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Novel set in Wittenberg

8th October 2016

Katharina Luther: Nun. Rebel. Wife. by Anne Boileau, novel set in Wittenberg.

It is interesting how a story set in the early part of the 16th Century can have echoes in Western politics of the 21st Century. There are many parallels to be drawn between the disaffected underclasses of 1520s Saxony who found a charismatic man, a rabble-rouser who fired up the Reformation and vilified the Catholic Church. In terms of today there are many who are seeking fundamental changes whether it is through the AFD in Germany, the issues around a different future in Brexit or the current American hustings around who will be President in November 2016, where a demagogue can intoxicate followers…

novel set in wittenberg

Kathe has left her family home as a young teenager to become a nun at the convent, Kloster Nimbschen, near Grimma, now a 4 star hotel. It is a silent community of nuns living hand to mouth, devout, yet generous to the needy. But soon the Protestant Reformation, driven under the astute leadership of Martin Luther penetrates their closed world and Kathe finds herself becoming unsettled. She escapes along with several other nuns in Herring Barrels and heads for Saxony, the heart of the Reformation and finds accommodation organised by the great preacher. He opposed many the teachings of the catholic church and brought his thoughts together in the 95 Theses of 1517 which he posted on the doors of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, and this led to his excommunication.

Having called for the closing down of convents and monasteries, the monks are soon hounded by the rabble who have found a cause to express their discontent. Their assets are stripped, books burned, icons desecrated.

Kathe, the former nun and Luther, the former monk (and amusingly also the local Official-Town-Carp-Pond and Production-Inspector), soon find a practical bond and forge a future together, an odd coupling but one that seemed to suit them both in troubled and uncertain times. The book is written in style that offers a feeling for the era and a glimpse of medieval life.

A very readable book that fills in many of the gaps of that period of history. It is well written, and thoughtfully put together.

Tina for the TripFiction Team.

Over to Anne who has agreed to answer our questions:

TF: This a tumultuous period in history which I only really knew through history lessons at school and your book certainly gave me more understanding. Katharina’s story certainly isn’t well known. How did you go about researching her life? Has this period been of particular interest to you?

AB: I am not an historian as such, but am interested in history, especially when it comes to life on visits to old towns such as Wittenberg. It seems so much more real when you are by that river, on that very road, in that house, or town, or castle.

I came across Katharina von Bora quite by chance while researching for a Dissertation on conservation in the former east Germany, shortly after Unification. Somehow, when I saw her little cherished belongings, the portraits of her by Lucas Cranach the Elder, displayed in  the place where she had lived, I simply wanted to know more; I was attracted to this woman, and it was news to me that Martin Luther had been married. She was a obviously a brave woman, in, as you say,  a tumultuous period in history. So about ten years later, when I had more time, I returned to Saxony and researched her life and times. I visited some of the Lutheran towns, found books and articles about the Reformation, and generally imbibed in particular the atmosphere of Wittenberg and its surroundings. There was a great deal written and recorded about her in German, where she is celebrated almost as a saint; but as you say, her story is almost unknown in Britain. I was able to do this research because I speak and read German fluently.

TF: Early in their relationship, Martin Luther seems quite undermining of Katharina (a bit of a bully to be honest) at the dinner table, he does however eventually apologise. Do you think they had a reasonably happy life together given circumstances and customs of the time? And how did you find Martin Luther as a man from your research?

AB: Martin Luther’s attitude to women was really only reflecting the Zeitgeist of the time. There was widespread misogyny, and distrust of women, especially fugitive nuns. When the Virgin Mary was dethroned, with the Protestant fervour, this fear and hostility to women probably became worse. Certainly accusations of witchcraft increased. But Katharina was strong enough to stand up to him and not be bullied; she ran his house with efficiency and had a hard head for business. She kept him and his household in order, leaving him free to get on with his work. I think it was a very successful and happy marriage, certainly while their children were small, though later on he became quite unpleasant and irritable so I suspect things were not so easy between them as they aged. Perhaps the balance of power was shifting towards her?

How do I feel about Luther himself? Like Marmite really, during his life and now. You either love and admire him or hate him, or perhaps both.

He was incredibly bright, very devout, very brave, even though he quaked with fear; he was a terrific linguist and his German Bible is pure poetry. He also wrote hymns and composed. And to hear him preach was a memorable experience. So on balance I would say I really admire him, although he would not have been an easy man to be married to! And it has to be acknowledged, he really did change the world by challenging the all powerful Church of Rome.

TF: You have chosen an unusual pen name. How did you settle on the name Anne Boileau?

AB: It is my maiden name. My late husband’s name was Clarke.

TF:  What is next for you in terms of writing and will setting be a strong feature?

AB: I do have something in mind but am not ready to talk about it to anyone yet. But yes, the setting will most certainly be an important ingredient.

TF:  When you write, does the story evolve or do you have a fairly clear plan laid out at the start?

AB: The story evolves. Though of course in this case I was following a true story and putting flesh on the bare bones of the facts. But from time to time the characters pick up the baton and run, and I have to chase them and sometimes call them back!

TF: And your typical writing day?

AB: I write best first thing in the morning, while still in bed, with a cup of tea; I write with a fountain pen on a lined notebook. Then later on that day, or in the evening, I will type up what I have written. That is my first re-write.

Thank you so much to Anne for her thoughts.

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