Tuesday, January 30, 2018

"Impossible Saints"

Set in 1907 England, Clarissa Harwood’s debut historical novel Impossible Saints follows the competing ambitions and growing love between Lilia Brooke, an agnostic militant suffragette, and Paul Harris, a peace-loving Anglican clergyman.

Harwood applied the Page 69 Test to Impossible Saints and reported the following:
Page 69 is still early in the story, but it’s a crucial moment when Lilia and Paul come face to face with their conflicting beliefs. They are already feeling an unspoken attraction to each other, but they know they don’t belong in each other’s worlds. Lilia has just told Paul that she despises marriage, but he doesn’t understand, thinking she means that a man and woman can’t share a loving relationship. She corrects him with these words:
“Two intelligent people don’t need an artificial, archaic formality such as marriage to sanction their commitment to each other.” She suddenly looked uncomfortable. “If a woman were to choose a free union with a man who respected her, I would heartily approve.”

Paul stared at her, not trying to hide his shock. It was one thing to argue for equality between women and men, but it was quite another to advocate something as bizarre and immoral as a free union. People certainly did have such relationships, but a man and woman who lived openly together without being married were shunned by respectable society. Beyond that, marriage was a sacrament. To remove the ceremony in which a man and woman were mystically united by God as one flesh would strip the relationship of all beauty and meaning. What remained would be as cold and cerebral as a business partnership, albeit one that happened to include sexual relations.

“I don’t expect you to agree with me,” Lilia said. She looked at him as if she had been trying to explain an electric locomotive to a prehistoric cave-dweller and had only just realized how pointless it was.
Paul’s shocked reaction to Lilia’s words is typical of what most respectable middle-class people in the early 20th century would have thought about a man and woman living together without being married. This scene reflects both the increasing personal tension between my protagonists as well as the larger societal tensions between religion and feminism, major themes in the novel. Ultimately, Impossible Saints is about two people who challenge each other to examine their long-held beliefs and to decide whether their love is worth fighting for.
Visit Clarissa Harwood's website.

--Marshal Zeringue