In 1891, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, daughter of the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, was received into the Catholic Church. She was forty years old. Within a few years of her conversion she conceived a heroic ministry to destitute cancer patients at a time when cancer was believed to be contagious. She studied nursing and took rooms in a tenement in New York City, rooms she shared with her dying clients. In time, she founded a religious congregation that today is called the Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer. The cause for her canonization is underway.
There is a shadow, however, in Rose’s story: the fact that she eventually separated from the husband who converted to Catholicism alongside her. Ever since Theodore Maynard published a biography of Rose in 1948, alcohol has been blamed for the separation. Some biographers have gone further than Maynard, portraying George Lathrop not only as unstable and alcoholic but also as physically abusive to Rose. George has been variously blamed for Rose’s sister Una’s nervous collapse at the time of Rose’s marriage, for recurring feuds in the Hawthorne family, for fiscal mismanagement, and for the ruin of his own “once promising career.” In 2014, writing about Rose’s conversion in the Catholic magazine Magnificat, John Janaro followed the established line, and in 2018 Anthony Esolen doubled down on it, asserting that Rose’s marriage was unhappy from the beginning and after an only child died of diphtheria “[George] took to hard drinking and irresponsible spending.” Passed seemingly automatically from one printed source to another, these negative assessments of George required that Rose be cast in the role of long-suffering wife, who, alone and adrift after her husband died of cirrhosis, finally found meaning and direction in caring for the cancerous poor.
Unfortunately, or inconveniently, these accounts of Rose and George’s marriage are not accurate. In 1991, Patricia Valenti, an academic with an interest in the Hawthorne women, published a biography of Rose called To Myself a Stranger. In the preface to her book, Valenti mildly points out that previous biographies of Rose were essentially hagiographies written for a Catholic audience, none of which made good use of the abundant manuscript material available. Quoting extensively in her own work from letters and journals in various collections, Valenti gradually builds up a very different portrait of a marriage, one that challenges both long-standing assumptions and contemporary pieties.
In the first place, Rose’s marriage to George Lathrop was happy enough. Rose herself frequently attested to her happiness, and in all of the letters, journals, and other written material that has survived, there is simply no evidence to support the characterization of George as an alcoholic. In fact one could argue that for many years the principal cloud in the marital sky was Rose’s restlessness and obscure sense of dissatisfaction, her inability to settle or find work commensurate with her real talents. Born into a family plagued by melancholy and mental illness, and raised in a Unitarian culture devoid of everything that would eventually nurture her, Rose described her troubled childhood self as “a stranger who had come too late,” the youngest, overlooked offspring of a father whose emotional remoteness she would spend much of her adult life trying to overcome.
As with other children of formidable, deceased parents, Rose’s religion for many years amounted to a melancholic veneration of her parents’ memory. For almost two decades after she married, she churned out unremarkable poems, short stories, and novels, trying unsuccessfully to prove herself her father’s heir, even as her husband and brother worked to extend her father’s legacy with greater success.
Five years into the marriage, Rose gave birth to a son. The boy was healthy, but Rose suffered a brief, alarming episode of postpartum psychosis, severe enough that she was confined to an insane asylum. After she recovered and returned home, she and George enjoyed a few years of domestic stability, during which time they overextended themselves financially in order to purchase Rose’s childhood home. But living in the Wayside did not turn out to be the idyll Rose had expected, and when her son died two years later, taking with him any dreams she may have harbored about reenacting her parents’ lives, George immediately removed her from the house—dramatic evidence of his anxious concern about his wife’s ability to weather the tragedy.
Going forward, it was not George but Rose who struggled. George resumed his successful career as a writer and editor, but Rose, who just two weeks after the death referred in a letter to “the terrible but holy insights of this loss” and wrote a poem that begins, “I loved a child as we should love / Each other everywhere,” seemed unable to imagine what these insights might mean for her ongoing life. Still struggling two years later, she separated from George for a year, a quixotic, little-remarked-upon experiment that ended as mysteriously as it began, when she returned quietly to what she called “Mr. Lathrop’s care,” to a “nice flat” in Manhattan and a routine that included writing, socializing with other writers, and enjoying the cultural life of the city.
