Friday, February 28, 2014

Part III: Exploring "The End of the Affair" and "A Severe Mercy"

Terry, Efrat and Susan continue their discussion of two books that were prominently featured in Sylvain Reynard's "Gabriel's Inferno" and "Gabriel's Rapture." Part III in this series focuses on "A Severe Mercy" by Sheldon Vanauken.

PART III – A Severe Mercy

Terry: How do you think A Severe Mercy relates to the Gabriel series?

Efrat: These two novels are very different in their writing style. The End of the Affair is fiction (although based on real people) while A Severe Mercy is a true autobiography, and a heartbreaking one. So I think readers would enjoy reading both, for diversity’s sakes.

In A Severe Mercy, the idea of earthly love takes center stage in its first part, as it emphasizes Sheldon and Davy (his wife) Vanauken’s very deep love and worship for one another. Yet, both take a journey that ends in a belief in and recognition of God as the most important form of love. Later on, this gained faith helps Vanauken in coping with the loss of Davy, although he still struggles in remembering her in life form.

The main similarity I saw with the Gabriel series is the worship of a human – a pagan love – that is very evident in Gabriel and Julia’s relationship. Both couples made idols of each other, and had to go through a tragedy to see things differently, or more clearly.

This book emphasizes loss and separation more than anything, but it is for a reason – realizing one’s spirituality. I thought it was clever that both the Vanaukens, and Gabriel and Julia, discuss loss right before they experience it. In A Severe Mercy the Vanaukens say “Love must always be lost in someway to achieve a stronger state: death and rebirth”; sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Sheldon Vanauken had to lose his wife Davy to realize the power of belief in God, Maurice had to lose Sarah to realize God’s existence (in The End of the Affair) and Gabriel and Julia had to lose each other, but came out the other side more spiritual, and less ‘pagan’.

Terry: To be honest, I had some issues with this book. First, I couldn’t quite identify with Davy and Sheldon. I loved the relatively short time I lived the academic life, but I don’t know any academic who can pick up and spend a few years on a schooner, or spend two years in Oxford. I realize the lifestyle was different in the 1950s and far less chaotic, but this just didn’t resonate with me. Secondly, while I recognize that this book would be considered an essential in the Catholic genre (or High Episcopalian, in this case) as a non-Christian, I felt like if I met C.S. Lewis today, he’d try to convert me. I didn’t sense respect for other faith traditions.

Additionally, I had some real discomfort with all the “perfection” of these characters. No one is perfect, and no one has all the answers. The kind of love shared by Sheldon and Davy Vanauken – where they are so high on pedestals that the air becomes thin – I have real issues with that. I realize that the entire purpose of the book was to enlighten readers to the uselessness of that kind of love, but while I was reading it, I found myself questioning all the perfection they see in one another. Maybe I’m just too cynical? My academic training was in the Catholic tradition, so perhaps I’m just more comfortable with a more spiritual aspect.

Efrat: It doesn’t apply only to academics, Terry – most people can’t just leave everything for a couple years at such a young age… But I felt the same about the religious aspect – that it was very ‘Christian’ but less so spiritual, which is what I did find in Greene, despite that The End of the Affair is considered one of his ‘Catholic’ novels.

Susan: I had the same problem with A Severe Mercy. I couldn’t relate at all to Sheldon and his wife Davy, who seemed to live a carefree and charmed life. As I read further, though, I realized that was part of Vanauken’s point. They had a wonderful life and an incredibly strong devotion to each other, to the point where they decided not to have children because they believed that a family would interfere with the intimacy of their own relationship. (I had a lot of thoughts about that too, but that’s another post!) Once Davy became sick and it was clear she wouldn’t get better, Sheldon saw that their previous lifestyle was truly pagan. He resented her belief in God and worried that it would come between them, but ultimately, he saw the wisdom of her choice.

