Theo and Matilda

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Theo and Matilda were seemingly destined to repeatedly come together throughout the course of history. The first couple, one a peasant transformed into a monk because of his gift of poetry and the other the daughter of a king, are parted by death before they can do little more than recognize their attraction. The second time the couple reappear, Theo is still a monk, although his grasp on faith is tenuous, and Matilda is still an aristocrat. This time their love is realized, but before they can enjoy the fruits of that connection, fate intervenes to strike them down.

In phase three, Theo and Matilda have married and collaborated to produce the children their predecessors were denied. Their love withers before their disparate obsessions, however, and tragedy is therefore their lot. A century later, the two fateful lovers reappear. This time, Theo is once again a monk, but one whose earthly passions led him to renounce his vows of celibacy and drove him into madness—a madness shared by Matilda, the quintessential housewife and mother overwhelmed by the paucity of her existence.

Despite their inability to cope with the strains of an ordinary existence, Theo and Matilda find happiness and even something resembling love for a time. Still, there is little doubt that the tedium of life will soon consume them and their reacquired passion. It is only the last couple, a contemporary Theo and Matilda, who seem gifted with the necessary ingredients to enable them to attain the peace their predecessors were denied.

Billington presents ten individuals who are but variations upon a common theme. Unfortunately, the writing is somewhat uneven, and readers may find that some Theos and Matildas are more engaging than others. In short, this is a work best pursued in part rather than in its totality.