But despite these apparent advantages, Rose’s confusion continued. Clearly, in midlife, she was struggling not with an alcoholic husband but with a crisis of meaning—specifically, with the realization that nothing she had attempted to this point had come right. Her efforts to follow in her father’s footsteps continued to fail. Motherhood had been cut off. As for the social round of entertainments and salon conversations, one of her better poems, called “Neither,” anticipates, in its depiction of the spiritual vacuity of New York society, T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
But there was something else, too, which she expressed obliquely in her fiction: a dissatisfaction, not with her husband but with marriage itself, which in her writing offers no reliable or lasting happiness. An exact contemporary of Freud, Rose found herself, after her son’s death, filling the role of the child in the marriage: the passive recipient of her husband’s care, the kind of fragile Victorian wife who often ended as a neurasthenic invalid. In Rose’s case, this culturally conditioned assignment was doubtless reinforced by her nervous collapse after her son’s birth. Despite their real mutual regard, she and George seem to have arrived at an unhealthy division of labor in their marriage, an unequal distribution of agency and virtue according to which Rose was the fragile, difficult, and dependent spouse, while George was long-suffering, solicitous, and strong.
But if Rose was sometimes bewildered by this part she seemed bound to play, she seemed also, for the time being at least, resigned to it. After all, in her thoroughly Protestant world, with her parents’ happy union persisting like a dying star in her imagination, what alternative to marriage was there for a woman whose vocation was love? (“I loved a child as we should love / Each other everywhere.”) She knew from family experience the outcome of a utopian experiment like Brook Farm. And living by herself for a year had not answered.
As an adolescent, Rose had wanted almost desperately to be loved, but she had also aspired to some kind of altruistic selflessness, some excuse, in her laconic phrase, for being in this world. By midlife, her verdict on romantic love was in. As one of her female characters concludes, “love is different from what I expected, and I don’t like it.” But the possibility of another kind of love remained open.
In 1887, George became ill with what Rose called “gastric trouble of the most severe nature,” and the couple moved to New London, Connecticut. There, in a reversal of their usual roles, Rose began caring for George, a responsibility that may have given her her first intuitions of her actual strength. The couple was also poor, George having given up his salary as an editor, another learning experience that undoubtedly influenced Rose’s imagination. Far from the city and from pressures to conform to its values, she and George were finding their own way. By 1890 both had begun to explore issues of social justice in their writing. But nothing prepared the public for their joint conversion to Catholicism, and the reaction of the Protestant establishment was swift and harsh. George especially was virulently attacked in the press, and he responded by eloquently defending Catholicism in a New York newspaper.
Evidently, to this point, the couple was developing in tandem. But in 1892, his health much improved, George collaborated with Paulist priests to establish a Catholic summer school in New London, a project that brought him and Rose into daily contact with priests and nuns. And this contact, this proximity to a way of life unprecedented in her experience, Rose received as a life-changing revelation.
More than Catholicism itself, it was the example and friendship of consecrated men and women that proved decisive for Rose. For her, it was the penultimate piece of a puzzle; it was the answer to questions she had been asking for years. If George had been the leader in the couple’s decision to convert, Rose now began to take the initiative. The restless dissatisfaction that had characterized her disappeared, replaced by excitement and intense curiosity about Catholic religious life. By the fall of that year, she and George were in Washington, D.C., researching a book about the Visitation Order.
A Story of Courage: Annals of the Georgetown Convent of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, published in 1894, was officially the work of both Rose and George, but in fact it was Rose who wrote it. The issues the book raised were personal for her. As she hammers them out, testing her intuitions and drawing explicit comparisons between marriage and religious life, her relief and excitement fairly burst from the page. “To the nun,” she writes at one point, “[a] mother’s love, brother’s love, love of the friend, is the mere abc, or beginning, of the language of spiritual works . . . which must be brought into play towards all human creatures alike.” Again, “The private family, essential though it is, and beautiful as it is when imbued with holiness and sacramentally blessed, is only a type of the whole human family, and hence is less important than that.” In religious life generally, which Rose declared had solved the problem of community life on a great scale, and in the Visitation Order in particular, many of whose sisters entered the novitiate in middle age, Rose found both a precedent and an inspiration for the change she herself now had in view.
Then the last piece of the puzzle fell into place. The same Paulist priest who had instructed the Lathrops in the faith told Rose the story of an indigent seamstress who died of cancer in terrible conditions on Blackwell’s Island. The death of her friend Emma Lazarus in 1887 had opened Rose’s eyes to the stigma of cancer. Now, as she heard how poverty compounded both the stigma and the suffering, “A fire was . . . lighted in my heart,” she wrote long after, “where it still burns.”
