Act of Contritionfocuses on the intimate relationship between Regina, a widow, and Michael, a young doctor whose wife left him for another man. Having found happiness in one another, they desire nothing more than to be together. Yet in the eyes of the Catholic Church, Michael is not free to divorce his wife and marry Regina. In an emotional climax Regina must decide if she loves Michael enough to give him up or if she'll force him to choose between her and God.
By modern standards, Giles's love scenes are tasteful, and the general atmosphere of ecumenism within today's Catholic Church renders moot many of the tensions in the novel. Yet in 1957 Giles's agent and publisher feared the work would cause "irreparable harm" to her reputation. As late as 1972 Giles was revising in the hopes of seeing the novel published. Finally her wish is fulfilled.
Janice Holt Giles(1905-1979), author of nineteen books, lived and wrote near Knifley, Kentucky, for thirty-four years. Her biography isJanice Holt Giles: A Writer's Life.
Front MatterFront Matter (pp. i-iv)
ForewordForeword (pp. v-x)Wade Hall
Born in Arkansas in 1905, Janice Holt moved to Kentucky in 1939 and during World War 11 met her husband, Henry Giles, on a Greyhound bus in Bowling Green. After he was discharged from military service in October 1945, he returned to Kentucky and the two were married in Louisville. In 1949, Janice Holt Giles and Henry Giles moved to Giles Ridge in Adair County, Kentucky. It was here in Henry’s home community that Janice found her writer’s vocation and many of her subjects. In 1946, at the age of forty-one, she had begun her first novel, and three years...
Chapter OneChapter One (pp. 1-12)
The westering sun, slanting through the wide, high windows, laid broad, hot bands across the room. On each window ledge, great bowls of ivy, rooted in water, were thrown into translucent relief, the blue of the glass, the white tangled root-threads reflecting the light prismatically. The oak grain of the long, heavy reading tables was glossed and veined by the burnished light, and the coarse brown leather of the chairs showed every ancient crack. From the street at the foot of the campus came the sounds of increased traffic, homeward bound at the close of the September day. Distance and...
Chapter TwoChapter Two (pp. 13-22)
Term opening, which descended upon her the next week, was as frantic a scramble as she had expected it to be. There were, for one thing, the six students assigned to her, as helpless as infants, to be instructed. Then there were the faculty reserve lists, neatly typed in the beginning but so scrawled over with afterthoughts penciled on the margins, between the lines, top and bottom, as to be almost indecipherable. There were the reserve sections to be set up, the special filing to be attended to. She was amused at a new professor’s list for his course in...
Chapter ThreeChapter Three (pp. 23-32)
All through November the weather had been unpredictable, varying from warm, sunny days to heavy, cold rains. On the day before the Thanksgiving holidays were to begin, however, it became intensely cold, and a slushy mixture of rain, snow, and sleet began falling in the early afternoon.
From the window in her office Regina could see it was fast freezing and coating the walks, the grass and the bushes with a thick white pelt. She thought of the young people planning to go home for the holidays and wished it could have kept fine. Many of them, now, she supposed,...
Chapter FourChapter Four (pp. 33-40)
It turned out that the ankle was not broken, only very badly sprained. And it was Tom and Lucia who drove her home from the hospital instead of Mike Panelli.
She had collected her wits sufficiently by the time she got to the hospital to ask that they be called, and they reached the place just after the X-ray had been taken. Lucia was concerned, in a sympathetic, responsible way. “What ever possessed you to stroll outside in the ice and sleet? In nothing but a robe and your slippers, at that! Really, Regina, I think you need a keeper.”...
Chapter FiveChapter Five (pp. 41-53)
For two days, then, he did not come.
So determined had she become to put him where he belonged in her thinking—a personable, nice man she happened to have seen fishing, and sketched—the doctor whom Lucia had called for her, but entirely unimportant to her beyond that, that she almost succeeded.
Lucia came and went and she gave herself up to enjoying the hours with her. They were such old friends that little effort was required between them. Lucia could sit with her knitting, and she with a piece of needlepoint she had begun in a reckless moment...
Chapter SixChapter Six (pp. 54-63)
At the end of the week he telephoned. Pleasantly but almost perfunctorily he asked about her ankle and gave his formal permission for her to go back to work. She thought he seemed preoccupied and he made no effort to extend the conversation, warning her merely to be careful with it, then letting her go. When the connection was broken and she had hung up, she had a feeling of, well, that’s that.
