Friday, November 1, 2013
Junior B. read this book aloud earlier this year, and it was a very good story, set in the 16th century Germany, and following the life of the Countess Juliana von Stolberg through the eyes of her granddaughter, young Maria. This book, with its beautiful cover illustration and inside layout, is divided into four parts, and covers four major sections of Juliana's story.
About the Book
Part One (1567-1568) begins with a very young Maria, as her father calls her away from her comfortable position in attendance upon Duchess Margaretha of Parma. The whole family is in danger from Willem of Oranje's political and religious views, and Maria learns that they are all going to the castle of Dillenburg to live with her Oma, Juliana. Maria is afraid of the reports she has heard that her grandmother is not a true Catholic. But when she arrives at the Dillenburg, her grandmother soon eases her fears and teaches her not only the art of herbal healing, but also the truth of the Holy Scriptures that the Catholics had hidden with their false doctrines so long.
Part Two (1568-1571) is by far the darkest part of this book, as it deals with Willem of Oranje's mad wife, Anna. Though Ethel Herr touches fairly gently and discreetly on the adultery, she still includes it as a part of history, and Anna's madness and abuse cause Maria to cling even closer to the calm stability of her Oma as her own family fractures. Not only do we see Anna's story from the picture of a concerned step-daughter, but we also get a hint at what Oma might have felt like, watching her son struggle with his marital difficulties.
Part Three (1572-1574) and Part Four (1577-1580) touch on Juliana's life running the castle as her son Willem takes a more active part in the war, and she watches her children and grandchildren take sides in the political alliances. Empty helmets from perished sons are sent back to the Dillenburg, and Oma, in the midst of her own struggles, takes the opportunity to show Maria how a godly matriarch handles misfortunes and stands fast in the midst of difficulties. As Maria watches her beloved Oma near the end of her life, the time she has spent in the Dillenburg prepares her to take her own part in the upcoming political struggles of her day.
When Junior B first brought this book out, I did have to stifle a slight cough when I heard who the author was. (Apologies, sister dear...) Though I didn't doubt her choice, as Junior chooses very good books to read aloud, I had read a couple of books by Ethel Herr before, and they left a little to be desired as far as plotting went. But though my arch-enemy Pieter the painter did show up, (I detested him in another book for his over-abundant tears and constant questioning of God's goodness every time he was thrown in prison) fortunately Junior managed to keep me well under control whenever he was mentioned, and we got along swimmingly.
All right, I'm only joking. I really did enjoy this story; it portrayed a famous figure through the eyes of a child, which is always an interesting premise for historical fiction. While Maria is fairly young at the beginning, she is a young woman by the time the story concludes. I think with her growth and maturity, we see a growing and expanding portrait of Juliana as well, and that adds a nice touch to the story. Also, the whole theme of passing the torch from grandmother to granddaughter was a sweet and inspiring one; strong grandparent figures aren't always easy to come by in literature, but this is definitely one of them. Juliana not only instilled her love of the Lord in Maria; she also gave her a practical knowledge of natural healing and medicines, a subject that always piques my interest, though I have not yet been able to study it in depth.
As far as cons, the only thing I can think of is the adultery/madness incident, which might not be good for very young girls, but other than that it's fairly all-ages friendly, and even those themes are handled discreetly and appropriately. There was a slight overabundance of emotion (specifically crying) on occasion, but nothing that couldn't be got over, and certainly not on a level with many Victorian heroines.
Maybe I should just appreciate characters crying more. I seem to have a real grievance about that today. But I prefer crying over them rather than them crying over each other, as a general rule, unless they are under great provocation.
Dr. Oma is part of the Chosen Daughters series, which Junior B. highly recommends, and this series has other books set in the Reformation as well. The idea of the series is to take great historical women of the faith and turn them into historical fiction, and from what I've heard, they do a very good job of it!
We all enjoyed reading Dr. Oma together, and it gives a specifically female portrait during the Reformation. A lot of the men are featured in books, and certainly the men carried the brunt of the movement, but it's always inspiring to learn of a few women-folk who were helpmeets to their husbands.
About the Historical Figure
Juliana von Stolberg, born the 15th of February 1506, was raised in a traditional Catholic family. She didn't stay Catholic all her life, though; later on she converted to Lutheranism, and then again she made the ultimate switch to Calvinism, and this conversion would stay with her the rest of her life.
One of the things Juliana is famous for is, of course, her children. Willem of Oranje, is one of her sons, and the man who freed the Dutch from Catholic tyrannies. (This conflict is deeply portrayed in H. Rider Haggard's Lysbeth.) His mother certainly deserves remembrance from that score. But Willem wasn't her only child; in fact, he wasn't even her first. In the six years she was married to her first husband, Phillip II of Hanau-Munzenberg, Juliana had five children. She was appointed joint guardian along with William, Count of Nassau, on her husband's death, and later she married William. Throughout the 28 years of their marriage, Juliana had 12 children, making for a total of 17 children in all. Through those children she had 123 grandchildren, one of which was Maria.
Famous both for her family and for her healing skills in the herbarium, Juliana dispensed much physical and spiritual healing to the community under her care during her lifetime. She and her husband both zealously taught their children the Protestant faith, and their devotion to God was reflected by the devotion of many of their children and grandchildren.
Truly, hers is a legacy worth preserving, as one of the women that opened the blind eyes of the Catholic Church and gave us the sola scriptura and Protestant doctrines that many of us hold to today. Dr. Oma, by Ethel Herr, describes a portion of that legacy and is well worth reading.