For Rose, the way forward was now clear. But if it was blindingly obvious to her by this point that religious life was a higher calling than married life, that it was the logical next step for older, childless Catholics like George and herself, and that there were urgently needed apostolates that consecrated individuals were uniquely fitted to undertake, none of this was obvious to George. He was a Catholic and he loved his wife, but he did not share her vision. Nor was he amenable to her pursuing it without him. This was the issue that finally separated the couple—not alcoholism or financial difficulties but Rose’s sense of predestination, her conviction that she had finally found, not what she was looking for exactly, but work she believed she was created for. She was convinced, in short, that she had found her true vocation at last.
The end, when it came, was difficult, tainted by “ugly talk and degrading quarrelsomeness.” When George strenuously opposed his wife’s plans, she fled: to a convent in Montreal (by way of Jamaica and her brother’s family), eventually to another convent in Massachusetts, and finally to a hospital in New York City where she began to learn to care for the dying. At each stage of her journey, as he learned of her whereabouts, George wrote to Rose and appealed to her through intermediaries, but her decision was firm. “This idea and this longing,” she wrote to a friend from Canada in 1895,
. . . have been so consistently with me for three years, so constantly the object of my prayers, that I have no doubt they are the greatest love of my heart . . . [the] beauty of a home is dross compared to the beauty of the shabbiest altar. . . . I would have suffered anything to prevent scandal, because my husband and I are Catholic converts, but I could not prevent it.
To be clear, Rose never thought of divorce. While she sought and received from the Church sanction for the separation, she remained convinced that George would eventually join her. Even after he died she retained his name, and to the last she held out hope that he would help her in her work “in the ways in which a man can do so much,” and that like other devout spouses in the history of the Church, they would be raised together “to a high, united service of God.”
But she did not wait indefinitely on her husband’s decision, or his approval. In the months before he died—of chronic nephritis, consistent with gastric trouble, rather than cirrhosis, consistent with alcoholism—even as she was praying a novena of First Friday devotions for her husband’s “entire conversion” to God, she was already established in rented rooms in a New York slum, already caring for the cancerous poor.
For a long time now, in the culture, strong sympathy has been extended to individuals who leave priesthood or religious life for marriage. Such sympathy expresses a Protestant order of values. It recalls Luther’s own marriage and his hostility to monasticism. Confident of this sympathy, a contemporary like Jonathan Morris can unveil himself on Twitter as a former priest in need of a wife, in language so mellifluous and cheerful, so confident of God’s approbation and ours, even a no-fault divorce appears acrimonious, not to say tragic, by comparison.
But what of an individual who wishes to leave marriage for religion? Even in the Church today, such an individual is an embarrassment, the Church’s long tradition of such departures notwithstanding. When John Janaro, in another issue of Magnificat, calls Blessed Raymond Llull’s thirteenth-century decision to leave wife and children to preach the gospel “strange,” “extreme,” “peculiar,” and “hardly a vocational model for our time,” he speaks for a Church in danger of suppressing her own history, and even misrepresenting it, for fear of being called anti-marriage.
On the one hand, this new anxiety in the Church suggests just how successful the Protestant project has been. On the other hand, it suggests how far it has failed. Because as the value placed on marriage relative to religious life has risen, together with unrealistic expectations of marriage generally, so has the rate of divorce risen. And the more the Church is in the business of trying to shore marriage up, the less sympathy she has to spare for the exceptional case, the more she fears contradiction where in the past she could have taken complementarity for granted.
