Exiles, by Ron Hansen

Blogging for a Good Book

A discussion with a friend about the poetry of Thomas Hardy and Gerard Manley Hopkins brought to my attention Ron Hansen’s exploration of the intersection of spirituality and creativity, Exiles. Hansen’s book is a fictional memoir of both the noted Jesuit poet Hopkins who died in 1889 at the age of 55, and of five German nuns, who died along with a number of other emigrants when their ship the Deutschland was sunk off the English coast in 1875.

Hopkins had abandoned writing poetry after entering the Jesuits, but the foundering of the ship and in particular the death of the five nuns spurred him to resume writing, and the subsequent poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland” is one of Hopkins’s finest and most challenging pieces. The novel alternates between Hansen’s fictional account of Hopkins’s life as a Jesuit, which sticks close to the historical biography, and his telling…

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