Written by John Henry Newman
Review by Sarah Cuthbertson

First published in 1856, Callista is set in 3rd century Roman North Africa and tells the story of three characters forced to seek their true spiritual home in a time of decadence and persecution. Callista is an exiled Greek who makes statues of pagan gods. Her suitor Agellius seeks to renew his childhood Christian faith in the midst of adversity, while his brother Juba, passionate and tormented, resists divine destiny until the last.

It was news to me that Cardinal (as he then wasn’t) Newman wrote fiction, but this is the second of two novels – the other was Loss and Gain (1848) about the spiritual odyssey of a 19th-century English Catholic convert not unlike himself.

Callista is full of incident and drama. But today’s reader may find the lengthy descriptions and overheated dialogue tiresome, and the use of Victorian colloquialisms and references to places like Birmingham and the West Indies jarring, not to mention preachy: It’s obvious that this novel is a warning to complacent Christians that the British Empire might go the way of the Roman.