Complicating things further, Rose Lathrop is an exception among exceptions. In the history of the Church, many married couples separated by mutual agreement and entered monasteries, as many husbands—including some of the original apostles—left wives and children to become evangelists, Crusaders, missionaries, and martyrs. The occasional widow, too, placed minor children in the care of relatives before founding an order and taking the veil. But very few married women—can we name one?—left resistant husbands for the same reasons. Wives, after all, were the property of their husbands. In the legal language in force in much of nineteenth-century America, “the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband,” an elision justified theologically by certain narrowly interpreted Pauline scriptures, with the unfortunate result that in many times and places in Christendom a husband’s headship over his wife has been scarcely distinguishable from a fruit of original sin. (“Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”)
In this legal, theological, and cultural mash-up, even a woman’s relationship with God was believed to be mediated by her husband. (“He for God only,” in Milton’s formula, “she for God in him.”) In theory, in Christian cultures, a man as much as a woman needed spousal permission to become a religious, but in practice, with power so unequally shared (who asks permission of his property?), a man could leave a marriage with his honor intact so long as he “provided for his dependents,” “arranged for their care,” “divided his wealth among his wife, his sons, and the poor,” and so on, according to the various formulae of the genre. Whereas in the same genre, in the stories of women saints, and even in a twentieth-century left-leaning work like Kenneth Woodward’s Making Saints, a wife leaves a marriage only “with her husband’s consent.” For a married woman looking to become a religious, spousal permission has always been considered essential, and this permission Rose did not have.
Small wonder, then, that even after Valenti’s carefully researched biography might have taken cheap melodrama off the table, negative characterizations of George persist. Truth is important to Catholics, but we also like our saints simple. We prefer that they conform to familiar patterns of holiness, and when they do not—when uncomfortable facts coincide with strong evidence of sanctity—we welcome editorializing that allays our anxieties. In Rose’s case, the widely disseminated story of George’s alcoholism simplifies a complex human situation. It excuses, or defuses, the uncomfortable fact of her leaving, because if George was abusive, a wastrel and a drunk, then she left him for perfectly understandable reasons. She was escaping something rather than embracing something, and what she was escaping wasn’t anything to do with marriage itself—an infantilizing dynamic, for example, observable in many Victorian marriages—but George. If George is the problem, then the institution of marriage is safe, as are our ideas about what constitutes female sanctity.
What would Rose have made of all this? Rose, who in her youth especially was famously frank to a fault, and who told us her reasons for leaving, implicitly in A Story of Courage and explicitly in certain letters to friends? What would she have made of a hagiography that proceeds by defamation rather than idealization, a hagiography that, in effect, sacrifices her husband’s reputation on the altar of her cause, as if—to put it crudely—he has to be an alcoholic so that she can be a saint?
The uncomfortable facts that Rose’s biographers have finessed rather than unpacked, Rose herself faced squarely as she faced the prospect of scandal. She was no stranger to scandal—familial opposition to her marriage, societal horror at her Catholicism—and it neither deterred nor embittered her. Clear-eyed and truthful from childhood, she was also stubbornly persevering in her search for answers, diligent and courageous in the face of rejection and failure, and preternaturally responsive to revelation when it finally came, even in the guise of tragedy. For Rose, life was a continuum, a progression from lesser to greater goods. Her love for her parents, husband, and son was the foundation on which her love of God and neighbor was raised. Never, looking back from the Church, did she complain of missed opportunities or wasted years.
Moreover, when she departed for Canada, it was not so much George she was leaving as a version of herself she was trying to outgrow. Far from regarding George as a burden that she needed to cast off—the first act of George’s libretto for an opera of The Scarlet Letter had just been performed in Carnegie Hall to considerable acclaim—it was herself she understood to be the burden in the marriage, the one perennially in “my husband’s care.” Her repeated use of the phrase is revealing. The fact that George had been ill and Rose had cared for him seems scarcely to have affected the couple’s understanding of their relationship. In the mythology of the marriage, according to the conventions of the time, George was the caregiver and Rose the one cared for, George the purveyor of protection and Rose its childlike beneficiary. What Rose wanted by this point, above all, was to be useful, but in her marriage it was not strength that was required but weakness, and it was against this dishonest requirement that she finally rebelled. In one of George’s last letters to her, “It seems to me,” he writes, “that the best hope for your health, peace, and usefulness in this world lies in your putting yourself under thorough and special medical care for the restoration of your nervous system,” an example of mansplaining familiar to women the world over, to which Rose responds, in a frustrated note in the margin, “[he] would prefer to have me in a mental asylum than working for charity.”
