Luther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund
History has always been one of my favourite subjects, and I love well written historical fiction. I am well aware that it is necessary to take most historical fiction with a grain of salt – for pretty much any topic the author will have to do a lot of interpretation both due to lack of information and in order to make the story more interesting and readable.
When I got the chance to read the recently published Luther and Katharina, I jumped at it straight away. Religion has always been of special interest to me, and while I didn’t grow up Lutheran, it is the state church in Denmark. Luther’s clash with the Catholic church is one of the most important events within Christian and European history. His marriage to Katharina von Bora, a former nun, made the break from celibate traditions complete.
As I just mentioned, I do not expect historical fiction to be “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”, but I was very disappointed by Luther and Katharina.
Jody Hedlund really stretches the facts around the relationship between Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora, in order to turn it into a clichéd and stereotypical romance novel. There’s certainly a time and a place for romance, but it is well known that the marriage between Luther and von Bora was not born out of romance, but rather of convenience – even as they did grow fond of each other once married – and to set an example for other priests, monks and nuns:
But the decisive factor was that both of them regarded marriage as a profession and divine vocation without the romantic expectations of love that were later to increase so enormously the number of disappointments and marital breakups. It is true that the two had not been passionately in love when they started out, but what began as fondness and gratitude for a new form of companionship developed into a firm bond…
This quote is from Luther: Man Between God and Devil the definitive biography on Martin Luther, written by Heiko Augustinus Oberman, who is one of the greatest authorities on Luther.
If Hedlund had chosen to write about how romance developed between Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora after their marriage, I would have absolutely no objection, but to go against their own words is incredibly disingenuous in my opinion. Instead Hedlund turns it into a stereotypical romance novel where your main characters are “attracted to each other against their will”. Just from one chapter:
At least he wanted to convince himself that it was her intensity and not her loveliness that made him squirm.
For a brief moment he could see the frightened little girl once abandoned and forgotten. Sorrow beckoned him to rescue her, to reach out to her, to comfort her. Her vulnerability stirred a place deep inside him, evoking a strange urge to cross the room and touch her cheek, to feel its smoothness.
How was it possible that with just one sentence Sister Katharina could reduce him, the doctor of theology, the great preacher, the learned professor, to an errant boy in need of a thrashing? How could she make him want to hang his head in shame and at the same time fill him with such annoyance that he neglected to restrain his tongue?
Of course there were many, many complications before they could get married – most of them due to them not being able to, you know, open their mouths and say what they were thinking. Although neither of them, apparently, had any problem saying many intentionally hurtful things to each other.
I find it incredibly problematic the way we have romanticized being rude and dishonest – too frequently it is seen as a sign of true love and passion, when really it sets the stage for gaslighting and emotional abuse. From a young age we teach our daughters that if the boy in your class pulls your hair and is mean to you, it’s because he likes you. No. That is not okay. Poor social and communication skills is not excused nor caused by passion and “true love”. And they make a successful and loving relationship incredibly difficult to achieve, without some serious changes.
To be fair, if I had taken the time to look at Hedlund’s website, I probably would’ve picked up on the main theme of her books – Christian romance – and would’ve given it a pass altogether. But I was given the opportunity to read Luther and Katharina for free, through Blogging for Books, and thought it looked interesting.
However, I did thoroughly enjoy the first couple of chapters detailing the nuns’ escape from their convent – based on true events. If the rest of the book had been more like that, my review probably would’ve been very different. As it is, unless you absolutely love romance novels and don’t really care about the historical facts around Luther and von Bora’s relationship, I would recommend you skip this one.
As always I invite you to find me and connect with me on Goodreads.
I received this book through Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.
- Posted in: Religion ♦ Writer's Wednesday
- Tagged: book notes, Book Quotes, book review, book reviews, books, Catholic, Catholic church, Catholicism, Jody Hedlund, Katharina von Bora, Luther, lutheran, Martin Luther, organized religion, protestant church, protestantism, quotes, reformation, religion, romance