“Rumer Godden deals precisely with the theme of the religious life . . .
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as representing ‘the heart of holiness of the Church.’ It is at once a life of great peace and often equally intense struggle.” —America magazine
Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy
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FPO Connecting today’s readers to the timeless themes of Catholic fiction.
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Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy Introduction by
Introduction Joan Chittister
The cover flap of the first edition of Rumer Godden’s 1979 novel, Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy, carries a comment from a Washington Post reviewer, who wrote, “Rumer Godden has written beautifully about nuns.” I smiled when I read the statement. It is at best only partially true. Godden wrote wonderful stories about nuns, but in Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy, she wrote about a great deal more. In fact, Elizabeth Fanshawe, Godden’s protagonist, is more an icon of what it means to be a human being than an icon of what it means to be any particular kind of nun. Rumer Godden’s novel came at exactly the time when it was most needed to make the point that sanctity is a process and a struggle for us all, religious as well as lay. By 1979, the Catholic community was locked in disagreement about exactly what nuns were meant to be. Or look like. Or do. The first blush of excitement that came with Vatican Council II and its sweeping adaptations to the modern world had worn off by this time. In its place was the confusion that normally follows any major
social change. Religious life became a point of disagreement, if for no other reason than that nuns had become icons of a Catholic community frozen in time. Unchanging. Immutable. They were thought to be fixed in form and function. They personified a kind of merit theology that made rule keeping the acme of the spiritual life. Nuns of that day, for the most part, embodied a spirituality that was staid, quiet, conforming, and ghettoized. Most of the 125,000 women religious in America had spent their lives in the convent and the parish school, or in the hospital residence hall and the Catholic hospital. Their world had become a safe, antiseptic environment, far different from the frontier life or the immigrant journeys or the urban poverty that nuns in earlier years had shared. But now, suddenly, women religious were leaving the schools and the hospitals in droves for whole new kinds of social witness. They went to work in peace-and-justice centers, halfway houses for women, retreat centers, soup kitchens, storefront missions in the inner city, urban shelters, and prison chaplaincies. Not surprisingly, the Catholic world thought the whole phenomenon of nuns working in society at large was new. Nothing could be further from reality. In fact, most of religious life had been founded in the slums of the world: feeding the poor, educating girls, nursing the wounded, working with immigrants and native peoples. Only
late in the day, as such works became mainstream or the social climate changed, were these groups homogenized, institutionalized, domesticated. At first glance, a reader might assume that Godden is writing about the pre-Vatican model of religious, who lived in cloistered monasteries, wore habits, and spent most of their lives at prayer. On the contrary. Godden has gone to the bone in this one. The Sisters of Bethany, the nuns Godden writes about in Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy, were founded in 1948, in the wake of World War II. They were inspired by the work of PĂ¨re Lataste, a French priest whose prison ministry strove to rebuild the spiritual lives of women prisoners. The Sisters of Bethany not only ministered to women in prison but also welcomed former prisoners into their own ranks. Elizabeth Fanshawe is one of these sisters. She wears a habit, but thatâ€™s her only likeness to the holy-card nuns of the human imagination. Why? Because this book is not really about what it is to be a nun. It is about what it is to be human. It is about the human search for happiness, freedom, and fulfillment and the struggle to tell the bogus from the true in the process. That is why it is so important that this book be republished and remembered. Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy is about growth, choice, struggle, and the freedom of the soul that transcends the license of the body. It is about finding sin where we least expect itâ€”and
finding holiness where we least expect it too. It is about each of us and the lives we live underneath those we display to the world. Most of all, it is about the astounding, illimitable, and certain mercy of God. This book confounds our understanding of what God and goodness are all about. Clearly, Rumer Godden knew both theology and humanity well. She exposes the whole gamut of life to us in her sixty books, which include many novels and books for children. In this novel, to show us the nature of God, she wraps human nature up in a habit and systematically unmasks it for all to see. By the end, we don’t know what shocks us more: Godden’s insight into the nature of sin or Godden’s awareness of the mercy of God. Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy is set in postwar France. An innocent young woman, Elizabeth Fanshawe—known as Lise in the book—gets caught up in the delirious debauchery that marked the liberation of Paris. Moral boundaries weaken as the sense of freedom sweeps through an exhausted but exhilarated France. When the revelry ends, however, Lise is anything but free. She finds herself in a prison of sexual excess, dominated by the charming man who saved her from the loneliness of a strange city. She works in his brothel. Eventually she runs
it. Ironically, she grows in the position to become an effective administrator of a way of life that enslaves women in the name of freeing them. Beaten and betrayed—and no longer beguiled by the man, Patrice, whose sick harem she has come to oversee—she murders him in an attempt to liberate his newest, youngest victim from the very chains she herself has not been able to escape. And then the world of the book tips and shifts and shows us the other side of ourselves. Sent to prison for murdering Patrice, Lise meets the Sisters of Bethany—some of them former prisoners and prostitutes themselves who now dedicate their lives to the salvation of others. Then the real freedom begins. As the Portuguese say, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” This time, Lise chooses to follow Jesus. She chooses one set of rules—spiritual ones—over the rules of the brothel. She chooses one “house” over another—a monastery for a prison. She chooses one kind of captivity, one kind of love, one kind of freedom over another. Not everyone, Godden is clear, makes the same choices in life, even in the same situation. Lise tries hard to save one girl and fails; she rejects another and becomes, despite herself, the saving spiritual model of the girl’s life. Each of us is faced with choices: freedom or license, holiness or sinfulness, our own
standards or the laws of God. This book makes us rethink all the ideas weâ€™ve ever had about grace and God, forgiveness and repentance, freedom and captivity, sinners and saints. In the end, like the Sisters of Bethany, we find ourselves less sure about who among us is really the sinner, and who the saint. Even in ways Godden could not have dreamed of when she wrote Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy, things are not what they seem. The model of Mary Magdalene as the repentant sinner, the scriptural metaphor of this work, has long ago been disproved. Mary Magdalene and the repentant sinner are not the same woman in Scripture at all, something the Eastern church has always preached and the Western church has for centuries ignored. Both women are in us all. None of us are free of our lesser selves or out of reach of our greater selves. Godden shows us that all we need to do at every moment of our lives is choose and choose and choose again. Joan Chittister, OSB, is a well-known author, columnist, retreat director, and lecturer. Her books include The Way We Were and Called to Question. She is a member of the Benedictine sisters of Erie.
of the soul that transcends the license of the body. It is about finding sin where we least expect it.”
“Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy is about growth, choice, struggle, and the freedom
— Joan Chittister, from the introduction
Lise Fanshawe, a prostitute and brothel manager in postwar Paris who, while serving time in prison for killing a man, finds God. Lise is helped by an order of Catholic nuns that includes former prostitutes and prisoners like her. She joins the order and is swept up in an unexpected and fateful encounter with people from her past life. Rumer Godden, author of the masterwork In This House of Brede, tells an inspiring and entirely convincing conversion story that shows how the mercy of God extends to the darkest human places. Rumer Godden (1907–98) was born in England, began writing fiction as an adult living in India, and continued a successful writing career after moving back to England. She is the author of In This House of Brede (Loyola Press), Black Narcissus, The River, and other novels.
Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy
This haunting tale of disgrace and redemption centers on
ISBN-13: 978-0-8294-2473-7 ISBN-10: 0-8294-2473-3
Connecting today’s readers to the timeless themes of Catholic fiction.
loyol a cl assics
Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy Introduction by Joan Chittister
Published on Sep 21, 2010
Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Rumer Godden centers on the life of Lise Fanshawe, a former prostitute and brothel manager in postwar Paris...