Magdalene.org Book Review
by Minerva Waters
Magdalene, by Carolyn Slaughter (M. Evans and Company, Inc., 1978)
This novel is narrated from the viewpoint of Mary Magdalene,
who details the trials and sorrows of her life's story which
have driven her slightly mad. She begins with her earliest
childhood memories as the daughter of a merchant whose mother
is ill. After her mother's death, one of her brothers prevails
upon their father to have her share his lessons with his tutor.
The tutor is impressed with Mary's quick intelligence and little
by little warms to her as she grows and matures.
When she turns fourteen, her father bethrothes her (without her
consent) to his devious partner in the business. She tells her
tutor of this, and they immediately plan to elope to his parents'
home where they are married the next day. It is then decided that
it is best for them to move away for a time, but in a short while
the tutor becomes convinced he has ruined her life and determines
to join a group of Essenes. He arranges for her to tutor the
children of his friend in the next village, but instructs her to
tell no one that she has been married.
In due time, all the members of that household come to love her but
the 'mother,' who never quite trusts Mary as an outsider in their
village. Mary marries one of the sons, but the mother tells tales
about her that eventually sets the whole village against her. After
the death of Mary's husband, the mother leads the village to burn
and loot Mary's home. She escapes with only her son and a servant,
but finds a haven with some distant relatives.
He son never quite recovers from this and soon dies, so Mary is
placed as an instructor in a girl's finishing school, which soon
closes due to plague. Mary and her servant are taken in by a wealthy
man who lets her do as she would. She takes to wandering about the
town, where she meets Jesus and becomes his closest follower and
his truest love.
This is an intense tale, interspersing Mary's sorrow with the joy
and love she found in Jesus. I especially enjoyed that the author
did not follow the convention of Mary being a harlot, and makes a
special note in the preface that there is no evidence that Mary is
the unnamed whore mentioned in the gospel of Luke.
This novel is told from the viewpoint of Mary Magdalene, the
daydreaming sister of Martha and Lazarus. Martha, the practical
one, is their mother's favourite who happily attends to the daily
household chores. Lazarus, though he yearns to be a scholar,
takes his place as the heir to their father's career as a merchant
and trader. Mary, in contrast, prefers to spend her time
daydreaming about roaming the nearby hills and valleys to escape
the noise and bustle of the household.
After a plague takes the lives of both their parents and Martha's
bethrothed, it is determined that the two girls must marry as soon
as may be to permit their brother to leave off his despised career
and go study in Jerusalem. Mary is to be sent to her uncle's, where
she will remain until her bethrothal to one of his neighbors. However,
in the intervening time, she spends her time exploring the area, and
is raped by a Roman and becomes pregnant. Before she can tell Martha,
she is bustled off to her uncle's, but escapes the group she is
travelling with. She seeks refuge in the home of a Samaritan woman in
exchange for a period of service with the woman after the baby is
born. Unfortunately, the child is stillborn, and Mary is slow to
In time she finally heals and discovers that the woman runs a brothel.
She expects Mary to work there, which she does reluctantly. Since she
does not attract many clients, the woman casts Mary forth from the
brothel. Mary then goes to Bethany to her uncle's house, only to find
that both her siblings have had ill fortune and are living on their
uncle's charity. Neither has married because rumours about Mary have
abounded and brought down their status as prospective mates.
Soon after her arrival, Mary hears that her childhood friend Josue
has been preaching against the orthodoxy and has gotten in trouble
with the Roman. He is soon arrested and executed, the execution being
witnessed by Mary, Josue's mother, and several other women. After
the Sabbath has passed, the women go to anoint the body only to
find it missing. Josue appears to Mary while she sits weeping and
tells her to take the other women and tell everyone what has happened.
They began to organize the first Christian communities immediately
I felt that the novel's being told from a first-person viewpoint
made for a wonderful sense of immediacy. It seems almost as though
the reader is actually there to witness these events.