Chet Raymo Tells us About Valentine
February 13, 2010
By Lauren Daley
I've written about Chet Raymo in BookLovers before. Readers may remember he was one of my favorite professors at Stonehill.
I had him for a class called "The Naturalist" my sophomore year.
We'd hike through the woods of Easton, writing in our nature journals and listening as Chet explained the significance of a certain rock or spider or weed.
That was around 2003, and by then, Chet was already a professor emeritus of physics at Stonehill who came and taught as he pleased.
Chet was a Big Name on Campus, whether he knew it or not. We all knew he was the former science columnist for The Boston Globe; that he'd written more than a dozen books, and that one, "The Dork of Cork," was made into a movie called "Frankie Starlight."
In honor of Valentine's Day tomorrow, I thought I'd talk to Chet about his tale of historical fiction, "Valentine: A Love Story" (2005.)
Very little is known about the man whose name is synonymous with love. There may have been more than one Valentine. He may not have existed at all.
Raymo chose the version in which St. Valentine was a physician in love with a beautiful blind girl, Julia. The ancient love story takes place during Claudius II's Roman Empire - a time and place where Christian executions were public entertainment.
I e-mailed Raymo, 73, in the Bahamas, to ask him about his tale of history, religion, and love.
Lauren: What gave you the idea to write this book?
Chet: Valentine and Julia. I read a brief mention of the story of the blind daughter of Valentine's jailer who meets Val as he awaits execution as a Christian martyr. He converts her and restores her sight. Ah, there's the germ of a love story. Of course, none of it really happened. In fact, we don't know if Valentine even existed. So I was free to turn the story on its head.
Lauren: So little is known about Valentine. Why do you think history has treated his story so sloppily? How is it people everywhere know his name?
Chet: The association of Valentine with love is a medieval invention. We need a "love day" and Valentine's feast day filled a need.
Lauren: Valentine is a Christian figure, but people around the world celebrate Valentine's Day. Why do you think this is? Do people see the day more as an excuse for fun and romance?
Chet: Yeah, fun and romance. St. Valentine got lost in the shuffle, which is just as well since he has also been officially removed from the church's calendar of saints. Sort of like Saint Nick and Christmas.
Lauren: Can you tell us a little bit about Valentine? Or at least a version of his story?
Chet: We really know nothing reliable about Valentine. So my story is as good as any:
The novel is set in the late 3rd-century Roman Empire, a time with many cultural similarities to our own. The eponymous hero, who has given his name to our St. Valentine's Day, is a physician trained in the tradition of Galen, the greatest of the ancient medical teachers.
My Valentine is, by the standards of his time, scientific and skeptical, a secular humanist in a world racked by secular violence and religious strife.
He meets and falls in love with Julia, the blind daughter of his jailer and a passionate Christian. As their tragic story unfolds, both Julia and Valentine learn lessons of reason and faith that are pertinent to our own spiritual concerns.
Lauren: Did you completely make up the blind Julia, or is there a kernel of truth to this story?
Chet: The germ is probably a medieval invention, from the days of chivalry and romance.
Lauren: Do you see this book more about love, history or religion?
Chet: All of the above.
Lauren: Anything you want to add for readers to know?
Chet: Just wait till you get to the part about Val and Julia in the Roman arena. Orlando Bloom would make a nice Val for the movie.
Chet's book is available on amazon.com barnesandnoble.com, and most bookstores.
Happy Valentine's Day, BookLovers.
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