The Whipping Club - Deborah Henry
Released February 2012
T. S. Poetry Press
Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth
I think I read about 80 percent of Deborah Henry's The Whipping Club with clenched fists. As a mother, the story outraged me. Worse is that I know that some nuns in that era did treat children in this manner. I've heard the horror stories from my Mom (she's English) about the nuns in all-girl Catholic schools cracking students across the back of the hand with bamboo canes or metal-edged rulers. Despite this, my Mom has also said there are sisters and priests who were incredibly fair, caring individuals who she'll always remember. It's not hard to imagine that children in orphanages or schools for "troubled" children were treated even more deplorably. It ticks me off though.
Pregnant and unmarried, Marian McKeever agrees with her uncle, a priest, to enter a home for unmarried girls to have their child. She's hesitant on giving up her child, however, because the baby's father, Ben Ellis, does love her and they plan to marry. The only obstacle is that Marian is Catholic and Ben comes from a proud Jewish family who believe Jews should only marry other Jews. Eventually, Marian agrees that her unborn child would be better off with a wealthy American family.
When Marian and Ben marry despite his family's objections, Marian and her uncle agree it's best that Ben never knows about their son. They go on to have a daughter and feel that life couldn't be better, until Marian learns that her son was never put up for adoption and has been locked away in an orphanage for 11 years. Marian confesses to Ben and the couple do everything in their power to gain custody of their son.
That battle to regain custody of the boy, Adrian, forms the main component of this gripping novel. The abuse that Adrian deals with on a daily basis is, at times, very hard to read. There were many occasions when I wanted to climb into the book and dole out a few of the punishments that the religious leaders were doling out on the children. I admit it does take talent to really draw the reader that heavily into the book.
In the end, The Whipping Club is an exceptional read, even if it is not the easiest story to digest. The 50s and 60s were different times, and today's reader will have to remember that discrimination against interfaith marriages was extremely common, as was the prejudice shown against the so-called "bastard" children and their unwed mother.