Jerome and His Women by Joan O’Hagan

Joan O’Hagan started work on this novel during the 1990s, and completed it shortly before her death in 2014.  I wish I’d discovered her work earlier!   I’ve added her other novels to my ever lengthening reading list.

Jerome and His Women by Joan O’Hagan

‘Our Jerome is a moralist, the most eloquent of moralists.’

Who was Jerome?   Saint Jerome was born Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus about 347 BCE in Stridon, Dalmatia (in what is now known as Croatia) and died in 420 CE in Bethlehem.  Jerome was commissioned by Bishop Damasus I of Rome to undertake a new and definitive Latin translation of the Bible from Greek by 390 CE. The focus of this novel is on Jerome’s relationships with the Christian community in Rome, specifically his patron Paula and a number of other Roman women.

The setting of this novel, the fourth century CE, was a time of upheaval for the Roman Empire.  In addition to a series of internal riots and external threats, the spread of Christianity with the worship of a monotheistic God was replacing pagan beliefs and gods.  In Rome, Jerome was surrounded by ‘his women’: a circle of well-born and well-educated women.  These women included the patrician widows Lea, Marcella and Paula, together with their daughters Blaesilla and Eustochium.  By concentrating on these women and Jerome’s dealings with them, Ms O’Hagan paints a picture of a complicated man: at times introspective and at other times argumentative.  Jerome was critical of the secular clergy of Rome and, shortly after the death of Damasus I, he was forced to leave his position.  It was alleged that he had an improper relationship with the widow Paula.  Eventually he and Paula travelled to the Holy Land where they built two monasteries and a hospice.

I found this novel fascinating, partly because I know so little about this particular aspect of Christian history. Ms O’Hagan brings to life Jerome’s women, with her descriptions of how they chose to turn their back on luxurious Roman life, instead selling off their property and possessions to donate to the poor and to the Church.  These women then chose, with varying degrees of success, to live celibate lives of prayer in poverty.

Ms O’Hagan started work on this novel in the 1990s, and completed it shortly before her death in 2014.  I think it is a tribute to her writing skills that the research she undertook to write this novel never weighs the narrative down.

I am always on the lookout for books by Australian women, and when Joan O’Hagan’s name was mentioned, I added her to my list.  Now I’ve read ‘Jerome and His Women’, I’ll be looking for her other novels.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

‘Our Jerome is a moralist, the most eloquent of moralists.’

Who was Jerome?   Saint Jerome was born Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus about 47 BCE in Stridon, Dalmatia (in what is now known as Croatia) and died in 420 CE in Bethlehem.  Jerome was commissioned by Bishop Damasus I of Rome to undertake a new and definitive Latin translation of the Bible from Greek by 390 CE. The focus of this novel is on Jerome’s relationships with the Christian community in Rome, specifically his patron Paula and a number of other Roman women.

The setting of this novel, the fourth century CE, was a time of upheaval for the Roman Empire.  In addition to a series of internal riots and external threats, the spread of Christianity with the worship of a monotheistic God was replacing pagan beliefs and gods.  In Rome, Jerome was surrounded by ‘his women’: a circle of well-born and well-educated women.  These women included the patrician widows Lea, Marcella and Paula, together with their daughters Blaesilla and Eustochium.  By concentrating on these women and Jerome’s dealings with them, Ms O’Hagan paints a picture of a complicated man: at times introspective and at other times argumentative.  Jerome was critical of the secular clergy of Rome and, shortly after the death of Damasus I, he was forced to leave his position.  It was alleged that he had an improper relationship with the widow Paula.  Eventually he and Paula travelled to the Holy Land where they built two monasteries and a hospice.

I found this novel fascinating, partly because I know so little about this particular aspect of Christian history. Ms O’Hagan brings to life Jerome’s women, with her descriptions of how they chose to turn their back on luxurious Roman life, instead selling off their property and possessions to donate to the poor and to the Church.  These women then chose, with varying degrees of success, to live celibate lives of prayer in poverty.

Ms O’Hagan started work on this novel in the 1990s, and completed it shortly before her death in 2014.  I think it is a tribute to her writing skills that the research she undertook to write this novel never weighs the narrative down.

I am always on the lookout for books by Australian women, and when Joan O’Hagan’s name was mentioned, I added her to my list.  Now I’ve read ‘Jerome and His Women’, I’ll be looking for her other novels.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2017

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