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A Literary Star(bridge)

by Gerry Lynch last modified 08 May, 2018 06:53 PM

Bishop and Acting Dean attend awards ceremony for famous chronicler of Salisbury, Susan Howatch

A Literary Star(bridge)

Photo credit: Meg Warner

A writer known for explaining the beauty and complexity of Anglican spirituality to millions has been given a special award.

Susan Howatch, author of the Starbridge series of novels, among others, fell in love with Salisbury as a younger woman and found a particularly deep connection with the Cathedral. Her fictional Diocese of Starbridge has many similarities with our own.

In a ceremony at King’s College London attended by both the Diocesan Bishop and the Acting Dean, Susan was presented by Bishop Bud Shand with the Dean’s Cross for Servant Leadership by Virginia Theological Ceremony, which had travelled across the Atlantic to make this, the highest honor it can give.

Bishop Nicholas said, “It was a privilege and joy that the current Bishop and Acting Dean of Starbridge were guests when Susan Howatch was honoured by Virginia Theological Seminary for the books so strongly influenced by her time in Salisbury. They exemplify so much of what is good, honest and true about the Church of England as well as what is frail and fallible.”

Canon Ed Probert, Acting Dean of Salisbury, added, “Susan Howatch’s life is itself a remarkable story: a very successful novelist whose quest for depth and meaning in life led her to faith in the company of Salisbury Cathedral.

“Her faith and her location in this Close changed the direction of her work, and she wrote a chain of novels touching on life, faith, and the Church of England, teased out in a cast of characters in a place strangely recognisable!

“Susan is a serious thinker, and has long used her art and her wealth which came from it in the service of others. I can think of no more appropriate title than servant leader, and am delighted that she has received this award.”

Susan’s own journey is rich and complex in its own right. After graduating in Law from King’s College London in 1961, she travelled to the United States where she married, had a daughter, and found success with her intricately detailed gothic novels.

Later, after a divorce, she returned to the UK and settled in Salisbury, where she says, she found herself “rich, successful, and living exactly where I wanted to live”, but feeling a spiritual emptiness which she ascribed to “trying to hold my divided self together” and questioning her life and what she should do with it. As a result, she became increasingly drawn to the Cathedral and an intense study of Christianity, especially in the Anglican tradition.

In the beautifully written Starbridge novels, readers encounter social commentary on both intellectual and social trends. Beginning in the 1930s with the Cambridge academic, the Rev. Dr. Charles Ashworth in “Glittering Images,” Howatch takes readers on a 31-year journey to a rather more tormented Charles Ashworth in “Absolute Truths,” set in the 1960s.

This series was followed by St. Benet’s trilogy, set in the 1980s and 1990s, and following her move to London. The St. Benet’s trilogy moves the younger generation of Starbridge characters into the heart of the booming post-Big Bang City of London to confront the idols of wealth and power -- and seek to bring wholeness and healing. These two series are a fictional journey into the complex real world of the human psyche and the spiritual realm.

Many of the novels focus on spiritual direction – the priest in conversation with a spiritual director – where the spirit and the psyche meet and where God enters the complexity of human life. A Howatch character is by nature flawed, yet all find grace. Brokenness is recognized, yet healing is found.

The citation for the award states: “In this respect her novels are models of the Gospel— Anglican parables which hold eternal truths.”

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