I think that’s a warning of sorts that ties into Gabriel and Julia’s relationship. They’d created idols of each other when they first met while younger. The fact that Gabriel thought Julia was a hallucination is interesting, because only fantasy is perfect. (I sometimes thought that Gabriel’s impatience with her when she wouldn’t listen to him, or refused to take direction from him, was his own reluctance to admit that she wasn’t the perfect Beatrice he’d envisioned.) And Julia had to reconcile the arrogant, difficult Gabriel who was her professor with the sweet Gabriel who’d taken her into the woods and kissed her.

Thank you for reading! We welcome all comments and thoughts.

The fourth and final part of this series will post on Monday, March 3.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Part II: Exploring "The End of the Affair" and "A Severe Mercy"

Terry, Efrat, and Susan continue their discussion of two novels that were featured prominently in Sylvain Reynard's Gabriel series, particularly "Gabriel's Inferno" and "Gabriel's Rapture." The focus of this post is Graham Greene's "The End of the Affair."

PART II – The End of the Affair

Susan: Let’s dig into “The End of the Affair”. Why do you think SR’s readers should read it in relation to The Gabriel Series?

Terry: The way I see it, the basic question of The End of the Affair is this: how can you hate something that you say doesn’t exist? That’s the core question. Maurice says he doesn’t believe in God, yet he hates God and blames God for losing Sarah. It’s a love story about finding faith—very metaphysical in its own way.

Efrat: That’s a paradox, Terry. The nature of paradoxes is confusing because you can't reach any definite conclusion; there is none in a paradox. This is another reason why this book is so intriguing, and perhaps why SR wanted us to read it – to provoke some thought to this very question.

I found myself thinking about finding faith, God, and spirituality in general quite a bit following my read; partly because Maurice begins as a self-admitted non-believer, but ends up acknowledging God's existence (yet not loving Him).
To get there, Maurice had to realize that his opponent for Sarah’s love is God. God is not a typical love interest, so this was an interesting and unexpected plot twist in this love story, and a pivotal point in Maurice’s journey to realize God’s existence.

Ultimately this book is about finding faith. Every person will have his or her own interpretation of faith and the divine being that brings him/her spiritual joy, and I think every one of us has a pivotal moment that changes a life’s perception so profoundly, for better or worse. In Maurice’s case, it’s not clear if he does end up for the better, but Greene leaves that to the reader’s imagination and thought.

Susan: I can see where SR was intrigued that Maurice had to fight God for Sarah.
How do you fight against something you can't see or feel - something you don't even believe in? It's not completely analogous to Gabriel's situation. I agree that SR may simply be using The End of The Affair to show yet another difficult road to faith or belief, and that's similar to Gabriel. He'd had grace in his life before with his family (and I think the use of the name Grace is not at all a coincidence), but he threw it away for earthly vices. It wasn’t until he was reunited with Beatrice and she bestowed her grace on him that he found his way.

Terry: I found Maurice a very complex character--where I liked him and felt sorry for him in some chapters, and really disliked him in others. But, I think like every work of literature or art that SR includes in his stories, there is a subtext, or some hidden gem that adds to the story of Gabriel and Julia. I think we women (and perhaps men as well) like to believe that when we find a deep love, it’s going to be forever. We get angry and disillusioned if it turns out to be temporary, like it was for Maurice and Sarah. But nothing is promised to us, and maybe we need to learn to enjoy what we have while we have it. Life takes many hidden and unexpected turns.