In Rose’s lifetime, feminism was in the air. Three years before she was born, a small convention in Seneca Falls, New York, formally launched the women’s rights movement. Six years before she died, women were granted the right to vote. But though Rose was sympathetic to feminism’s good goals, especially its goal of expanding women’s opportunities to serve, it was not in contemporary feminism that she found the courage to exercise, herself, a prerogative traditionally reserved to men, but in the lives of the saints. New Catholic though she was, she seemed to grasp, in the presence of priests and nuns, the long-standing tradition of the Church: the dynamic, hierarchical relationship of marriage to religious life, as well as the inexorable law of growth that governs the spiritual life, growth always with the goal of sanctification. Reading about the Visitation Order, she understood that God can and does sometimes call a spouse or parent to a second vocation as a priest or nun. In the words of Fr. Paul Molinari, the deceased postulator for Cornelia Connelly’s cause, “We simply cannot set a limit to the rights of God,” who sometimes makes demands on human beings that strain the limits of ordinary understanding.
Where her own circumstances were concerned, Rose became convinced that her marriage was a good that should be turned to more fruitful ends, placed on another footing entirely, opened up and offered to God in service to the sick poor. When she finally understood what women religious had accomplished in history, the intuition granted her ten years earlier (“I loved a child as we should love / Each other everywhere”) found concrete expression at last, and she was inflamed with a corresponding desire to serve.
In this inspiration and Rose’s response to it, there is the unmistakable stamp of the saint. There is the disconcerting leap and the taking of Christ at his word, the refusal to compromise and the desire to make a total gift of the self, both to Christ and his Church, to which Rose, like so many others before her, entrusted herself unreservedly. In the world’s eyes, the Church is misogynistic, but that is not the story the saints tell. For centuries, women have found in the Catholic Church maternal encouragement for their maturation and sympathy for their deepest aspirations. When Rose departed for Canada, it seemed never to occur to her that the Church would turn her away. Like St. Francis when he gave himself naked into the arms of a priest, Rose fled to the Church for refuge, and the Church took her in.
Saints are not comfortable people. In Fr. Donald Haggerty’s quiet formulation, “Perhaps the saints became holy because they never made peace with the impossibility of seeing God in this life.” Still, depending on their vocation and whether or not it aligns with our biases, some saints are more comfortable than others. Elisabeth Leseur, a French contemporary of Rose who has also been proposed for beatification, remained in the private, domestic sphere society assigned her. Married and childless, she offered her whole life for her husband’s conversion, dying as a kind of victim soul. In her single-minded devotion to her husband, who after her death became a Catholic priest, Catholics the world over recognize a particular form of feminine genius, one compatible with traditional ideas about women’s spirituality.
Rose Lathrop was not Elisabeth Leseur. In fact, the saint Rose most resembles is Teresa of Calcutta, both because of the similarity of their apostolates and because Mother Teresa, like Rose, received a second vocation in midlife, one that required her to leave a religious congregation to which she had bound herself previously by solemn vows. In the eyes of modernity, which takes religious vows even less seriously than marital ones, it hardly registers that Mother Teresa, at a critical point in her development, abandoned one form of consecrated life for another. But it was a departure of enormous significance to Mother Teresa herself. She agonized over the departure and initially begged to be excused from it, anticipating scandal, accusations of vocation pilfering, and much else. But Christ’s call was too clear, too insistent, and she could not refuse him.
Rose, too, in midlife, struggled to understand what Christ was asking of her. In a well-worn copy of Frederick Faber’s All Men Have a Special Vocation that she left behind when she died, the most closely marked passages concern the mystery of God’s will, and man’s obligation to discover and follow it. But it is important to point out that when Rose followed Christ into the slums, she did not leave human love or particular friendships behind. In fact, so strong was her need for human companionship, it is doubtful whether she could have persevered in her apostolate without it. Like many human beings—certainly like most men—Rose wanted from life both private relationships and public responsibilities, love and work, and in the end, in the life to which he called her, God gave her both. A year into Rose’s ministry, Alice Huber knocked on her door, a young woman who would become Rose’s most reliable co-worker and closest friend.
Nor did Rose ever stop loving George, or praying for him. When she prayed for him daily, recording her intentions in a diary, it was never sobriety she prayed for, or peaceableness, but his “entire conversion” to God, a basis on which they could come together again in a new way. What she wanted for her husband was the same grace that had been given to her, but this grace was not given, at least not in the way that she hoped. When George died, too suddenly for her to reach his side to say goodbye, she was devastated. So convinced had she been that he would join her in time, so certain that they would again be in thorough sympathy in the future, she was scarcely able to accept that he was gone. Standing beside his body, “trembling in the dark uncertainty of all unworthiness,” she must have wondered, in her grief, whether she had been mistaken in her discernment, and even whether her whole apostolate, still in its beginning stages, was on shaky ground.
