These are a few of my favorite things:
—The Christian Faith
—(Singing songs from The Sound of Music, but I digress)
Combine them all together and you get one of my ultimate good things: A history book that also is biographical and that helps me understand both my faith and Christian history better. Sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it?
But I bring you good news! Such a book exists!
Knowing that October 31, 2017 will mark the 500 year anniversary of what is know at The Reformation, I wanted to do something this year to mark it, but what? Author Michelle DeRusha has been working on Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk that comes out today and offered me an advance copy.
Manna from heaven, people. I tell you this book is manna that will feed, entertain, and educate all while being so readable. If I’m honest, this book goes on my stalker list. You know, those books that when you read you feel compelled to stand up, walk around the house and find someone to read a part of the book out loud to. Multiple times a day.
Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk is such a book. Michelle captures the culture (like did you know many nuns and priests were nuns and priests because their parents basically had to sell/give them to the monastery to finically help their own families?), the big picture church context, and the personal (you will grow to know Katharina and Martin in ways that humanizes both to the point you wish Katharina made some of her beer for you!).
I loved this book so much I couldn’t help—polite book stalker vernacular— but ask Michelle some questions about it:
1. How long did you work on this book? Roughly what percentage did you research and what percentage did you write?
It took me about eight months to research and write the book. It’s hard for me to estimate exactly what percentage of that time was devoted to research and what percentage was devoted to writing, because I did each in segments. For instance, before I wrote the early chapters about Katharina and Luther’s years in the convent and monastery, I did all my research on monastic life in the Middle Ages/early modern period. Once I had compiled copious notes on that topic, I wrote those chapters. Then I moved on to the chapters on Luther’s theology. I researched his major theological treatises, especially his writings related to marriage, and then I wrote those chapters. And so on and so forth. So I didn’t do all the research and then all the writing, but went back and forth as I focused on different aspects of their lives.
Suffice to say, though, I did A LOT of research. I pretty much abandoned all reading for pleasure during those eight months and almost entirely read books having to do with Luther, Katharina, the Reformation, and life in early modern Germany. I was constantly spouting facts to my family, who frankly didn’t really care what Germans in the 1500s ate or wore. But I kept talking about it anyway, because I couldn’t help myself!
2. What did you have to cut out but you wish you hadn’t?
I became fascinated with the topic of monastic life in the Middle Ages/early modern period when I was researching it, and ended up writing quite a bit more about that subject in the first draft than was actually included in the final book. My editor told me to “rein it in.” That was a good call on his part, because people typically aren’t going to read this book to learn about every little detail of monastic life, but instead are probably looking for a well-rounded picture of Katharina and Luther’s life together. I lost my focus for a bit there and followed my own interest rather than keeping the interests of my readers top-of-mind. My editor graciously got me back on track.
3. What are one or two facts from either Katharina or Martin’s life that still surprise you?
Oh, where to begin? Regarding Katharina, I was shocked to learn that women during that time period were not considered citizens unless they were married. Single women, including widows, were required to have a male guardian who oversaw their finances and general livelihood. Single women were truly in a precarious position.
I was also surprised by the genuine tenderness shared by Katharina and Luther. Going into this project, I knew Katharina and Luther had married for convenience (or I should say, she married for survival, he to make a point), rather than love. But what I didn’t understand before I began to explore their marriage was that they grew to genuinely love each other, and they shared a remarkable respect and affection for one another. It was truly a delight to see how their relationship grew over time.
4. Have you always liked history? How did writing this book influence how you see our modern day from a different perspective?
I haven’t always been a big history fan in the classic sense. I didn’t typically enjoy history classes in high school and college, and I was never one to, say, pick up a book about the American Revolution or the Renaissance. I have always loved biography, however. I clearly remember reading biographies of Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale in grammar school, and even when I was in graduate school, I often read biographies of women writers and artists, like Virginia Woolf and George O’Keefe, for pleasure. I think personal story is my preferred lens through which to view history. History has to be grounded in narrative for it to be meaningful for me.
Without getting too much into politics here, I will say that researching and writing about Luther’s theology of marriage helped me understand our modern-day discussion of marriage in a deeper, more comprehensive way. Luther reformed the institution of marriage, and 500 years later, we are still exploring and grappling with the results of those reforms and with the definition of marriage in general. Luther began a conversation we are still engaging in 500 years later, and I think that’s fascinating.
Michelle, thank you! I love hearing more about a book :). Your editor may have been right, but if you want to write a supplemental book, you have at least one reader!
Dear Messy Middler, if you are going to do only one thing this year to mark the 500 year anniversary of The Reformation, read this book. Then stalk your friends and family,
annoying blessing them with insights because you cannot not share (and we all know what double negative do . . . they make us do that which we could not not do).
Because any anniversary is more fun with presents, you can win a copy of Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk by leaving a comment and telling us one of your favorite things OR a piece of trivia about The Reformation or the Luthers. I’ll chose a winner on Friday and get you set up for your weekend reading :).