Southern Christianity found its expression in both Protestant and Roman Catholic forms. Early Protestant settlers were less interested in proper worship and more interested in enjoying life. As time passed, and the lifestyles of men and women began to change, more southerners felt compelled to join parishes. This new desire for belonging resulted in Catholic communities like Bardstown, Kentucky and the abbey of Gethsemani, which stand as significant centers of Catholic influence in the South. Gethsemani is renowned for its talented Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. After struggling to find his true calling, he found God and became a transforming figure of Catholicism in the twentieth century. Merton spoke out against controversial issues in society. He also portrayed Catholic beliefs and the serene life of Trappist monks through his writing, which was influenced heavily by his Kentucky surroundings. Southern Christians were influenced by their surroundings, and southern Catholics in particular put down roots in Bardstown and Gethsemani. Thomas Merton was not fortunate enough to experience childhood or adolescence in either a southern or a Christian environment. Instead, he had to seek out this environment and leave the North in order to obtain it.
In contrast to Mertonís emigration to the South, Libba Bray is a product of the southern environment and was raised with the values of Southern Christianity. As the daughter of a Protestant minister in the south, Bray experienced the turbulence of adolescence in the midst of a Christian culture. Leaving the South behind, she headed north to New York City to pursue her dreams, but kept the southern values close to her heart and applied them to her novels. Set in the nineteenth century, Brayís protagonist, Gemma Doyle, is an adolescent trying to find her true self, while dealing with the disintegration of her family and her own emerging supernatural powers. Brayís novels embody the struggle to find oneself in an unforgiving society. The trilogy expresses how family, friends, and society can contribute to an individualís development. Gemma Doyle evolves into a young woman, destined for greatness in America, after struggling to escape the limitations of her nineteenth century English society.
Major Work Consulted:
Bray, Libba. A Great and Terrible Beauty. New York: Delacorte, 2003.
Photo Credit: Bray, Libba. Rebel Angels. New York: Delacorte, 2005.
---. Rebel Angels. New York: Delacorte, 2005.
Dolan, Jay P. The American Catholic Experience: a History from Colonial Times to the Present. New York: Doubleday, 1985.
Heyrman, Christine Leigh. Southern Cross; The Beginnings of the Bible Belt. Chapel Hill, U of North Carolina P, 1997.