So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Abbatial Crosier

The Abbatial Crosier or Bonaik and Septimine. A Tale of a Medieval Abbess, by Eugène Sue

The Abbatial Crosier, set in the year 737 AD, is the 8th volume in a series called The Mysteries of the People; or History of a Proletarian Family Across the Ages that was written between 1849-1857. Eugene Sue created this series to be a European history that depicted the struggle between the ruling and the ruled classes. One family, the descendants of a Gallic chief named Joel, represent the oppressed and the descendants of a Frankish chief Neroweg, typify the oppressors. Down through the ages the successive struggles between oppressors and oppressed are depicted in a series of stories that culminate in the European Revolutions of 1848.

Considered classics of Marxist/Socialist thought, these books are mostly forgotten today, and the English-language editions published at the beginning of the 20th Century have only recently become available through large-scale digitization projects of Public Domain books. Daniel DeLeon, leader of the Socialist Labor Party of America and translator of this series into English, writes a Preface to each volume as an introduction.

The Abbatial Crosier is set in the year 719 when Germanic Franks under the leadership of Charles Martel (The Hammer) are driving back invading Moslems. The native Gauls are enslaved by both sides of the conflict. Sue quotes a female slave as saying "Sad days these are for us. We have only the choice of servitudes."

One young enslaved Gaul, having helped keep his master's weapons sharp, armor clean, and horse well-fed, takes them one day. Assuming a new name, he disguises himself as a free warrior. Fierce in battle, he wins his way into the heart of Charles Martel. He enjoys fighting other German tribes and Moslem invaders, but feels out of place, and fears he will be called upon to fight his own people. One day he must decide between the glory of working for the ruling class, or returning to his Gallic roots.

The turbulent epoch that rocked the cradle of the Carlovingian dynasty, the dynasty from which issued the colossal historic figure of Charlemagne, is the epoch of this touching story—the eighth of the series of Eugene Sue's historic novels known collectively under the title "The Mysteries of the People; or, History of a Proletarian Family Across the Ages." From the seething caldron of the valleys of the western Rhine, inundated by the Arabs from the south, the Frisians from the north, the Saxons from the west, and in which the chants of Moslems, of Christians and of barbarians mixed into the one common cry of desolating war, the feudal social system, previously introduced by Clovis, and now threatened to be engulfed, emerged from the chaos as a social institution. Many a characteristic of feudalism would be missed if this, a crucial period of its existence, is not properly apprehended. As in all the others of this series of Eugene Sue's stories, the information is imparted without the reader's knowledge. What may be termed the plot seizes and keeps the interest from start to finish, steadily enriching the mind with knowledge historically inestimable, besides connecting with the era described in the previous story— The Branding Needle; or, The Monastery of Charolles—and preparing the ground for the thrilling events that are the subject of the succeeding narrative —The Carlovingian Coins; or, The Daughters of Charlemagne.
DANIEL DE LEON. New York, 1904.


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