2. The Story
3. Use of History
3.1 World War ІІ
3.2 The story of Joseph Saadi
3.3 Biblical history of St. Paul
3.4 Personal History
Nicholas Monsarrat may be one of the most well-known and most influential Anglophone writers of Malta, especially when it comes to historical novels. Books such as “A Cruel Sea” are known far over the borders of Malta. As history is crucial to most of his novels, and as “The Kappilan of Malta” makes use of it rather frequently, my interest in this essay is laid on the role that history adopts in this novel.
To analyse the enormous amount of historical happenings that are dealt with in this book would be far too much work for one essay so the work had to be reduced to some important points.
The essay will deal with several points of the use of history within the book. Means of influencing the reader will be observed and analysed and examples for adjustments to real events will be discussed.
I will try to outline in this paper, that the use of history is crucial to the story of the book as well as to the message to the Maltese to never give up hope and to take measures into their own hands.
2. The story
“The Kappilan of Malta” deals with Father Salvatore, who is a humble priest in Malta and has been such for 20 years when war comes to Malta. He could have been a member of one of the most famous Maltese families, the Santo-Nobiles, but when he was sixteen he devoted his life to god if only his girlfriend would not get pregnant.
As the first Italian bombs fall on Grand Harbour, Father Salvatore employs a refuge in some old catacombs that have former been a burial place for monks for the homeless Maltese.
The Chapters of the book are separated from each other by so-called “Hexamerons”. These are passages in which Father Salvatore gives an account of Maltese history to the people in the Catacombs in a kind of solemn speech. He does so in order to replenish the people’s hope and their feeling of identification with their mother island. On another level, these passages bring Maltese history closer to the reader and therefore set ground for the basic understanding of the book.
In addition “The Kappilan of Malta” tells the story of Marija, the daughter of Salvatore’s sister, and her love for one of the fighter pilots that are stationed on Malta.
The book uses a constant rise and fall of tension (people are killed, a new convoy arrives in Malta, Salvatore gets in trouble with the bishop…). In the end, Dun Salv, as he is called, is repressed by the church because of certain “moral issues” (unlicensed weddings in the catacombs, drinking, etc.) but in his last speech he gives enough hope to the people for them to endure the rest of the hideous war. And of course, Michael Ainsley, the fighter pilot, returns to marry Marija after being shot down over Sicily.
3. Use of History
3.1 World War ІІ
Since the story is placed in the wages of World War ІІ, a big amount of the book is concerned with the description of the to and fro of militaristic moves on and around Malta. Monsarrat is very precise in the reports of the endeavours of both the British and the Italian fleets in the Mediterranean. Whenever it comes to any events that are crucial for Malta’s role in the Second World War, he first portrays the picture that Father Salvatore and the people of Malta get from their reduced point of view on their island and then recounts the military actions as they are later written down in the history books. This never seems obsolete or artificial as Father Salvatore is created as a character with great knowledge especially when it comes to historical facts and it appears a given fact that he would try to gain as much information about the war after it is over.
Also, the descriptions in themselves never seem biased or propagandistic. Surely Monsarrat puts a certain pride for his country and his people into his book, but any glorification of them is not his kind of game.
But, on the other hand, influence can also be done by the choice of events. And here without doubt one could say that Monsarrat only employs those parts of World War ІІ history that are useful for the course and the message of his book.
I want to make this point clear with the help of two examples, the first one being the fate of the carrier Illustrious and the second being the part of the tanker Ohio in the story.
Both of the ships serve as a sign of hope in the book whenever the situation seems too drastic for Malta and its citizens and indeed, to certain extend, they really were.