2005 Book Award
Text of Citation Given in December 2005 to Susannah Brietz Monta as Winner of the CCL Book of the Year Award for her book, Martyrdom and Literature in Early Modern England
The committee, by consensus, presents the annual CCL award to this book. All members agree that the book is outstanding both in style and content.
While the book is clearly written and well researched, it is also generous to its subject matter. Mark Eaton called our attention to Susannah Monta’s implicit proposal to “take seriously what early modern martyrological discourse purports to be about—the role of the individual subject in ascertaining and testifying to religious truth…” Rather than view religion as something to “read through,” Monta manages to make the “unshakeable faith” of martyrs and martyrologists alike compellingly real if quite foreign to modern sensibilities. Whatever Ms. Monta’s personal views might be, the reader feels that the writer never excuses herself from the fury of the religious storm, but rather she stays the course, giving the reader access to the almost forgotten writers who sought to build their readers’ faith on the blood of then-recent martyrs. Ms. Monta performs an admirable balancing act of bringing to bear a critical reading of the texts, yet allowing the martyrologists voices to be clearly heard.
In addition to the genuine literary interest of the martyrdom chroniclers, Monta shows the ways in which better-known Renaissance poets regarded martyrdom as a "given" spiritual goal, and the ways in which these same poets began to recast martyrdom as figurative rather than literal. Monta writes of Spenser's Redcrosse Knight as a response to the martyred St. George; she describes the competing versions of suffering in the writings of Southwell and Donne; and she shows the ultimate textualization of martyrdom, as Henry VIII stages and recasts recent religious English history. This book will aid and fascinate literary scholars and historians of the era--but also anyone who studies Christianity and literature.
Hope Hodgkins observed that the book is “outstanding in its unusual choice of topic, its clear writing and its fully realized text.” She continues, “It’s valuable to us as a reminder of how we’ve changed, in our comfortable Western Christian existences. No one expects us to back up our word with our bodies in extremity, and just thinking of the possibility makes us squirm.” The word “martyr” for many of us creates a reflexive reaction. We automatically think about a circle of Christians in the Coliseum singing praises as the hungry Roman lions approach. The book reminds us that during the dark period of history being observed, Christians fed other Christians to the lions, as it were. The notion of “competing discourses of martyrdom” is a somewhat troubling concept that embeds itself in the mind, and is not easily dislodged.
Through a book about those who died for the faith, their biographers and those who transformed those discourses into what we now call “literature,” the book challenges Western Christians to ask, “How will the story of my life be read?” It is disconcerting to realize how much depends upon the reader.
The book award committee for 2005 was chaired by Robert Siletzky with the U.S. Department of State in Washington. The other two members were Hope Howell Hodgkins with the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and Mark Eaton with Azusa Pacific University.
2005 Book Award Committee
Robert Siletzky, U.S. Department of State
Hope Howell Hodgkins, University of North Carolina, Greensboro
Mark Eaton, Azusa Pacific University