The Confessions of X: An Interview with Suzanne M. Wolfe, Part 2

By Gregory Wolfe and Suzanne M. Wolfe

Continued from yesterday. Read Part 1 here.

Suzanne M. WolfeGW: One of the most interesting aspects of The Confessions of X is the way that X herself responds to Augustine’s intellectual passions, from his Manichean phase to Platonism. She’s not an intellectual but she’s no pushover and she instinctively challenges Augustine…

SMW: The last thing I wanted this novel to be was either a hagiographical account of the Great Man, Augustine, by the little woman or an intellectual debate about theology. And when I reached deeply into who X was and what her life experience was and how that had shaped her, I realized a couple of things:

1) That only a remarkable woman in her own right would fall in love with a man as fiercely intelligent as Augustine, so she would be no dummy;

2) Lacking a formal education, her grasp of intellectual and theological issues would be through her experience and her instinct. At one point in the novel she says, “I think better in pictures.” This is true to her experience with a father who was a mosaic layer. But it also reveals a more sacramental understanding of the world, a type of understanding in which women, I believe, excel. She and Augustine complement one another. More than that, X provides a necessary check to his tendency towards abstraction both as a Manichean and as a Platonist.

GW: In a sense, she’s a natural incarnationalist, even though you depict her as living in a space between her childhood pagan upbringing and Augustine’s Christianity…

SMW: Not only her experience with art through her father but her own experience of motherhood make her an incarnationalist. For her, beauty has a form; love has a form. She says: “Grace, for me, is flesh and blood, bones and sinew, someone whom my mouth can name.” [Read more...]

The Confessions of X: An Interview with Suzanne M. Wolfe, Part 1

By Gregory Wolfe and Suzanne M. Wolfe

51LiK2wmwIL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Earlier this week, HarperCollins/Nelson released The Confessions of X, Suzanne M. Wolfe’s second novel. Image editor Gregory Wolfe interviewed her about the book.

GW: So I guess doing this interview with you is a case of raw nepotism. You OK with that?

SMW: I prefer my nepotism medium rare.

GW: Your second novel, The Confessions of X, has just been published. What is it about?

SMW: It’s the story of St. Augustine’s concubine told in her own voice—her “Confessions,” if you will. She is a shadowy figure in Augustine’s Confessions. He simply refers to her as “Una”—the One. The first chapter begins with her as an old woman waiting in the courtyard outside the room in which Augustine is dying in the city of Hippo Regius. As she waits for night to fall, she recounts the story of her life and how she came to meet Augustine in Carthage, became his concubine, and bore him a son. And what happens to her after he famously casts her off.

GW: Why did you decide to write her story?

SMW: In religion class at my convent school when I was twelve, I raised my hand and asked who this mysterious woman was in Augustine’s Confessions. Sister Bernadette replied: “No one knows. She is lost to history.” That phrase “lost to history” stayed with me. I thought of all the great women in history whose lives have been eclipsed by the men they loved. Forty years later, I decided to go looking for the concubine so she could tell her story. [Read more...]

Wilberforce: An Interview with H.S. Cross, Part 2

By Gregory Wolfe and H. S. Cross

Continued from yesterdayRead Part 1 here.

Wilberforce_Horizontal_editGW: Religion and worship played a large role in the British public schools in the 1920s and St. Stephen’s is no exception. I suppose it’s easy to observe most of the characters ignoring Christianity, but it was a time when faith could still speak to a certain sensibility and when the best chaplains and schoolmasters could exercise something of a pastoral role. Is that a fair assessment?

HSC: I think so, though I hope faith still speaks to certain sensibilities. In the novel, in 1926, religious faith isn’t as strong as it was before the war, but Christianity is still part of the conversation. These people, regardless of their personal belief, have the vocabulary.

St. Stephen’s boys hear scripture daily, whether they pay attention or not. They take part in daily worship. Christian language—specifically the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer—is native to them. And Christianity isn’t in competition with other religions.

There’s certainly the question of whether religion matters, and even in some circles, whether God is real.

Because so many religious authorities had supported the war, and even tried to cast it as a kind of holy war, the existential collapse at the end of it sidelined the Church and wounded faith. You see it in the boys’ indifference towards religion, which is part of their hostility towards strong belief or indeed any enthusiasm. On the other hand, their expressions of atheism and agnosticism seem equally half-hearted, so even in their disillusionment, they have a shared religious culture. [Read more...]

Wilberforce: An Interview with H.S. Cross, Part 1

By Gregory Wolfe and H. S. Cross
WilberforceIn September 2015, Farrar, Straus and Giroux published 
Wilberforce, the debut novel by H.S. Cross. Image editor Gregory Wolfe recently interviewed Ms. Cross about the book.

GW: Your debut novel, Wilberforce, is set in an English public school (what in America we’d call a private school) in Yorkshire in 1926. But readers would be wrong to assume a Hogwarts-like idyllic world. It’s a hothouse in a way: a group of adolescents cooped up with one another and an all-male environment. But I suppose that setting is a bit like Jane Austen’s quip about a country house: It’s enclosed and thus ripe for drama?

HSC: I would never call Hogwarts idyllic (people get killed there all the time), but Austen is right. Being confined in a remote boarding school intensifies conflict and makes it harder to escape it.

In the boarding school, the characters put a lot of energy into running away from their problems, but there’s not very far for them to run. When they try to leave the school, there’s a sense that this might be the only place for them—the only place that will take them, or the place oddly most suited to them. Even Wilberforce winds up defending and pleading for the place, though he’d reviled it earlier.

The English public school has been called a “total institution,” meaning it exerts control over every aspect of a person’s life and identity (similar to prison or the military). Choosing such a school as your enclosed environment lets you put extra pressure on your characters because of the way the institution shapes them and concentrates their ordeals through a common culture, common language, common experience, and common goals. [Read more...]

A Conversation with Artist Natalie Settles, Part 2

chimera_selectionContinued from yesterday. 

Image: Natalie, a lot of your recent artwork is temporary—that is, it’s drawn directly onto gallery walls and when the show is over, only photos are left. Can you speak to this?

Natalie Settles: Yes, these are works with lifespans. In fact, the installations are typically up for the same amount of time over which the lifecycle of a small annual plant would play out.

When viewers encounter one of these temporary works, they’re usually enamored with the scale and detail and take their time moving throughout the gallery, drinking it all in. Sometime toward the end of their visit with the work it hits them in the gut—this won’t last. The work will need to die. And so they stand and drink it in now with a kind of presence that comes from knowing this may be the last time they see and experience this space as it is—the last time they feel the presence of this work. [Read more...]


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