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Mariette in Ecstasy ()

The Image Top 100 Books of the Century

    We seem to mystify people who are slaves to their pleasures.  we often work too hard and rest too
    little, our food is plain, our days are without variety, we have no possessions nor much privacy, we
    live uncomfortably with our vows of chastity and obedience; but God is present here and that makes
    this our heaven on earth.
        -Mother Superior to Mariette, Mariette in Ecstasy

In this spare novel Ron Hansen succeeds brilliantly at what must surely be one of the most difficult tasks for any writer : he makes the miraculous plausible.  In so doing, he raises fascinating questions about how we would react to miracles, were we to witness them, and about why those miracles might occur.

In 1906, seventeen year old Mariette Baptiste enters an upstate New York convent, joining the order of The Sisters of the Crucifixion.  Pretty, pious, and personable, she quickly becomes the darling of the place, even though these same traits, and the fact that the Mother Superior is her sister, inspire some jealousy and even forbidden lusts.  Since her confirmation, at age thirteen, Mariette has had a calling and has heard the voice of Christ speaking to her, preparing her for some great events.  So she, and some of the nuns who love her, are prepared when, upon the death of her sister, Mariette is afflicted with stigmata.  But others, particularly those who have resented her anyway, are less willing to accept the miraculous nature of these happenings, suspecting Mariette of an attention-seeking hoax.  And when the wounds are healed just as suddenly as they appeared, both sides see this as confirmation of their own, very divergent, beliefs.

Hansen recreates the atmosphere and daily life of the convent in convincing detail.  He allows the remarkable occurrences to speak for themselves for the most part, and allows just enough wiggle room for more dubious readers to question whether Mariette is a saint or a charlatan.  One of the most unlikely facets of the story, for a believer, is that this young girl in the middle of nowhere would be chosen as the recipient of these manifestations of God's presence.  Equally perplexing is why these signs should be made so ambiguous and left open to doubt.  Hansen answers these questions as Mother Saint-Raphael explains to Mariette why, even though she personally believes in Mariette, she is willing to let the matter be dismissed by church officials :

    Skeptics will always prevail.  God gives us just enough to seek Him, and never enough to fully find
    him.  To do more would inhibit our freedom, and our freedom is very dear to God.

This idea, that God purposely leaves the decision of whether to have faith in the hands of men, rather than to force them to believe, is fundamental to the view of Man as having Free Will.  Of course, it can also be easily ridiculed as an easy way out of ever proving God's existence.  Regardless of which side of the argument you come down on, this is a beautiful, thought-provoking, novel about the awesome power, and the inevitable limits, of faith.


Grade: (A+)


Ron Hansen Links:

    -INTERVIEW: National Book Award Finalist Ron Hansen on Christian Fiction (Dick Staub, 3/03/03, Christianity Today)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Ron Hansen Page (Santa Clara University, Department of English: Gerald Manley Hopkins Professor in the Arts and Humanities, 1996-)
    -DIALOGUE : The Human and the Monstrous : A novelist and his reviewer debate the literary representation of Hitler. (Melvin Jules Bukiet & Ron Hansen, Boston Review)
    -ESSAY : My Daily Bread - At first Communion the author receives a grace he could not have imagined (Ron Hansen, America, March 18 2000)
    -ESSAY : Writing as Sacrament (Ron Hansen, Image)
    -REVIEW : of KILLING MISTER WATSON  By Peter Matthiessen (Ron Hansen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  ANCESTORS By Robyn Davidson (Ron Hansen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  THE GOATS By Brock Cole (Ron Hansen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of AN ADULTERY By Alexander Theroux  (Ron Hansen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of DEADWOOD By Pete Dexter  (Ron Hansen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of WHAT WAS MINE Stories. By Ann Beattie (Ron Hansen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  HOW MEN FEEL Their Response to Women's Demands for Equality and Power. By Anthony Astrachan  (Ron Hansen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  THROUGH THE SAFETY NET By Charles Baxter (Ron Hansen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  SISTER By A. Manette Ansay (Ron Hansen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of DESIERTO Memories of the Future. By Charles Bowden  (Ron Hansen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of IN A GLASS HOUSE By Nino Ricci (Ron Hansen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE SLOW NATIVES By Thea Astley  (Ron Hansen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of INDIAN AFFAIRS By Larry Woiwode (Ron Hansen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE LAMPFISH OF TWILL By Janet Taylor Lisle (Ron Hansen, NY Times Book Review)
    -INTERVIEW : Puzzling Out The Graced Occasions :  An Interview with Ron Hansen (Scott Sawyer,  Mars Hill Review 1 Fall 1996)
    -INTERVIEW : A Conversation with Ron Hansen (William C. Spohn, Bannan Institute)
    -Ron Hansen Page (Nebraska Center for Writers)
    -Ron Hansen (Cornell Writers)
    -Reading Group Guide | ATTICUS by Ron Hansen (Harper Collins)
    -ESSAY : Novelist Ron Hansen Explores Faith and Fiction (Wendy M. Wright, Center for the Study of Religion and Society, Creighton U)
    -ESSAY : Mariette in Ecstasy : A Book Sense 76 Rediscovery (Tom Nolan, Book Web)
    -ARCHIVES : "ron hansen" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW : of  Mariette in Ecstasy By Ron Hansen  (1991) (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of  Mariette in Ecstasy By Ron Hansen  (1991) (Patricia Hampl, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Mariette in Ecstasy (Erik Lundegaard)
    -REVIEW : of THE SHADOWMAKER By Ron Hansen (1987) (Alice Hoffman, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of NEBRASKA Stories. By Ron Hansen (1989) (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of NEBRASKA Stories. By Ron Hansen (1989) (Mary La Chapelle, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford (1994)  (Erik Lundegaard, Seattle Times)
    -REVIEW : of ATTICUS By Ron Hansen (1996) (Janet Burroway, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Atticus (Kate Tuttle. Boston Review)
    -REVIEW : of Atticus (Jennifer Bojorquez, Sacramento Bee)
    -REVIEW : of Atticus (Erik Lundegaard, Seattle Times)
    -REVIEW : of HITLER'S NIECE By Ron Hansen (1999) (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of HITLER'S NIECE By Ron Hansen (Richard Lourie, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Hitler's Niece (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW : of Hitler's Nice by Ron Hansen (Nan Goldberg, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Hitler's Nice by Ron Hansen (Walter Kirn, New York)
    -REVIEW : of Hitler's Nice by Ron Hansen (Kathy Deacon, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW : of Hitler's Niece  (David Valdes Greenwood, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW : of Hitler's Nice by Ron Hansen (R. Z. Shepherd, TIME)
    -REVIEW : of Hitler's Niece  (Erik Lundegaard, Seattle Times)
    -REVIEW : of Hitler's Niece (Gabriel Madway, Associated Press)
    -REVIEW : of Hitler's Niece (Robert Leiter, Jewish World Review)
    -REVIEW : of Hitler's Niece (Bruce Tierney, Book Page)
    -REVIEW : of Hitler's Niece (Randall Holdridge, Tucson Weekly)

    -FILMOGRAPHY : Ron Hansen (Imdb)
    -INFO : Mariette in Ecstasy (1996) (Imdb)

    -ESSAY : Art, Faith, and the Stewardship of Culture (Gregory Wolfe, Image)