I'm going to 'fess up here and admit that, having read Brede once before, I only just this weekend got around to checking it out and reading it again. (Love the look of the Loyola Classics edition, BTW, especially with the heavy coating the library puts on the cover. Never has a paperback felt so substantial.) And I'm glad I did, because Brede is one of those books where, the reader having come to the end, she flips right back to beginning and starts over again, just to catch up on who's who and where's where and revel in the language.
One thing that struck me almost immediately upon re-reading is how I connected emotionally with the story this time around. I think my first reading was mainly an absorption of plot and language. But this time, only a few pages in, I found myself already choking up as Phillipa sits on the train and remembers singing to Keith. I actually had to put the book down and recover for a moment before I could read on.
This happened at numerous points throughout the book -- when Dame Catherine is elected abbess, when Phillipa struggles with deprivations in the convent, when the nuns hold the vigil for Penny Stevens. Rumer Godden is a master of capturing an emotional moment and bringing out its poignancy in her well-chosen words, and I felt like putty in her hands.
Oddly enough, the one part of the book where I felt more detached than the rest was what was, before, the most emotional moment for me: when Phillipa finally tells the story of Keith. On my first reading, I'd felt like the soft-hearted sister Beatrice, as I charged through the story in tears at 2 am. This is a natural response, I think -- we're all mothers here, and can easily put ourselves in Phillipa's place. What if that was my child? How would I respond? But on this second reading, I felt more like Abbess Catherine, listening to the story thoughtfully and with detachment.
One last note -- the Church has a great deal of wisdom in encouraging both Marys and Marthas in their vocation. Sister Julian finds her true vocation in an active order of Marthas, working in India with the poor, wearing habits of "cheapest serge", throwing herself into an active life of external service. But Brede is necessary as well, as a "powerhouse" of prayer and reflection. Even within Brede the divide exists, with the claustral and choir nuns. One cannot exist without the other, and it's best if they work in harmony, not opposition.
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