Introduced by Donald Smith.
Set in Rome during Nero’s reign of terror, The Blood of the Martyrs is a disciplined historical novel tracing the destruction of one cell of the early church. With a cast of slaves, ordinary Roman people, exiles and entertainers, it is thorough in its historical interpretation and in its determination to make the past accessible and readable.
Written in 1938-9, the novel contains many symbolic parallels to the rise of European fascism in the 1930s and the desperate plight of persecuted minorities such as the Jews and the left-wing activists with whom Naomi Mitchison personally campaigned at the time. With the invasion of Britain a real possibility, she felt compelled to write a testament to the power of human solidarity which, even faced with death, can overcome the worst that human evil can achieve.
The Blood of the Martyrs is the least autobiographical of Mitchison’s major works of fiction, yet, with its implicit credo, is her most passionately self-revealing.
‘ . . . when a novelist is historically faithful in these treacherous waters of the human psyche, the results are tremendous. As a twentieth-century woman, it no doubt hurt Naomi Mitchison a good deal to describe the savagery of the early Christian persecution in The Blood of the Martyrs . . . But it is the pain that gives the history its lifeblood. The imagination that is a novelist’s fuel must be harnessed to serve history as history was, not as anyone wishes it had been.’ Joanna Trollope