It grew as the weeks wore on toward Christmas and she did not see him, though she berated herself about it. Why in the world should she...
Chapter SevenChapter Seven (pp. 64-76)
It was a white Christmas after all.
With a swift suddenness of mood the snow came after two days of dark, smoky rain. It began falling in great, wet patches the middle of the morning on Christmas Eve, so thick that, standing at the window, Regina could not see across the garden. There was no wind, and the snow fell in such a calm silence it was almost eerie. The ground is too wet, she thought regretfully—it will simply melt away.
She watched it for awhile, then turned back to the decorating which her dinner party tomorrow was an...
Chapter EightChapter Eight (pp. 77-90)
Trying to write him the next morning, and finding it more difficult than she had expected, she eyed the note paper distrustfully and bit the end of her pen. There surely was some happy medium between a girlish gushing and an old-maidish stiffness.
Half a dozen abortive attempts lay crushed and abandoned in the waste basket and it looked as if this fresh sheet was not going to provide any more inspiration than all the others. Absently, her mind refusing to function, she looked out the window. A pair of juncos, feathers roughed against the cold, picked hopefully in the...
Chapter NineChapter Nine (pp. 91-100)
Both January and February were dismal months. The short, dark days followed each other with the dreary monotony of rain until the earth was like a water-soaked sponge, refusing to absorb any more, lying sogged and filled, all its pores and brachials flooded and swollen. Day after day the skies were overcast, until it seemed as if the sun had sought another system and had turned its back upon a planet so discouragingly thankless.
Regina lived in boots and waterproof until she began to feel as if she had taken to the sea and wondered why the ground under her...
Chapter TenChapter Ten (pp. 101-112)
She was working in the garden, comfortable in faded old jeans and a disreputably worn woollen shirt cast off long ago by Walter. When the day had turned up so fine, she had felt irresistibly drawn outside. It was an old garden, planted much too thickly. Once kept neatly in bounds, it had now run wild, with the shrubs and roses grown to tree size, spreading and overhanging the lawn. The brick walks had all but disappeared in the mat of grass that had overtaken them, and the high stone walls were heavily covered with moss and ivy. It was...
Chapter ElevenChapter Eleven (pp. 113-119)
Easter was late that year, falling in mid-April.
The jonquils, tulips, and hyacinths in the garden had come and gone, but the lilacs were blooming and the first tight little fists on the peonies were opening. The great willow tree in the corner was a waterfall of soft, trailing green, and the maples by the drive were rusty with buds. The iris, which had been only timid little tips when Regina had raked them a month before, were foot-long spears now, bladed and strong. And the robins which had picked worms at her feet were nesting in the crotch of...
Chapter TwelveChapter Twelve (pp. 120-132)
She was doing the dishes after a late supper when he came the next night. He gave the doorbell an impatient trill, then walked on in without waiting, whistling to let her know who it was, and calling, “Where are you?”
Unashamedly pleased and not caring if it showed in her voice, she shouted back, “In the kitchen. Come on back.”
He sauntered lazily in, stopped in the doorway and leaned against it. “You’re looking very housewifely.”
“I’m being very housewifely. A revival is starting at Nettie's church tonight and she left early.You’relooking very outdoorsy. Been fishing?”
Chapter ThirteenChapter Thirteen (pp. 133-143)
“Don’t let me go to sleep,” he begged, “I must leave by midnight.”
She was comfortable and warm and snug, her head on his shoulder, his big length curled around her. Drowsy, she could not bear to think of his leaving. “Why? That’s only a couple of hours.”
The bed shook with his laughter. “There’s nothing I’d like more than never to move again, but don’t you think it would look better if my car were seen or heard leaving at midnight than at dawn? I’m afraid your reputation would never recover.”
“I hadn’t thought of that. Where did you...
Chapter FourteenChapter Fourteen (pp. 144-152)
It wasn’t so easy, not seeing him that night, however.
Until Nettie left it wasn’t too bad. There was someone to talk to, and someone in the house with her. After dinner she worked awhile in the garden, Nettie’s rejoicing voice lifted over the dishes following her about companionably. But when she had gone and dusk had come and the sleepy birds were fussing softly, the house seemed very large and lonely.
She wrote to her parents, which seemed to occupy quite a bit of time, but when she looked at the clock had taken only forty-five minutes, and that...
Chapter FifteeenChapter Fifteeen (pp. 153-163)
As if to compound the note of anticlimax on which the day had ended, the next morning was darkly overcast with a cold, west wind blowing. Regina looked at the weather and brooded.
