Exiles (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2008)
Citation: Hansen, Ron. Exiles. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.
Reading Level (choose all that apply): Young Adult Parent Adult
Author Biography: Ron Hansen, born in 1947, author of Mariette in Ecstacy, 1998; Hitler’s Niece, 1999; Atticus, 1996; Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward, 1983; and other books.
Plot Summary: Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) converted to the Roman Catholic Church and entered the seminary of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. Ever scrupulous, he gave up writing poetry and destroyed most of his early poems. In 1875, a group of five German sisters left their homeland to avoid future religious persecution and to work in hospitals and schools in the American Midwest. The ship, on which they sailed, the Deutschland, sank on the British coastline and the five sisters lost their lives. When Hopkins read about this shipwreck and when one of his religious superiors mentioned that someone should write a poem about the incident, Hopkins felt he was released from his promise not to write poetry and he wrote the long epic poem, “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” A poetic genius, Hopkins nevertheless was given a series of dull and monotonous jobs during his life as a Jesuit priest. Simultaneously, he wrote many more poems and sent them to his friend Robert Bridges who evaluated them and had them published, long after the Hopkins’ death. At age 45, Hopkins became seriously ill. His parents came to visit their son, whom they had not seen since he converted to Catholicism. His dying words were, “I am so happy, I am so happy.”
1. What does the title mean for the five German sisters and for Gerard Manley Hopkins?
2. What are the most appealing characteristics you found in the personality of Hopkins?
3. Did any parts or any of the language in the book seem reminiscent of the poetry of Hopkins?
4. Choose a favorite poem by Hopkins and read it to the group. Does the poem bring to mind any of the events in Hopkins’ life or in the life of the German nuns?
5. What did you think about the five sisters? Did you have a favorite? Why would the author develop these five different personalities?
6. What did you learn about shipwrecks in this time period?
7. Hopkins received very little recognition or positive support for his writing during his lifetime. Why did he continue writing his poetry?
8.Imagine you were a student and Hopkins was your teacher. What would you think of him? What could you have learned from him?
9. Describe the spiritual life of Hopkins. Imagine receiving sacraments such as Eucharist or Reconciliation from him.