of the Crusader period was Saladin.
Which qualities did his contemporaries most respect, and which do we, as modern
readers, respond to? Did he have significant weaknesses as a monarch, and if
so did these weaknesses lead to further misery and tribulations for his people?
Can you see the change in Muslim leadership style from Saladin and the other
relatively tolerant Ayubites to the far more ruthless Mamluks as a response
to the continued pressures, and continued intolerance, of the Western invaders?
11. Richard the Lionheart is the most persistently popular of the Western leaders.
Is his popularity justified? Does his career stand up to scrutiny? Putting aside
his displays of temper, intolerance, and violence, was he an effective leader
for the Crusader armies?
12. How does Jean de Joinville-and by extension the typical medieval thinker-justify
the extreme violence of the Crusading knights? How does he then, in turn, justify
their eventual disgrace and defeat? Do his theological justifications make any
sense, or do they seem only sophistical: might he be able, in other words, to
justify any events by mere twists of logic?
13. What might have inspired the Albigensian "heresy" and why was
it so threatening to the Catholic establishment and the papacy? Do you think
the ideas of the Albigensians, or Cathars, were reasonable? How would you compare
the Cathars' ideas, and rebellion, with the Protestant Reformation 300 years
14. What do you believe Jean de Joinville really thinks of the Fourth Crusade
and the sack of Constantinople in 1204? How did the Frankish Crusaders justify
their attack on other Christians? Does it seem that they in fact considered
the Greeks as Christians at all, or rather as dangerous heretics? Had they,
since the beginning of the Crusades, ever really seen the Greeks as their allies
in the Holy War? Was their sack of the city inspired by greed, suspicion, religious
intolerance, or xenophobia?
15. Reading between the lines of Jean de Joinville's account, what sort of
a person would you say Louis IX is? Is his apparent longing for martyrdom a
symptom of neurosis, or is it a mark of his fine character? Is he a good monarch,
or does he deserve the castigation of Turanshah's negotiators (411), who ask
"how a wise and vigilant sovereign could embark on a voyage to a land populated
by servants of Allah"?
16. Does it seem to you that during the course of the Crusades, Muslim society
became less inclusive, more intolerant? Might the Crusades be seen as confirmation
of the adage that intolerance breeds intolerance? Does it seem reasonable to
trace the modern concept of jihad back to the Crusader years?
17. In Arab eyes, the events of the Crusades still resonate. Many Arabs view
Israel as a new Crusader state. Is this view justified? Does it help to explain
modern Arab hostility toward the Jewish state? The 1956 Suez expedition was
popularly perceived as a modern Crusade by England and France, and Nasser, President
of Egypt, who united Egypt and Syria, was often compared with Saladin who had
done the same. Do you feel that these are valid parallels? If not, in what ways
has the situation changed?
FOR FURTHER READING
(Primary sources) J. Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary Survey; Fulcher of
Chartres, A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem; Francesco Gabrieli, ed.,
Arab Historians of the Crusades; E. Hallam, ed., Chronicles of the Crusades;
Jean de Joinville, Historie de Saint Louis; William of Tyre, A History of Deeds
Done Beyond the Sea; Geoffrey de Villhardouin, The Conquest of Constantinople.
(Secondary Sources) Karen Armstrong, Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths; W.B.
Bartlett, God Wills It! An Illustrated History of the Crusades; A. Ehrenkreutz,
Saladin; Amin Maalouf, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes; John Julius Norwich,
A Short History of Byzantium; Z. Oldenburg, The Crusades; Regine Pernoud, The
Crusades; Geoffrey Regan, Lionhearts: Richard I, Saladin, and the Era of the
Third Crusade; J. Richard, Saint Louis, Crusader King of France; Jonathan Riley-Smith,
ed., The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades; Steven Runciman, A History
of the Crusades (3 vols.).
The Anatomy Lesson (short stories, 1957); Mrs. Bridge (1959); The Patriot (1960);
At the Crossroads: Short Stories (1965); The Diary of a Rapist: A Novel (1966);
Mr. Bridge (1969); Points from a Compass Rose (poems, 1973); The Connoisseur
(1974); Double Honeymoon (1976); A Long Desire (1979); The White Lantern (essays,
1980); St. Augustine's Pigeon: The Selected Stories (1980); Son of the Morning
Star: Custer and the Little Big Horn (1984); The Alchemist's Journal (1991);
Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel (1995); The Collected Stories
of Evan S. Connell (1995).