And let’s not forget that Sarah was married to someone else, so I’m not so sure that Maurice was correct when he makes God the villain. In many ways, all three characters took the easy way out. That is, of course, until Sarah becomes terminally ill and they come together to care for her. The point is that God, or the fates, never meant Sarah and Maurice to share a life together. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Efrat: I agree with what you say, Terry, about becoming disillusioned following disappointment. Another thing I found interesting in The End of The Affair is that Maurice starts the novel as a diary of hate when it is really about love. It is human nature to quickly switch between these two contradicting emotions, especially when there's betrayal involved. In Gabriel’s Inferno, notice how fast Julia passed between the two when she snapped in Gabriel's apartment (from love to hate), and Gabriel passed the other way (from hate to love) when he realized who she really was. And between you and me – don’t we all move between opposite emotions in day-to-day lives? My kids do it all the time…(sigh)

Susan: Maurice’s love for Sarah evoked many emotions he wasn’t used to having. I think that, too, is similar to Gabriel. Maurice was rightfully afraid that Sarah’s newfound faith would come between them even more than her husband could. I think Gabriel viewed that as a cautionary tale, and understood that there were lessons that he and Julia could take away from The End of the Affair.

Efrat: True, and I think that culminates when Julia and Gabriel discuss the novels together, and begin to reach similar conclusions – that their love is human and not angelic, flawless or bulletproof.

One last point on why one should read this book (and not in relation to SR’s work) – I found the novel’s narrative to be very interesting. It moves between times throughout the book, which adds an additional dimension to it and acts as an agent that provokes the reader’s thought and interest. This is definitely not my last Graham Greene’s read 

Efrat: What do you think the similarities are between GI/GR and The End of the Affair?

Susan: The biggest similarity I see between Maurice and Gabriel is that they are both filled with self-loathing. We don't get much idea of why Maurice hates himself so much - at least, I wasn't able to discern that, although perhaps it has something to do with his inability to truly connect with people. And like Gabriel, he disdains others whom he thinks are inferior to him. That hubris is punished in both men when they lose what they love the most (Sarah and Julia), though of course it works out better for Gabriel.

Efrat: Good point, Susan. But do you think it is self-loathing, or just loneliness? Gabriel was lonely. He admitted it, and Julia emphasized it later on a couple times. I would argue that both Maurice and Gabriel were vain in their relationships with people, and vanity is a deadly sin for which they’ve both paid dearly.

Susan: I do think it is self-loathing. Gabriel thought he was beyond redemption for the sins of his previous life. He didn’t think he was worthy of the love he clearly craved until he found Julia. I also think Maurice and Gabriel have major control issues, and to a large extent, faith is giving up control.

Or maybe Maurice just needs a purple towel...

Terry: Oh, I agree with Susan. I think both Gabriel and Maurice were both lonely and filled with self-loathing. Maurice is not very likable through most of the book, and Gabriel certainly has his nasty moments, too.

Efrat: I’m still not over the purple towel comment… *laughing!*

Seriously now – control is also a theme that occurs in GI/GR and I think this is one of the reasons why SR underscored this book so much, and why he wanted us to read it. Because your own sense of control is *always* false - there will always be bigger and greater things that you cannot control. Gabriel realizes this the hard way in Rapture when his well-thought-out plans crumble, simply because he wasn’t as omniscient as he thought he was, and couldn’t control all the variables.

In The End of The Affair, Maurice realizes that this greater force is God, whether he liked Him or not. In GI/GR, Gabriel realizes it is Love, and later on recognizes faith as a healing agent when he has a spiritual awakening in Assisi. Notice that Maurice's and Gabriel's stories end differently - Maurice ends up resenting God (although believing He exists) while Gabriel ends up more faithful.

Or, perhaps like Terry said before – it’s fate; because accepting your fate requires relinquishing your control, or sense of control.

Terry: I think this is where you and I disagree, ladies. I’ve always viewed Gabriel as very faithful and certainly a believer. He says so several times. He constructs himself as a sinner, and to believe in sin means to believe in its antithesis, which is God. What I find so endearing about him is that he is so fascinated with Julia’s unquestioning belief. He’s world-weary and looking for answers; she sees the good always (sometimes to her detriment.) Gabriel is already a believer, so he’s not a parallel to Maurice, in my opinion.

Thank you again for reading! We welcome your comments.

