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Goshen Public Library and Historical Society

Across the Reference Desk

by Janet Hamill

February 23, 2000


A provocative new novel is on the shelves of current fiction at the Goshen Public Library and Historical Society. The Fan-Maker's Inquisition by Rikki Ducornet is at once a story about the Marquis de Sade, the French Revolution, and the Spanish Inquisition in the New World. On trial by the Comite de Surveillance de la Commune de Paris for immoral transgressions, Gabrielle the fan-maker, or La Verte, as de Sade calls her, referring to her olive complection, reveals her personal history through court transcripts and letters. It's 1794. De Sade is in the Bastille, and Robespierre presides over the government. Abolition of the Worship of God has been proclaimed, yet the Revolution embraces "sexual prudery with the same passion a necrophiliac embraces corpses." With language that erupts with poetic flourishes, Ducornet develops the collaboration between Gabrielle and the Marquis from his first purchase of an exquisite, sexually provocative fan, to their co-authoring of an inflammatory. The book accuses Bishop Landa, the infamous Spanish inquisitor, of hideous abuses against the native people of the Yucatan. Even for the church-hating members of the Paris commune, the book's contents are too horrendous. The Fan-Maker's Inquisition is a bold examination of truth, morality, and the human condition when pushed to extremes. In the world that Ducornet has created, the sexual atrocities that spill from de Sade's mind are no less hideous than Bishop Lana's atrocities, or the atrocities of the Reign of Terror.

On the shelves of current non-fiction at the library is a wonderful new work by the author of Longitude. Dava Sobel's Galileo's Daughter is a tour-de-force of human drama and scientific adventure. Inspired by a long fascination with Galileo, and the surviving letters of his daughter, a cloistered nun, Sobel has written a unique biography of the man whose clash with seventeenth-century Catholic doctrine continues to define the schism between church and state. Of Galileo's three illegitimate children, Suor Maria Celeste, born Virginia in 1600, shared his brilliance and sensibility and became his close confidant. Her loving support was a source of strength to him throughout his most productive years of invention and discovery, and his long, trying house arrest. Moving between Galileo's public life and Maria Celeste's sequestered world, Sobel brings to life the Florence of the Medicis and the papal court in Rome at a pivotal moment in history when humanity's perception on its place in the cosmos was being challenged by Galilieo's argument that the Earth moved around the sun.



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