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Jerome & His Women

The NSW Writers' Centre:
Book Review
Jerome & His Women by Joan O'Hagan (Black Quill Press)

"O’Hagan’s fifth and last novel, ​Jerome & His Women​ (2015), is set in Ancient Rome, at the end of the fourth century AD. It is a time of upheaval for the Roman Empire, with internal rioting and external threats, and pagan beliefs and gods giving way to the spread of Christianity and the worship of a new, monotheistic God.


"The Pontiff, Damasus I, commissions Jerome, a priest and foremost theologian and scholar, to translate the Bible from Greek texts into a single definitive Latin version. While he has the Pontiff’s favour, and is even rumoured to be a possible successor to Damasus, Jerome is deeply unpopular with others in the Church hierarchy and Roman aristocracy ...


"That’s the twin gift of ​Jerome & His Women​: it is an insight into extraordinary times and people, and into a talented researcher and writer." 


Robert Fairhead

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Historical Novel Society:
Book Review

"Saint Jerome, who was commissioned by Bishop Damasus I of Rome to make a new, definitive Latin translation of the Bible by AD 390, is the moral and dramatic center of Joan O’Hagan’s new novel, Jerome & His Women. As the title indicates, the book’s main focus falls less on Jerome’s scholarly and translation duties and more on his relationships with the Christian community in the Rome of his day.


"O’Hagan concentrates on the Roman women in his life, including his patron, Paula, and as the novel progresses, it proves a canny narrative choice: through his dealings with these women, the full breadth of Jerome’s problematic personality – both his prickly, argumentative side and, far more winningly, his inner tenderness and quiet introspection.


"The Vulgate of Jerome was one of the most pivotal and important religious documents in the history of Christianity, and O’Hagan gives her readers a fascinating look at the man behind that controversial masterpiece."

Joanna Urquhart

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North Shore Times, Sydney 2015
Jerome & His Women by Joan O'Hagan (Black Quill Press), artwork by Dominic West
Literature & Aesthetics - the Journal of the Sydney Society of Literature and Aesthetics: Review

"Perusing the catalogue of recent historical fiction set in the ancient world, there are few titles that address early Christian history …

"In her final novel, the late Joan O’Hagan dared to explore this turbulent yet fascinating period … Jerome & His Women is a meticulously researched and well informed novel that re-creates – in vivid detail – a crucial period in the history of Western Christianity, and the men and women who shaped it. In doing so, it offers incredible insight into the achievements of a much maligned yet very important figure, namely St Jerome, and the women surrounding him who – in taking a stand against the luxurious and often debased social conventions of late antique Rome – were trailblazers in their own right.”


Mario Baghos

Read more from Open Journals 

North Shore Times, Sydney

Published 15 April 2015

Classical Greek and Latin Discussion Group: Book Review

"O'Hagan has made her mark as a mystery writer, but this is straight 4th century historical fiction, though the book is rooted securely in established fact. O'Hagan quotes St Augustine in her epigraph: 'What Jerome is ignorant of, no man has ever known.' She then sets out to demonstrate this.


"Jerome had no mean opinion of himself, but this was an opinion shared by many other people, including the religious women in his life who helped him with his work and life. If there was ever any romantic involvement, as opposed to great liking and respect on both sides, no one ever knew, and O'Hagan does not invent an affair, ever though she does show definite affection and collaboration ... "


Professor Fred Mench
Classical Greek and Latin Discussion Group

CathNews, Australia

Published 3 June 2016

National Council of Priests of Australia

"(O’Hagan) … makes this flawed genius more understandable as a human being … and gives us the wonderful story of St Paula of Rome, patron saint of widows … That story alone is enough to recommend this book."

John Scanlon,
National Council of Priests of Australia

"With a great deal of research underpinning her book, Joan’s story is set in Ancient Rome at the end of the 4th century, and told around Jerome, a controversial scholar of the day. The story portrays a time of upheaval for the Roman Empire, with rioting and outside threats, and pagan beliefs and gods giving way to the spread of Christianity.


"Joan’s four earlier works of contemporary and historical crime fiction were highly acclaimed, enhancing her reputation as a fine writer and solid researcher. As one review said, 'her combination of scholarly knowledge and authorial skills was surely quite unusual'. It is certainly deserving of wide recognition and commendation."

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Nib News, Waverley Council:
Book Review
CathNews - Perspectives:
Book Review

"In ancient Rome at the end of the fourth century it is a time of upheaval with internal rioting and external threats, and pagan beliefs and gods giving way to the spread of Christianity and the worship of a new, a monotheistic God ... "

Read more from CathNews

Posthumous portrait of turbulent
times in ancient Rome

"A compelling vision … of what Rome was like at a particular moment in its transition from capital of a pagan empire to the City of God."


Richard Blake, historical

A Roman Death

Kirkus Review
The Richard Stockton College of NJ Review

"In this novel, excellent as a mystery and as a reconstruction of the life of upper-class Rome in 45−44 BC, O'Hagan tells a story of murder, magic, love, greed and intrigue, the plot of which could have come right out of an oration of Cicero. In fact, whereas Steven Saylor in Roman Blood has used the real Ciceronian Pro S. Roscio Ameriae as the base of his murder mystery, O'Hagan has manufactured a Ciceronian Pro Helvia, cited in her postscript and likely to be taken by most readers as real, as well as a letter supposedly written 20 years after the fact and found only in 1987 which gives the final twist to the murderer's identity ... "


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The Times Literary Supplement, London, Dec. 1988

"The author, who has set previous novels in contemporary Italy and Australia, here tells a story of Rome in 44 B.C., just before the assassination of Julius Caesar.