Part III will be posted on Friday, Feb. 28.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Exploring "The End of the Affair" and "A Severe Mercy"

Introduction from Terry (@terrythenurse):

Works of art and literature hold a prominent place in Sylvain Reynard’s “Gabriel” series. In previous blog posts, I have discussed several of the literary and visual art masterpieces that SR uses to enhance his tale of love, sin and redemption, and I hope you enjoyed learning about their subtle correlations to the complex story of Gabriel and Julia.

In this post we’re going to do something different. A short time ago, Susan (aka Mango, or @SerendipitousMC), Efrat (@efratnoy) and myself found ourselves discussing SR’s use of The End of the Affair (Graham Greene) and A Severe Mercy (Sheldon Vanauken) in Gabriel’s Inferno and Gabriel’s Rapture. Both Greene’s and Vanauken’s books deal directly with loss, a questioning of the existence of God or a higher power, and the difficult road to “accept the things we cannot change.” (St. Francis)

Our discussion was varied and wide-ranging, and took place shortly before the publication of Gabriel’s Redemption, the third book in the series. We hope you find it both interesting and evocative. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this as well!

Before we start our discussion, I’ve included a short Goodreads summary of each of the books in the event our readers have not read them:

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

The love affair between Maurice Bendrix and Sarah, flourishing in the turbulent times of the London Blitz, ends when she suddenly and without explanation breaks it off. Two years later, after a chance meeting, Bendrix hires a private detective to follow Sarah, and slowly his love for her turns into an obsession.

Efrat: *whispers* (Parenthetically, it should be noted that there are two movie renditions of this novel; the most recent one with Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore:)

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken, C.S. Lewis (Contributor)

Beloved, profoundly moving account of the author's marriage, the couple's search for faith and friendship with C. S. Lewis, and a spiritual strength that sustained Vanauken after his wife's untimely death.

PART I – The Significance of the Books to Gabriel’s Inferno and Gabriel’s Rapture

Susan: Why do you think SR referenced The End of The Affair and A Severe Mercy in the first two of his novels?

Efrat: Both The End of The Affair and A Severe Mercy are books about loss, sacrifice and finding God.

In this post we discussed parallels to characters and similar messages between SR’s novels and both books, which are all intriguing (and IMHO – brilliant), but in the context of the novels’ storyline, I believe The End of the Affair serves as the seed of spirituality that was planted for Gabriel to begin his journey of finding faith and spirituality himself, which culminates in Gabriel’s Rapture.

Julia’s reading of A Severe Mercy gave her a glimpse of what could result in a pagan love (which was new to her at the time), as well the idea of sacrifice as a means to getting to a better state of affairs – something she ultimately had to accept and experience herself.

Terry: I think that *in general* both are about finding one’s faith, and that it is (usually) a painful journey due to the sacrifices and self-insight that come with it. As I mentioned earlier, I think SR used it in his novels because he is faithful and prayerful, and he wanted us to think about welcoming God in our own lives. To me, SR is and will always be a teacher (I hesitate to use the word “professor” because I don’t want to confuse him with Gabriel). Using the books to both entertain and to teach his readers is brilliant. In addition, I agree with Efrat here. I think both books set the stage for Gabriel’s spiritual growth. And, obviously, it opens a different discussion about our own spiritual lives, and if/how they compare or are even nourished by reading them.

I find Julia an interesting character because she has always felt that she was not worthy of love, yet Gabriel actually worships her. How she deals with it (and even questions it) shows her developing emotional maturity. Gabriel, on the other hand, seemed to go from one extreme to the other, as you both point out. Perhaps he worships her because she accepts him so totally, even with his obvious flaws and egoism. But, I sense that this insistence to worship her is about to get him into trouble. It’s just not realistic to view someone that extremely.

Susan: I think you both said it beautifully. I agree with your thoughts on this. I would only add that Gabriel was also attracted to Julia’s goodness and selflessness. There were few enough people in his life with those qualities, and it almost seemed to reaffirm his belief that anyone could possess them.

Efrat: What is the overall message we are to find reading these two novels in parallel and in connection?

