The White Sister (F. Marion Crawford, 1909)

Angela, the daughter of a Roman prince, finds herself penniless after her father’s death. Her boyfriend would leave the army and find a higher paying job to support them so that they might marry at once, but she’ll not have anyone think Giovanni is a coward. She pressures him to accept the commission to Africa he’s been offered, promising that she’ll wait for him and they’ll marry on his return. The detail is ambushed and every man is killed. After years of hoping against hope, Angela at last accepts that Giovanni is dead. She joins the White Sisters, a group of nuns who run a hospital in Rome, and eventually takes the veil herself as a nurse-nun.

Five years later, Giovanni returns. He has been enslaved and kept closely guarded, but at last managed to escape. I think it would be fair to call him an agnostic — he’s open to the idea of gods and of an afterlife, but thinks religion is nothing more than foolish superstition. To him, there’s no reason in the world why Angela can’t honor her promise and marry him. However, pious Angela — or Sister Giovanna, as she’s now known — sees things quite differently. Her vows are irrevocable and she would not think of asking for a dispensation.

Giovanni does not take it well. He’s stationed at an ammunition dump when an anarchist’s bomb goes off. After the explosion that shatters every window in the city, Giovanni is found badly injured. His doctors are confident that his life can be saved if he’ll consent to being operated on, but he refuses. He would rather die, however long or painful his final days may be, than live without Angela. Sister Giovanna is torn — knowing that, if she holds, she surely sentences him to death, yet to relent would mean to break her vow.

Monsignor Saracinesca, though a man of God, is still a human. If Giovanni consents to the operation, he promises to use his influence with the Cardinal to get a dispensation for Angela — which, in normal circumstances, she would have to request herself.

The White Sister isn’t one of the core Saracinesca books (the only one of which I’ve read being Sant’ Ilario), but it’s part of that continuity.

Inscription: signed with the single name “Langley” at the top of the front flyleaf.


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