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Florence in Ecstasy excerpt: “Let the tongue of the flesh be silent when I seek to express my love for you.”

June 14,2017

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All week the saints circle my thoughts, informing my memories and insinuating themselves into my dreams. In the evenings, I row, but I don’t see anyone I know, and without the reality of conversation, there are only their voices. Even when Luca calls one night, I have trouble connecting—his voice sounds far away and my own, unfamiliar, and I remember that feeling of disappearing when all other voices became distant until there was only one voice, urging me forward, prodding me on. 

And then there are the reminders. They are everywhere in Florence. In the streets named for these women, in the bells that ring continually on the hour and half hour, in anything that catches my eye and drags my gaze up. In the mornings, I take a longer route to pass the church where Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi practiced. The tall gates of the adjoining convent are closed as always, and I stop to look up at its walls. It was here, in this place, that she starved herself to death. And she was not alone. Fragmented references to food appear throughout the accounts, tossed off casually as a part of the denial of earthly things, riches and sustenance given equal weight. We must fast every day except Sundays, St. Clare says when establishing her order. My delights have heretofore been bodily and vile, because I am a body—St. Angela. And always the gaps between the denial of food and the experience of ecstasy. Some confessors suggest that meals simply slipped their minds. She forgot to eat and drink, as if her spirit did not exist in her corporeal body. That phrase, again, I forgot to eat. But there is more to it. Their fasting is not weak or forgetful—it is an all out war. Let the tongue of the flesh be silent when I seek to express my love for you, St. Clare cries in a moment of ecstasy. Strip yourself of self, St. Catherine demands. Do not ask me to give in to this body of mine, St. Margaret pleads when urged to eat. Between me and my body there must be a struggle until death

- Florence in Ecstasy by Jessie Chaffee

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Jessie Chaffee In Conversation with Bethanne Patrick in Literary Hub

June 07,2017

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“I wanted to write Hannah kind of isolated in the opening, where the place becomes the solution. Florence is complicated, and it complicates things for her but it’s also a culture that’s rich with food and beauty and interpersonal connections. There’s also Hannah’s involvement in the rowing club, which is about making peace with her body and being centered in herself, and her relationship with Luca, allowing herself to be vulnerable. Italy is a part of what helps Hannah to get back to herself, but it’s not THE answer, not a magical solution, either.”

Bethanne Patrick interviews Jessie Chaffee about Florence in Ecstasy and her thoughts on saints, sinners and surviving your twenties.

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