Terry: I totally agree that SR’s message is that there is a place for human love (chaste or not) and a place for love of God. But love of God has to come first as no human love can meet all one’s needs as love of God can –not that we’re necessarily conscience of it, but that we do acts of mercy and charity and try to live God’s directives as best we can. I think that is what it means to love God-- to follow his teachings in both the old and new Testaments.

Susan: SR makes a point of noting that love of God should come before pagan worship, such as love of another or love of earthly goods. And it seems that Gabriel and Julia are punished later for their relationship, once the University gets wind of it. It could be SR's way of saying that God will show you the error of your ways when you worship a false god.

But God can be merciful. All the couples we discussed here had a painful journey, but ultimately they came out stronger for it, if only because they were deeply affected by what they learned. Julia and Gabriel were either wise or lucky enough to acknowledge what they did wrong before they lost each other for good.

Efrat: I think SR wanted us to realize that worshiping and loving earthly things is always easy (for example, a high paying job or promotion, a fancy car, an attractive partner… the list goes on, and frankly, never ends). It’s human nature to wish for material things and to always want more of that (as Madonna said best in ‘Material Girl’, and ironically made a fortune from ).

But, understanding who you are as an individual, finding a meaning to your life from within, accepting what cannot be changed, having the willingness and dignity to sacrifice when needed and finding joy in the little things that are God and are everywhere, is always more difficult. It’s a lengthier process but is a journey that is much more profound and a whole lot more rewarding.

Terry: Susan and Efrat, what enticed you to read both books?

Efrat: As opposed to other pieces of literature mentioned, both A Severe Mercy and The End of The Affair carried a different form of mention which stood out and signaled to me that there was something special in them, and therefore worth reading.

Notice a few things - one, both books are mentioned quite a bit and more than any other work of art. Two, they both take an active role in the storyline - rather than serving as a backdrop to illuminate a scene, the protagonists are actively reading these books, commenting on them, and discussing them with each other and even finding analogies with respect to their own situation.

As opposed to other works of literature, which are discussed as having been read in the past tense, Gabriel takes a journey with The End of The Affair in the present, and it plays an active part of the storyline along with Julia’s reading of A Severe Mercy.

Lastly, A Severe Mercy is Grace’s favorite book. Grace is a special character as she’s not present though she is very active in Gabriel’s and Julia’s journey, and has had a profound effect on them both. If such an important and cultured character had a favorite book, it must carry much importance, and is likely a very good read. All this tells the readers that they’re both important pieces of literature that are worth reading; on their own or in relation to SR’s novels.

To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with Graham Greene or Sheldon Vanauken before, but took the Professor’s, Julia’s and Grace’s word that they’d be good reads 

Terry: I have always enjoyed the Catholic literature genre, and, like you, Efrat, I was intrigued that SR chose these particular books to have such an impact on Gabriel (as opposed to a book like Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, for example). There were so many hints in Inferno and Rapture that these would be good reads, so I was drawn to them. In a way, the books are minor characters. That being said, in order for it to have meaning as a character, it would need to be read and understood.

Susan: Part of the joy of reading SR’s work is that you can always find something new to explore – art, literature, language, food, Scotch. I’d always meant to read Graham Greene, and this was as good an incentive as any. And as you both said, the fact that it was prominently mentioned is intriguing. I thought it might give me even greater insight into Gabriel‘s story, particularly once Julia becomes a part of it.

I had similar feelings about A Severe Mercy. I was curious to read the Vanaukens’ story and to see how it might parallel the journey of Gabriel and Julia.

Part II, where we discuss The End of the Affair, will be posted on Wednesday.

Thanks for reading! We welcome all comments.

Friday, February 14, 2014

On Valentine's Day, the Argyle Empire moderators have a special message for Sylvain Reynard. Without SR, Empire wouldn't exist...

From Jenn:

Happy Valentine's Day, SR...

My world is a much better place with you as a part of it.

Thank you for sharing your storytelling talent as well as your kind heart.

