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Shannon Whitmore recommends Mary Frances Coady's new biography of spiritual writer Caryll Houselander, published by Orbis Books.

I remember the first time one of Caryll Houselander’s books was recommended to me. I was in college, it was Advent, and the book was arguably her most famous, The Reed of God. It remains one of the most influential books on Mary for the modern Catholic, and I can confidently say that reading The Reed of God was one of the most pivotal moments in my relationship with Mary. Caryll Houselander’s monumental book on Mary revolutionized the way I looked at the Virgin Mother of God. Even more than a decade later, when someone asks me for a suggestion on a Marian book, The Reed of God remains on the top of my list.  

That being said, after having read Caryll Houselander: A Biography, I can say that I really didn’t know anything about the woman. I am always curious to see what the lives of great spiritual writers were like, and how much their personal lives influenced their writings. Before reading Mary Frances Coady’s biography of Caryll Houselander, all I had known about the author of The Reed of God was that she was a woman who lived relatively recently. In fact, Caryll Houselander lived during this last century and was alive during both World Wars.

Her world was very different, but also very similar, to ours. She understood the effects of war, but also its ability to become a union with the cross of Christ. As her first book declared, those who suffer because of war can unite their sufferings with the passion of Christ, if they so choose. The wars were horrible, of course, but they were also an occasion to participate in the suffering of Christ. Caryll Houselander understood that deeply, and expressed it very movingly. 




Caryll Houselander is revealed to have been a mysterious, eccentric, and faith-filled individual. She was a self-declared loser, having never fit in anywhere but the Catholic Church (and even within the Church’s arms, she remained a misunderstood anomaly). She was different; she stood out, but she also had a strong urge to hide behind her writings. Many people will find her to be incredibly relatable, and everyone will find her interesting. I couldn’t put down her biography as I dived deeply into her world.

Mary Frances Coady did a fantastic job of depicting the person of Caryll Houselander, and after having read her biography, I really feel as though I know the woman (as much as you can know someone who was at her core a mystery). If you have read any of Caryll Houselander’s books, this biography is a wonderful way of getting to know the author better. And if you haven’t read any of her works, I highly suggest that you begin with The Reed of God. But I would pick up this book too, if I were you. You won’t be able to put either down until they’re finished. 

Ask for Caryll Houselander: A Biography at your local Catholic bookseller, or order online from Amazon.com or the publisher, Orbis Books.



Copyright 2024 Shannon Whitmore
Images: Canva