But the morning after he died, George himself visited her and reassured her in a supernatural way. “Yesterday, early,” she wrote in her diary, “his soul came, I am sure to console me in his loveliest way of forgiveness.” In a letter to a friend, she elaborated, “the morning after his death [George] seemed to come to me and say in his most enchanting mood of boyish tenderness, that of course he loved me, and of course we never could have any real misunderstanding of each other.” So convincing was this visitation, and so dispelling of Rose’s anxieties, even her grief afterward was almost miraculously lifted. What George had resisted in life, Rose now believed he sanctioned in death, and that he was praying for her, and for the success of her work.
According to a time-tested criterion, one based in Scripture, the abundant fruit of Rose’s enduring apostolate is reliable evidence that she was right to embrace it. The call was from God, and George was mistaken in his attempts to discredit it. But this does not make him either malicious or venal. As an unnamed friend of the Lathrops testified in the New York Times, George was sympathetic to his wife’s work with the cancerous poor but “would put limitations to the excess of [her] self-sacrifice in that direction, desiring her to remain near him so that her well-being might not be injured.” What Rose most feared from George, in other words, was not addiction or violence but his all-too-human love for her, a love that, instead of strengthening her resolve to follow Christ, might well have weakened it.
For many women, the great temptation—their share in original sin—is the temptation not to grow, to remain dependent and undeveloped, frustrated and finally bitter. The two halves of the original curse—“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you”—are dark complements. Woman’s temptation to depend, and man’s to dominate, exacerbate each other. If a man is overly jealous of his authority over his wife, she may never reach her full potential. If a woman’s desire for her husband is an absolute, greater even than her desire for God, her husband, too, may be led seriously astray.
In Rose’s case, given her history of poor health and professional failure, the temptation to remain in the safety of the marriage must have been very strong. Only when George dies, and the need to resist the temptation is definitively removed, does her real love and admiration for her husband abruptly well up. In her diary, as if a dam had been breached, her heart speaks:
My beloved husband died on April 19th, about half an hour before I reached him. . . . As I stood beside his body, soon after death, the beauty and nobility and the exquisite gentleness of his life, and the eloquence which breathed from the unbreathing being of one who has died in the Lord, spoke plainly to me of his virtues, and the welcome our Lord had given him into His rest. My own soul was trembling in the dark uncertainty of all unworthiness.
Given the many unsavory behaviors that have been laid at George’s door, Rose’s final testimony as to his character and virtue is extremely moving. It is certainly possible, as Theodore Maynard maintained in A Fire Was Lighted, his 1948 biography of Rose, that George drank socially with friends, sometimes to excess. It is also possible that George turned to alcohol when Rose left him, thereby setting in motion his precipitous decline. Absent actual evidence in the record, such possibilities remain speculations. Maynard himself, whose biography influenced every Hawthorne study that came after, acknowledged the uncertainty of his judgments. He admitted that the Lathrop marriage was often happy, that George was unusually gifted both intellectually and socially, and that Rose herself, with her “difficult” temperament, may not have been suited to marriage at all. But in the end, he blamed alcohol for the breakup of the marriage, because the only alternative was to blame the Church or Rose herself, and that he was not willing to do.
Today, as the cause for Rose’s sainthood goes forward, the Church has an interesting opportunity. In the real story of Rose’s life, with its bright and dark passages, there is surely greater edification for Catholics than in the simplistic, scapegoating tale that has been handed down. By beatifying the real Rose, and crediting her real motives, the Church might both affirm a neglected tradition and take an important step toward acknowledging the relevant insights of feminism.
At a minimum, by trying to tell the truth about her marriage, the Church might rehabilitate Rose’s husband, which would be an act of simple justice. In momentous decisions, the good may indeed be the enemy of the best, but it remains a good nevertheless, deserving of respect and commendation. At a certain point in their life together, Rose passed George on the road, but by his lights, according to his understanding of his responsibilities, he continued to love and care for her. In a polarized age, so partial to heroes and villains, this is a time to recall St. Paul’s admonition not to pass judgment before the Lord comes, “who will bring to light the things hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God” (1 Cor. 4:5).
Patricia Snow is a writer in New Haven, Connecticut.