Miss Cranberry

From Elli:

Dearest Sly Woodland Fox, big brother and Oh Captain my Captain...

SR, thank you for writing such beautiful words that touch my heart, make me think, and introduce me to new characters, places, music, art and literature. Thank you for my friends and sisters around the world that are touched just as much by your writing. Thank you for telling me stories that I cherish while Opa is still telling stories in heaven. Thank you for your kind, charitable, and humble heart. You make me want to be a better person. ;-)

I look forward to continuing this journey with you!

From Susan:

Dearest SR,

Happy Valentine's Day, and may all the love and sentiment of this special celebration be yours every day! Thank you for sharing your extraordinary talent with us. Thank you for always reminding us of what's important: the virtues of charity and love, especially to those who need it the most but often seem to deserve it least. Thank you for your humor and for your wonderful lessons in all the humanities. And thank you for friendship-yours, and the amazing people you've brought into my life through your writing.

With love and hugs,


From Cuppy:

Dear SR,

Thank you for sharing your world of writing and love for Dante, love, and redemption with all of us. Thank you for giving Richard Clark an opportunity to share his thoughts on celebration of love via Valentine’s Festivus. Like he said, some of us are single, or single again. :-) Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day with your loved ones!



Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Charity Spotlight: American Heart Association / Go Red For Women

American Heart Association - Go Red For Women
Mission Statement: Go Red For Women encourages awareness of the issue of women and heart disease, and also action to save more lives. The movement harnesses the energy, passion and power women have to band together and collectively wipe out heart disease. It challenges them to know their risk for heart disease and take action to reduce their personal risk. It also gives them the tools they need to lead a heart healthy life.
Twitter: @GoRedForWomen
Heart disease is rampant on my mother's side of my family.
My great-grandmother died from it at a relatively young age.
My grandmother lived into her early eighties, but suffered multiple heart attacks. Eventually her heart gave out on her.
My mother has suffered from high blood pressure since her forties.
This year I turned forty, and by coincidence things became hectic in my life.  I received a promotion at my job and my workload (although rewarding) provided new challenges. Both of my parents are now in various stages of decline and since they're divorced (and I have no siblings), I find myself having to run back and forth between the two of them, depending on who needs me more.  Beyond this, my seventeen year old son is engaged in his own health battles, having been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2011.  As a woman with a full-time career and a family to look after, it was no surprise when I noticed my level of stress was on the uptick.
Last spring, I experienced a medical issue that resulted in a visit to the doctor. During that visit, it became apparent that my blood pressure was running a bit higher than normal. But my doctor wanted to give me a little time to see if my short term medical issue was the culprit for that.
It wasn't.  Over the course of several weeks, I noticed ongoing symptoms of hypertension, including mild headaches and jaw pain. Plus, it became apparent that once my stress level hit a certain high, I found it quite difficult to bring it back down. I would get worked up over something and then found it impossible to relax or shrug it off.
Keeping my family's history of heart disease in mind, I saw my doctor again and we decided to take treatment to the next level.  I had blood work drawn and I monitored my blood pressure three times a day for several weeks.  When I met with my doctor to go over all the results, we determined that my blood pressure readings tended to skew toward the higher end of normal and I learned that my cholesterol was slightly elevated. It all means that I'm not hypertensive yet, but there are indications I'm headed that way.
Whether or not this is due to genetics or lifestyle is what we have to figure out next. So this meant that I needed to commit to some changes in my lifestyle.  I've been focusing more on my diet and making sure I take time each day for some light exercise.  I joined Weight Watchers in October and I'm making headway, having lost nearly twenty pounds in the past four months.  In Weight Watchers, we celebrate certain milestones and for good reason.  Just by losing 5%-10% of your total body weight, your health can be positively impacted. Just this amount of weight loss "can reverse or prevent diabetes; lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels; and improve sleep apnea and other sleep problems." It can also bring about positive changes in your mental outlook. Many people notice a reduction in depression symptoms and experience increased energy.
Chances are, one or more women in your own family has suffered from heart disease. And these are the facts:
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women.

Heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined, but is often undiagnosed.

Cardiovascular disease kills more women than men.

Heart disease affects women of all ethnicities.

February is National Heart Awareness month in the United States. Eleven years ago, the American Heart Association launched it's Go Red For Women campaign with the goal of raising awareness about women and heart disease.  Women are asked to commit to a healthier lifestyle and to wear the color red to signify a united front in the ongoing battle against this silent killer.  Much progress has been made spreading the word about heart disease over the past decade, but the truth remains that nearly 1,100 women die from heart disease each day.

Women who are involved with the Go Red movement live healthier lives.

Nearly 90%have made at least one healthy behavior change.

More than one-third has lost weight.

More than 50% have increased their exercise.

6 out of 10 have changed their diets.

More than 40% have checked their cholesterol levels.

One third has talked with their doctors about developing heart health plans.

When you join Go Red and share your story today, more lives will be saved tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Argyle Empire's Interview with SR –January 2014

Welcome Everyone! We are happy to present this interview with SR as The Gabriel Trilogy ends and The Florentine Series begins. The interview questions were submitted by moderators of Argyle Empire and the SRFans Twitter accounts from around the world. We forwarded the questions to SR, who graciously responded.


Argyle Empire: Has the Dante Society of America or any other academic institution approached you or commented on the content of the lectures given in the Gabriel Series? If so, what did they think of them?

SR: Hello Argyle Empire. I want to thank each of you for your continued support. It’s much appreciated.

No, I haven’t heard from the Dante Society. But I think the local government of Florence is happy with the increased travel because of my books.

Argyle Empire: If Julia could tell your readers anything once they've finished all the books, what would she say?

SR: I think she would say that her journey began with compassion and care. She had compassion on Gabriel the first time she met him, and then later, she chose to forgive him when she could have written him off or held a grudge. I think her life is a testament to what can happen when you forgive others.

Argyle Empire: Was there anything you had to leave out – a scene or character musings – in the Gabriel series that would’ve been fun to write, but just wouldn’t fit?

SR: I enjoy writing Katherine Picton. Anything involving her would have been great. But I also enjoy writing Gabriel when he’s fighting with someone. I think an extended exchange between he and Pacciani at a Dante conference would have been most entertaining.

Argyle Empire: You've created a strong character in Gabriel. He's a hard act to follow up (even though he'll be guesting in The Raven). Do you have concerns that subsequent main male characters may not have the same “wow” factor?

SR: I’m hopeful that if current and new readers give “The Raven” a chance, they’ll like the characters. Certainly, The Prince of Florence has much to recommend him …

Argyle Empire: Prior to the release of Gabriel’s Redemption, it was noted by some that Julia never seems to drive herself anywhere. We know Paul brought this very thing up to Julia in the third book and that they discussed the matter, but we’re curious if this was a character trait deliberately chosen for Julia (and, if so, why)? Or is it that it just never really worked out for Julia to drive herself anywhere?

SR: Julia’s poverty was such that she couldn’t afford a car. She lived without one in Selinsgrove and Philadelphia. And in downtown Toronto she didn’t need one as she could walk to the university. The first time we see her having a car of her own is in “Gabriel’s Redemption,” and she explains what happened next …

Argyle Empire: Would there be a spin-off/novella/special outtake for the other characters such as Rachel, in the future?

SR: A lot of readers have been asking about this, which both surprised and pleased me. I like Rachel and Aaron and would be interested in exploring their story. I’m glad that readers would like to see more of them.

Argyle Empire: We know that the Gabriel Series literary centerpiece was Dante's work. What can you tell us about The Raven? Are you building it around a different masterpiece?

SR: There are a couple of sources in the background for “The Raven,” including the work of Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare’s “Othello.” Botticelli’s “Primavera” will also play an important role.

