Novel Thoughts blog

Discovering the treasures of novelist Louis de Wohl

September 15, 2014 7:30 am | 8 Comments

Several years ago, I bought a novel by Louis de Wohl as a birthday present for my husband. At the time, I was a little burned out on stories about the saints, so I gave no thought to reading it myself.

Fast forward three years, and I am given the project of writing discussion guides about our novels for There are quite a few Louis de Wohl books on the list. I prepared mentally for reading what I thought would be interesting, but somewhat dry and predictable, books about the saints. Let’s face it, many books about the saints can be intimidating, as we read about lives so holy that we can’t relate to them. I heard a sermon once where the priest said that many biographers of saints do us a disservice when they gloss over the saint’s faults and struggles, painting a perfect picture of lives so austere and sacrificial that we might despair that we could ever be a saint.

This is what I expected from Louis de Whol. I was wrong.

So far I’ve read 5 of his novels about the saints: The Living Wood (St. Helena), The Quiet Light (St. Thomas Aquinas), The Restless Flame (St. Augustine), The Joyful Beggar (St. Francis of Assisi), and The Golden Thread (St. Ignatius of Loyola). I have enjoyed all of them immensely—so much that I looked forward to reading them with a glass of wine and some chocolate at the end of the day with three small children! How is that for a novel about the lives of the saints?

Why do I love these novels? First, they present the facts of the lives of the saints—stories I have read in other books and heard about in homilies—but in the fascinating context of what was happening at the time. Throughout the novel, I found myself stopping to look up and read more about history. This put the lives of the saints in context and helped me understand why that saint was needed at that particular time. For example, I learned what was going on in the Church and the world when God called St. Francis and St. Dominic to found the mendicant orders, and why they were so important. I really enjoyed learning more about history from these novels.

Second, the lives of the saints were shown with all their struggles and flaws. I especially loved the development of the character of St. Helena, a strong and courageous woman who converts from paganism to the Catholic faith. She was tough and fierce and I wouldn’t want to be in a confrontation with her! It was inspiring to see how de Whol developed her character and holiness and yet her struggles, especially with her son Constantine, made her relatable.

Finally, I enjoyed the artistic license that de Whol took in the supporting characters. These characters might have been a relative or friend of the saint whose life was changed for the better by the powerful example of the saint’s life. It was interesting to see these characters develop throughout the stories, and in several cases these characters also added an element of love and intrigue to the novel. It also made me think about the many unknown people that the saints help and influence by living a holy life, which was inspiration for me to try to do the same.

If you’ve never read a novel by Louis de Whol, I hope you will treat yourself and pick up one these incredible, entertaining, and captivating reads soon! You won’t regret it.

Rose Trabbic

Rose Trabbic

Rose Trabbic is the Publicist at Ignatius Press. She works from home and lives in southwest Florida with her husband, Joseph, and their three young children.

Tags: historical fiction history Louis de Wohl novelists recommendations saints St. Augustine St. Francis of Assisi St. Helena St. Ignatius of Loyola St. Thomas Aquinas The Golden Thread The Joyful Beggar The Living Wood The Quiet Light The Restless Flame


  1. September 15, 2014 at 10:09 am

    DeWohl is fantastic. He effectively and believably humanizes the saints so you can relate to their human struggles yet appreciate how heroically they strove for virtue. His historical research is thorough and his writing puts the reader “in” the time, so you can better appreciate the context of the saint’s life. Yes, they’re novels, but they’re done with charity, respect, and insight, and in my opinion better communicate the reality of lived-out sainthood better than sugary hagiography. My daughters were especially inspired by his novelization of the life of Catherine of Siena, /Set All Afire/.

  2. September 15, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    The Last Crusader: Don Juan of Austria, was a contributor to my understanding of how God works in the chaos of history. I’ve read a half dozen of de Wohl’s biographies, and the rest remain a go to option whenever I hit one of those spells of not being sure what I want to read next.

  3. September 15, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    I love DeWohl and I have read all of those mentioned. I think his favorite was “The Spear” about St Longinus. Most of his are quite historically accurate. Some he had to fill in the blanks. But, The Last Crusdader: Don Juan of Austria is one of my favorites. I was so excited when I was in Spain in San Lorenzo de El Escorial at the Royal Seat of the King of Spain and in the crypt a niche holds a marble effiigy atop his remains. It made the book come “alive”. I enjoy the way DeWohl uses back stories as he did in the Quiet Light about the romance.

  4. September 15, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    Read The Spear next! I will definitely be trying some of his other titles.

  5. September 24, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    Thank you for reminding me! I read SET ALL AFIRE (St. Catherine of Siena) a while ago and enjoyed it immensely. I bought three others for my Kindle. I must read them soon. Also, I plan to read THE LAST CRUSADER because my sister and I are traveling to Spain next summer.

  6. […] a good overview of the novels, take a look at Rose Trabbic’s piece Discovering the Novels of Louis de Wohl. Also well worth reading is Will Duquette’s review of The Citadel of God where he gives a […]

  7. […] few weeks ago I posted about how I discovered the riches of the novels of Louis de Wohl here. A few readers suggested that I read The Last Crusader, about Don Juan of […]

  8. July 3, 2022 at 10:06 pm

    Louis de Wohl is, surprisingly, a good novelist. I’ve enjoyed three of his novels. I just started reading his novel on St. Francis, THE JOYFUL BEGGAR. I know a lot about St. Francis. I wrote my master’s thesis on how he has been portrayed in movies. Most movies on his life have several historically inaccuracies. I’m interested to see how accurate de Wohl is with his life. I’ve read the first 55 pages and so far, he’s done a good job. Of course being a novelist it does give him some license to fictionalize things. I just finished THE LVING WOOD about St. Helena and Constantine. He has Helena growing up in Britain the daughter of a king. There was a legend about that dating back several centuries, but most historians doubt that today. Nevertheless, it was a really good read. So were THE CITADEL OF GOD, about St. Benedict and THE GOLDEN THREAD about St. Ignatius of Loyola.
    De Wohl sounded like a real character. He was born in 1902. He grew up in Germany but fled to England when Hitler came to power. He was a lapsed Catholic who became deeply involved in astrology. He wrote several novels during this time. He had a conversion back to Catholicism. He decided to write novels about the saints. He died in 1961.

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