I’ve always been intrigued by the saints–especially those from the USA. And having struggled through a fairly-tedious biography of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in the past, I welcomed the opportunity to read an advance copy of a new bio by Joan Barthel. Titled American Saint: The Life of Elizabeth Seton, this book reads more like historical fiction than a biography.
The material for this book was gathered from primary sources: letters by the saint herself. For me, that was the most fascinating thing about this book. I was left wanting to read more of her letters, which were heavily quoted in the book. Through her letters, we are given an account of her journey of faith, her struggle to survive after her husband’s death, and some of the minutiae of parenting, running a household, teaching a school and leading a new religious community.
I was not aware of the extent to which Catholics were persecuted in post-Revolutionary America, and the author of this book gives a thorough treatment of the anti-Catholic social climate of Seton’s time.
This book is, however, not without its own bias. I did not expect that a biography would be so overtly flavored by the author’s political agenda, but the introduction of the book mentions nothing of its subject until the last sentence of a 3-page defense of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. I’d have preferred a more-objective treatment of Seton’s life, rather than the editorializing about women’s roles and aspirations that was intermingled with the story. I am not convinced that Seton spoke, thought or acted as she did as part of any feminist agenda, but simply because she was trying to be the best wife, mother, teacher, leader and Catholic she could be.
I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher, and no other compensation, for my honest opinion presented in this review.
4 thoughts on “Book Review: American Saint”
Bummer about the ideologizing! I, too, would like to read about her life.
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I totally agree about the bias! And Amen to this — “I am not convinced that Seton spoke, thought or acted as she did as part of any feminist agenda, but simply because she was trying to be the best wife, mother, teacher, leader and Catholic she could be.” I reviewed the book, too, and looked around for an alternative, recent biography from a Catholic publisher. Believe it or not, I couldn’t find one!
I agree with your comment about the author’s editorializing. I hate it whenever an author does this. And, although I haven’t read this book yet, I agree that Elizabeth Seton had no feminist agenda.