Argyle Empire: Why did you pick "Raven" for the title of your next novel?

SR: I’m afraid I can’t answer that at the moment, but the title has more than one meaning, which will become clear later.

Argyle Empire: What made you tap into the paranormal world?

SR: The Gabriel Series Trilogy pursues themes of forgiveness, hope, and redemption. In “The Raven,” the primary themes are justice and mercy. Of course, like all my writing, hope and redemption will also be present, but I wanted to pursue darker themes and it was necessary to do that in an underworld.

Argyle Empire: Your novels so far, (as well as The Raven) have a great deal of action occurring in Florence. Do you have any other locations in mind for future novels?

SR: France and Spain come readily to mind. I’ve always been fond of Paris and Barcelona.

Argyle Empire: When you start writing a book, do you already know how the story ends?

SR: Yes. I think this is essential – you need to have a goal in mind.

Argyle Empire: Your novels have large doses of sensuality and eroticism, but also a strong moral and religious component. Have you been criticized for using both aspects?

SR: Yes. I’m chuckling as I write this because writers receive criticism for a whole host of things, some of which is completely unrelated to writing. 

If there were a line in the sand I would draw, it would be this one. Our culture wants to chop human beings up into two parts – body and soul - and treat those parts as if they have nothing to do with one another. Consequently, people want eroticism without spirituality or spiritually without eroticism.

I reject these alternatives in favour of a holistic view of a human being, such that body and soul are integrated and inseparable. So sexuality and spiritually go together in my writing because I think they go together in human beings. The sacrament of marriage is one example of this. The transcendent ecstasy of an orgasm is another.

I’ve written about this here:

And here:

I should mention that if you listen to the music of Mumford and Sons, you’ll encounter songs that embrace both eroticism and spirituality. Certainly, if you read the novels of Graham Greene he includes both. And Dante’s love of Beatrice is inextricably linked to his love of God. Recall that she’s the one who worries about the state of his soul when he approaches middle age, and she begs Virgil to guide Dante through Hell.

So in summary, this is what I write and I’m not likely to change.

Mumford & Sons - Below My Feet

Argyle Empire: Do the literary and art references incorporated fit in after you imagine the scene/dialogue or do you write a scene or dialogue to talk about them?

SR: Both, but it depends on the scene. Sometimes a scene lends itself to an artistic reference from the outside and on other occasions, the reference comes to me after the first draft.

Argyle Empire: What subject would you *not* choose to write about for a novel?

SR: Actuarial science and taxation are subjects I’d avoid.

Argyle Empire: As music is an integral element of the Gabriel novels, we’re wondering whether you're a musician yourself? If so, which instruments do you play?

SR: I’ve been known to play an instrument on occasion, but I’d rather not toot my own horn.

Argyle Empire: If you could entertain one author that has influenced you or your writing for dinner, and pick his/her brain - who would that be, and why?

SR: Dante and Virgil would be excellent dining companions, but no dinner would be complete without Beatrice.


All our thanks to Sylvain Reynard for agreeing to the interview and, as always, for giving such thoughtful responses. Thanks also to the other moderators who submitted questions. We hope you enjoyed it!

~Cranberry, Mango, Iris and Coco
Argyle Empire

SR like's Christopher Walken's Cow Bell, so how about his Poe? ;-)

Edgar Allan Poe: The Raven (Narrated by Christopher Walken)

Link to The Florentine Series by Sylvain Reynard Pinterest Board

Link to Songs in or inspired by The Florentine Series by Sylvain Reynard Youtube Playlist

Translations of Interview:




Portuguese Brazil:




Monday, February 3, 2014

Join us 2-5-2014 for an Exclusive Interview with SR!

Don't miss this Wednesday for our interview with Sylvain Reynard!
The sisters from The Argyle Empire along with our sisters from the SR Fan Sites around the world came up with the questions for SR as The Gabriel Series trilogy concludes and The Raven Wood Series trilogy awaits us.

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