Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Human Side of Prostitution: Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy

There are women who walk in the night, hawking their wares of body. Women who sell their bodies are often despised as debauched members of society or pitied as abused victims of society. Either way misses that these are humans who are drawn to the life of prostitution for similar reasons that a lonely woman is drawn to buy a fur coat, it helps her feel warm and valuable. I have not met an author (at least not since Dostoevsky and Tolstoy) who faces the fact that many women choose their victimization.

A New Book
I've discovered a book you must know about, Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Rumer Godden (1907-1998). Godden, a prolific author, writes beautifully of nuns. Not just any nuns, but nuns who were once women in hellish lives. Godden has shown me more of the nature of God by "wrapping it in a nun's habit and then unmasking it." (Introduction by Joan Chittister).

The Sisters of Bethany
This jewel of a story is built on the real story of a real convent, The Sisters of Bethany, a unique Dominican Third Order of the Congregation of Saint Mary Magdalen, nuns who come from prison to join the order. An order dreamed and built up by Pere Marie Jean Joseph Lataste in the 1860's. Godden's story, set in France immediately after World War II, follows the coming of age of Lise, a beautiful English girl, who finds herself compelled and attracted to the rich, smooth-talking Patrice. Lise's downward spiral is unique mainly because we see each step as willfully chosen, we understand her life as something Lise wants. The Catholic tradition of blurring the lines between Mary of Bethany (the one who sat at Jesus' feet) with Mary of Magdalene (the woman who had seven demons and was first to see Christ at the tomb) with the Mary who was a sinner and anointed Jesus' feet is worked throughout Godden's narrative. We see that Lise feels like all these Marys. We see that we identity with all the Mary's, the sinner, the first witness, the disciple, all longing for Christ's healing.

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy is worth reading this Christmas, for it shows the significant depth a human can fall, it shows what it means to be human and horrid, and what it means to move out of abuse into life because of the persistent mercy of God.

For Those Who Love Women
It is a haunting story, but not gratuitous as it reaches into depravities of sex and violence. Godden opens up the darkness in the human soul, but always for the sake of understanding, compassion and hope. If you counsel, teach, raise or love young women, this is a must read.

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy has been reprinted by Loyola Press. I found it in Bas Blue, (bä blũ French, blue stocking, a literary woman; a bluestocking) bookseller-by-post. Bas Blue is the self-proclaimed "champion of the odd little book." This odd little book will make an indelible mark on you. For purchasing information: Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy, I'd suggest that you patron Bas Blue, rather than Amazon, as it's a chance to promote a bookseller than hunts for good reads.

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