Recently, several people have referred to me as Anna O’Neil, the heroine of my husband Roger’s book The Gentle Traditionalist. Now, so far, I have said very little in public about this amazing book, which has transformed our lives (and may even be made into a movie!)
It is high-time I said something and not only to clarify the identification between the fictional Anna and me.
But first, for those who have not yet read The Gentle Traditionalist, it is a fairytale romance, set in Monaghan, Ireland. Written in the form of a dialogue, it brings together two radically different characters, a young, perplexed, progressive Englishman, Geoffrey Peter Luxworthy (GPL) and a wise old Irish Traditional Catholic, Gilbert Tracy (GT) who seems to have the answer to everything!
Their dialogue is centred around the third character – Anna O’Neil – who is absent from their dialogue. Yet she is the focus of the whole story, bringing these two unusual characters together.
Now, Anna was once a New Ager – but now she has become a traditional Catholic and wants to be a nun!
And poor GPL, who is madly in love with her, is trying to come to terms with her new-found Catholicism. For he himself has been raised within an anti-Catholic secular culture.
In a simple, erudite way, GT tells GPL why Anna has become what she is, including the basics of Catholic doctrine. Plus, he neatly and intelligently defines what he terms the New Secular Religion (NSR) and how that NSR is destroying the West!
And in the process, the book brings fully alive, the rich beauty of the Sacramental Catholic Mystery.
For myself and other readers I’ve encountered, Roger’s book is incredibly funny, deeply moving, mysterious and tragic. It presents Church teaching clearly and simply. All the while, it draws on the central mystery, which lies at the heart of the Church, pervading the book with a subtle magic, which is the Catholic faith.
So, as I say, recently, in various different situations, several people have referred to me as Anna O’Neil, GPL’s love and the heroine of Roger’s book.
Now, it is quite strange to have one’s identity transferred to a fictional character. Yet, at the same time, it is heartening to see how real Anna has become to enthusiastic readers of Roger’s fairytale.
Whilst some of these people did not even know me, their mistake is not entirely unfounded. For Roger has borrowed certain of my attributes to develop the character of Anna.
For instance, for several years, I was a New Ager, albeit not as whacky as Anna!
And whilst I aspire to serious prayer life, unlike Anna, I have never been drawn to becoming a religious.
Also, unlike Anna, who was born in Liverpool, of Irish, Catholic ancestry, I was born in London, of Australian parents, from a staunchly Protestant heritage.
Yet, just as Roger and I first became romantically involved and were later married on St. Valentine’s Day , so, in the book, St Valentine’s day becomes very important to Geoffrey and Anna. (For reasons, I won’t spoil for those who haven’t read the book!)
But perhaps the greatest similarity between Anna and me, is our shared love for the Traditional Liturgy of the Tridentine Mass. And in particular, the liturgy of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. In the book, Geoffrey and Anna even end up going to Limerick in Ireland, close to the Institute’s apostolate there!
So, again, for the record, whilst Anna and I have many similar characteristics, we are also extremely different.
It is the same with Roger and Geoffrey (GPL) – there are similarities and great differences.
In fact, when I met Roger in 1992, he was heavily involved with the New Age Movement. For he had dedicated his entire life to propagating New Age ideology. In that sense, Anna is perhaps more like Roger himself used to be.
Soon, I was to be involved in the very same project with him – a drop-in Centre and registered charity in Cambridge, co-founded by Roger, in order to spread New Age doctrine!
Then, through his own radical conversion to the Catholic faith, his heart has surrendered ever deeper into the Catholic Mystery, little by little, year by year, becoming progressively more traditional.
I have watched, for many years, whilst Roger has wrestled with the issues raised in his book – for instance, issues concerning …
- The Secularisation of the West
- The hungering for mystery in the resultant secularised world
- The modern Church not providing the depth of mystery it once did
- People turning to the New Age instead, in search of mystery
- The difference between the Anglo-American Protestant cultures and Catholic cultures. Or rather, between Sacramental cultures and non-sacramental ones.
As a result, The Gentle Traditionalist presents a firm, steadfast apologetic of the faith. (All in the most gentle manner, humanly possible, of course – as GT in the book would say.)
So whilst Roger’s life journey and struggles are certainly reflected in the character of GPL, he is also somewhat like the Gentle Traditionalist himself – large, warm and big hearted.
The beauty of fiction, of course, is that one can ‘make up’ characters to draw forth that which one wants to say. And characters are often reflections of ourselves and those people around us.
So, in pondering the power of fiction, creating characters who become real in people’s minds, I see how the main character in this book, the warm-hearted, intelligent, wise, compassionate and staunchly, yet gently Catholic GT, the Gentle Traditionalist, has most definitely touched the hearts of many.
Roger now has a second book Cor Jesu Sacratissimum coming out this month from the same publisher Angelico Press.
It is a much bigger, more serious book than The Gentle Traditionalist which Roger intended to be short, light and very easily accessible.
But as we await the launch of the bigger book, I pray that GT will continue to work his gentle magic and bring many people back to the faith.
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