"Fufidia, 14-year-old daughter of wealthy but plebian Quintus Fufidius and wife Helvia, is betrothed to Lucius − handsome, corrupt, and cowardly son of patrician but debt-ridden Marcus Scaurus. Meanwhile, Helvia's dearly loved brother Cinna, accomplished poet and officer at Caesar's court, has heard rumors of Lucius' true nature, including homosexual incidents, and contrives to insult him at a drunken poetry-reading in the house of Eucharis, a freed slave and longtime mistress of Quintus Fufidius ... "


Read more from KIRKUS

The Observer, London, Dec. 1988
Fictional Rome

"... As Joan O'Hagan, author of A Roman Death (Doubleday, 1989) says (letter to me):


'I think that to catch the spirit of the times is the important thing, even at the sacrifice of strict historical fidelity. On the highest level I suppose a writer could produce historical nonsense that is at the same time a work of art. Or he can (as Evelyn Waugh did in Helena) write a book that is soundly based in what actually happened on the broad historical plane and create in Constantine's mother Helena a character who brings tears of joy to your eyes. And behind his satire, Waugh seemed really to get into the minds of Constantine and the others. You felt they might very well have thought just like that.' "


Read more from RSCNJ


David Wishart, novelist and author of the Corvinus detective series set in Ancient Rome
The Listener, London, Feb. 1989

"O’Hagan ticks all the right boxes: the plot is convincing, well-crafted, and moves along seamlessly leaving very satisfactory little red herrings swimming around at intervals; characterisation is deft and realistic, with the result that her dramatis personae are real people, masters and controllers of their own fate, not puppets manipulated by the author to act her story out.


"She is obviously that rare beast, a Latinist who is perfectly at home with the story’s first century BC background but is also careful not to allow it to intrude unnecessarily, slowing things down to little purpose; the writing is tight, spare and controlled and the language carefully chosen, all of which taken together with her excellent handling of plot development makes for a page-turning pace..."




Robert Fairhead, NSW Writers' Centre

"This ancient-world whodunnit is set in 45 BC. Landowner and trader, Quintus Fufidius, is flattered when a high-status neighbour, Marcus Scaurus, proposes the marriage of his son, Lucius, to Fufidius’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Fufidia. Fufidius’s wife, Helvia, is furious when she learns of the arranged marriage ... When Lucius is found dead from poisoning after a prenuptial banquet at the Fufidii villa, Scaurus angrily accuses Helvia of murdering his son.

"Faced with overwhelming evidence, including accusations of witchcraft and incest, Fufidius retains the services of Cicero, to save Helvia. But can even Cicero’s wit and oratorical skills create sufficient doubt in the minds of the tribunal judges of Helvia’s guilt?

"O’Hagan’s skill as a writer is in bringing the Roman ruins and statues to life. And in particular, the Roman women!"

Read more at NSW Writers' Centre 

The Oxford Times, Oxford, Sept. 1988
Richard Blake, historical

"If you are upset by discussions of poisoning by aconite, or by descriptions of multiple anal rape, or by sympathetic portrayals of incest, this is probably not a book for your reading list. I, on the other hand, greatly enjoyed it ...

"It is 44BC, and we are in Rome. The Republic has been suspended. Caesar is Dictator for Life. The streets know at best a fragile peace – a peace maintained only by keeping the proles from doing anything by themselves. This aside, life goes on as normal. Lucius Scaurus is an aristocratic bag of scum. His main achievement in the Civil War was to stay alive by running away from battle. He is beautiful. He is amoral. He is not terribly bright. He and his family are short of cash. So a marriage contract is negotiated with the upstart Fufidius clan.

Then Scaurus falls dead ...


"Cicero is brought in to handle the defence ... How the trial ends I leave to you to find out. Equally the matter of who did poison Lucius Scaurus ...

"All I will add is that this novel puts you in late-Republican Rome. You are dropped straight into an alien moral environment – or perhaps it is not so alien. You can see and smell the streets. You are given a seat at the counsels of a ruthless and cynical ruling class. You do not see the murder of Caesar – this gets one sentence at the end of a chapter. But you do see how the murder is used to advance a family feud."

Read more at 

The Listener, London, Feb. 1989

Death and a Madonna

 Kirkus Review

"Murder at the ancient, abandoned Benedictine monastery of San Donato − where a group of Rome-dwelling English/American ladies (bankers' wives) have gathered to admire the frescoes and hear another smashing lecture from ageing, charismatic art-historian Charles Mowbray.


"It's a steamy, stormy assemblage. Beverley Backhouse and Hedda Hardegen are (it's hinted) lesbian lovers, though Beverley is also dallying with a Dutch art-dealer (who has tagged along). Dr. Mowbray's lush Italian wife Rafaella is hated by both Beverley (whose husband adores Rafaella) and pouty artist Juliette Deneuve (who adores Dr. Mowbray). Meanwhile, too, Rafaella is rekindling her old flame for art-gallery-owner Renato Barbicinti − another tag-along, like rich Japanese art-collector Mr Tsuda."

Read more from KIRKUS

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