A Watch in the Night


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By Helen C. White

A Watch in the Night tells of one Jacopone da Todi, a famous poet of the Middle Ages. Devastated by the sudden death of his wife, Jacopone forsakes all his earthy possessions, undertaking a new life of asceticism and penance and eventually joining the Franciscan Order. There he assumes a critical role in the Order’s internal struggles between the Conventuals, who affirm a more lenient interpretation of St. Francis’s rule, and “Spirituals,” who uphold absolute poverty as the “distinctive grace” of the Order. After his enthusiastic support for the Spirituals ends in disillusionment, Jacopone withdraws, subdued. Yet when the plague strikes Italy, Jacopone must face the ultimate test and summon the courage to offer the supreme sacrifice.

“One thinks to do so much and he does so little, and that little so strangely compounded of blindness and good intent and much effort and much thwarting, and the end is a watch in the night,” said Jacomo, suddenly feeling that all the world had melted away…

Lauded by the 1934 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction jury for its “accurate background, sharply etched characters, and highly dramatic plot,” A Watch in the Night is an extraordinary story, vividly told—historical fiction at its finest, representing its real-life subjects with veracious aplomb.

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Helen C. White (1896–1967) was an American Catholic author, scholar, and professor. In a career spanning nearly five decades, she wrote six novels, including Not Built with Hands (1935) and To the End of the World (1939), as well as various studies of poetry and devotional literature. White’s many awards include twenty-three honorary doctorates, two Guggenheim fellowships, and the University of Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal, awarded to a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church, and enriched the heritage of humanity.”

Paperback: 394pp.

ISBN: 978-1685951504