The sting of the encounter with the priest still burned inside her. Perhaps, she thought, she should ask to see him and talk with him. Perhaps if he knew she had no wish nor desire to estrange Mike from him or his Church, he would look with more favor on their love. If Mike were only not so reticent about what he expected of her—but there...
Chapter SixteenChapter Sixteen (pp. 164-171)
Two days later he called, growling hoarsely, barely able to talk at all his voice was so near gone. “Either Sallie’s germs were terribly contagious, or all that muck and water on the highway the other night have laid me low,” he explained. “I’ve got a fabulous temperature and an assortment of aches and pains that have confounded the combined medical knowledge of the entire staff.”
It was just what she expected, she told herself. He had been wet through, on that soggy ground fully fifteen minutes, and there had been that long drive home. He had shivered almost uncontrollably...
Chapter SeventeenChapter Seventeen (pp. 172-182)
“Mike, there are any number of really good pieces here. We can use most of them nicely. Some of it, of course . . .”
“Some of it,” he said, laughing, “is pure junk. Throw it out if you like. Give it away—burn it. I am only sentimental about that bedroom furniture. It came from the old country with my grandfather.”
She had seen his face when he showed her that bedroom, which had been his parents’, and she had known it was this he had hesitated to speak of that other time. The room had every look of...
Chapter EighteenChapter Eighteen (pp. 183-192)
May turned into June with an abandoned flowering of roses all over the town. Regina thought she had never seen so many. Every garden, including her own, was suddenly aflame with their profusion and color. The town called itself, through the Chamber of Commerce, the City of Roses, and with good reason, she thought.
There was also the first heat of the summer, and a flurry of activity centering around commencement. Seniors went about with a haunted look on their faces. Hopefully they had committed themselves to invitations, to class rings, to the rental of caps and gowns, but now...
Chapter NineteenChapter Nineteen (pp. 193-203)
She parked the car in front of the ugly little chapel and looked at it distrustfully. It sat, small, its white paint raw and already peeling, in a sandy plot, its drabness unrelieved by any shade of trees or any softening of shrubs. The ground around it was red and hard-baked. The heat of the sun reflected from it as if it had been concrete. There was a belfry and a cross above it, but they added nothing of beauty. It borrowed nothing from its surroundings, had only itself to offer, stark and plain and dreary, as the House of...
Chapter TwentyChapter Twenty (pp. 204-219)
“It seems impossible, doesn’t it?” They were standing in the doorway of the kitchen watching the workmen fitting the last screws in the last knobs of the new cabinets. This room was then finished except for her own touches. “It seems impossible they could have done so much in one month—even with six men working I wouldn’t have believed it could be done.” She wiped her paint-smeared hands down her blue jeans. “Do you like this yellow, Mike? With the blue tile it’s a little gaudy, but it’s a north room and it’s rather dark . . .”
Chapter Twenty-OneChapter Twenty-One (pp. 220-234)
“Do you think your mother would like that painting of you?”
“I’m sure she would. Why?”
They were laying a rug in the dining room, both of them on their hands and knees trying to smooth it wrinkle-free over the cushioning mat. It was a rug of Regina’s, brought over from the small Georgian house to try, a Herez whose brilliant colors had faded mellowly. “Does it have to be that special picture?” Mike asked, tugging at a corner. “I’m rather sentimental about it. I’d hoped you were going to give it to me.”
“Why, Mike . . .” she...
Chapter Twenty-TwoChapter Twenty-Two (pp. 235-245)
He was unhappy to see her leave, two days later, and reluctantly he drove her to the airport. “You look so tired and ill,” he said gloomily. “Can’t all that business up there wait awhile?”
Muddled by weariness, deeply disturbed, still haunted by the nightmare visit to his people, she hadn’t the heart to tell him that she longed to get away—that the trip offered a heavenly prospect of peace and rest, that she felt she had to go or break down from the pressures that were so implacably closing in on her. Instead, she told him, “It’s better...
Chapter Twenty-ThreeChapter Twenty-Three (pp. 246-254)
The next morning, however, which was Monday, it required the utmost effort of her to think what she should do now. She should see Sam, she supposed, and tell him the house would not be for sale. She should write Lucia. She should get in more food. She should unpack the boxes only half-filled in the rooms. There were a thousand things she should be doing. Instead, she sat, idly, in the living room, her limbs too heavy to move, her mind too dulled to come to any decision.
The sudden removal of purpose from her life left it intolerably...