Love in the Reformation: Review of Luther & Katharina by Jody Hedlund

A former monk and an escaped nun fall in love, marry, have a family, change the world. Truth is stranger than fiction sometimes, and Jody Hedlund’s new book blends both in an impressive historical novel.

Luther and Katharina. The names probably aren’t unfamiliar to you if you have an ounce of church background, or if you saw the movie Luther, starring Joseph Fiennes, that came out 12 (really?!) years ago.

Luther-KatharinaBut the story of their courtship is one I hadn’t read much about. I would want it in no one else’s hands but Hedlund’s. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my review.)

The events surrounding Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora’s relationship are sometimes shocking and unbelievable, but Hedlund assures readers in the end notes that much of what she writes is based on fact. Of course, she takes creative license in arranging scenes for dramatic effect, which is why it’s called a historical novel. In previous books, Hedlund has taken real people and events and changed their names and storylines a bit to tell a romantic tale. (For example, in Rebellious Heart, the characters are based on John and Abigail Adams and their revolutionary relationship but their names are changed.)

I loved the weaving of history, religious reformation and romance throughout the story. The characters were full of life and passion, confronted with danger and forced to make hard choices.

It is a gift, I’m discovering, that someone can take historical events and turn them into stories that are page-turning and applicable to life today. Jody Hedlund has that gift. You don’t even have to be Lutheran to enjoy this story!

I always love a little peek into the author’s world. Here are a few questions and answers about Jody Hedlund and her writing process and life. (And Illinois, friends, I just discovered she has an Illinois connection. Read on to find out what it is!) jody hedlund

You grew up Lutheran. Share with us how your Lutheran background influenced the writing of this book.

Yes, I was born and baptized a Lutheran. In fact my dad was a Lutheran pastor all his life until he passed away. I have an uncle who was a Lutheran pastor until he retired. I went to Lutheran grade school, and my high school alma mater is Lutheran High School in Rockford, IL. I took catechism classes and was confirmed in the Lutheran church. My German and Norwegian grandparents on both sides of my family were strong Lutherans as well. I have a very fond spot in my heart for all things related to Martin Luther since his name and teachings were such an integral part of my upbringing.

It’s obvious that research plays an enormous role in the development of your scenes and the characters that inhabit them. How did you begin the arduous task of researching these two historical figures and the period in which they lived?

One of the first things I do in the early research phase of any of my stories based on real historical figures is I locate as many biographies on the couples and individuals as I can get my hands on. Usually I can get quite a number through my library system. Once I figure out the books that will be the most helpful to me, I usually buy them.

After I have the biographies I spend an enormous amount of time reading through them, taking pages and pages of notes, and trying to gain a realistic grasp of the people and the events that fall within the time frame that I hope to write about (which usually entails the romance relationship–how the couple met, fell in love, and ended up together).

Once I’ve scoured the biographies, I begin the next phase of my research which is to delve into the details regarding the time period and setting. Usually I try to focus on gaining a “feel” for the era. I try to understand the social and political climate. I familiarize myself with wars or other disruptions happening during the time. And then I round out my research by studying clothes, food, homes, life styles, etc.

The process is intense and takes me weeks before I’m finally ready to begin the actual writing process.

Katharina von Bora is a name that most people would never connect with Martin Luther. Why do you think it’s important that we uncover and shine a light on some of the forgotten female figures who helped shape the Church?

My goal is to give a voice to the forgotten women of the past. Since most of history has been written by men, unfortunately all too often the accounts neglect to include or minimizes the many women who played critically important roles in the shaping of history.

As a mother of five children and a wife to a husband in Christian ministry, I’ve had a firsthand learning experience of the incredible work load and responsibility that comes with raising a family, being a wife, managing a home, as well as helping do all of the things necessary to provide emotionally, physically, and financially for our family. As I go about this calling God’s given me at this stage in my life, I have a greater appreciation for the women of the past who also struggled through the same issues (but without all of the modern conveniences that I have!).

I believe modern women will benefit from hearing their stories, will be incredibly encouraged to see these women who persevered through discrimination and found the strength to use their God-given abilities to make a difference. Not only did they make a difference in their era, but today (decades and even centuries later) we can see the fruits of their bravery and strength. These women of the past have encouraged me to persevere and to use my skills and talents to make a difference in my time. No matter how big or small that difference might be, I want to be faithful to leave an impact, just as those women did

As you began to read and learn more about Katharina, what particularly captivated you about her?

I was particularly fascinated by the fact that Katharina had once been a nun. And as we know, nuns take a vow of celibacy.

I was curious to know why she’d become a nun in the first place. What led her to that decision? And then what made her later decide to forsake her vows? What was life like for her after escaping her convent knowing that if she was caught and recaptured, she could face persecution and even death for running away? What were her hopes and dreams for her life after she’d denied herself for so long? What was it like for her to interact with men when she’d never before had the opportunity?

All of those questions and more reverberated through my mind. And what I really wanted to know was how she’d ended up with Martin Luther. What brought this couple together? It was a forbidden love during a time of incredible turmoil. It was a love that was never-meant-to-happen. So how did it come about?

What was the biggest surprise in researching this story?

As I dug into the research, the thing that surprised me most was that Luther and Katharina didn’t experience “love at first sight.” In fact, they had no thought of marrying each other. Katharina was a woman of noble birth and Luther a man of peasant beginnings. They were in two different social classes, which doesn’t sound like a big deal to us today. But at that time, social class was extremely important.

After leaving the convent, Katharina expected to marry a nobleman. And even though Luther preached the goodness of marriage and encouraged other monks and nuns to leave their convents and get married, he had no intention of getting married himself.  So, the question begs answering, how did these two opposite people with opposing personalities and aspirations, end up together? You’ll have to read the book to discover the answer!

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