02 March 2015

The Gate of Dawn

By M.J. Neary

The Gate of Dawn is the title of the novel I am currently working on and hope to have finished in the next few months. Last year I did a guest post regarding some of the pagan practices of Balts, so elements of that research have been included into the novel.  The title refers to one of the most religiously, culturally and historically significant manuments in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. It was constructed in early 1500s as a component of defensive fortifications. Of the nine city gates, only the Gate of Dawn remains, while the others were destroyed by the order of the government at the end of the 18th century when Lithuania was annexed to the Russian empire.  Destroying indigenous culture of the former Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth was a huge part of the Czarist agenda. In spite of the encroaching Imperial forces, Vilnius was still a diverse city, in which various ethnic groups lives in relative peace. The Gate of Dawn was left intact, having miraculously survived several attempted insurrections, the last symbol of old Baltic pride.

There is a chapel above the Gate of Dawn, containing the icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy, claimed to possess miraculous healing powers.  What sets the icon apart is that Mary is portrayed without Jesus, which is not common.  Since the 16th century the painting has been an object of venerations for both Catholic and Orthodox inhabitants, attracting pilgrims from neighboring countries to pray before it. Masses were held in both Lithuanian and Polish.
The idea of having a religious monument as the center of the novel came to me after re-reading Victor Hugo's Notre-Dame de Paris (for the umpteenth time).  Given that it's my mission to highlight lesser known landmarks, I decided to make The Gate of Dawn in Vilnius the focal point of my next novel.
I am pleased to share the synopsis:

Welcome to 1880s Vilnius, a volatile Northeastern metropolis where Balts, Germans, Poles, Russians and Jews compete for a place in the sun. After sustaining fatal burns in a fire instigated by his rivals, Hermann Lichter, a German-born textile magnate, spends his final days in a shabby infirmary. In a hasty and bizarre deathbed transaction he gives his fifteen-year old daughter Renate in marriage to Thaddeus, a Polish widower twice her age who lives on a bucolic farm and toils side by side with his peasants. Renate's arrival quickly disrupts the harmonious flow of life. Outraged by her loss of freedom and familiar comforts, the arrogant city girl antagonizes every member of the household, driving Thaddeus to despair. During an excursion to Vilnius, Renate reunites with her secret lover, a young Jewish painter who sells his watercolors outside the Gate of Dawn chapel. Absorbed in her rekindled affair, Renate does not suspect that her life is in danger. Her resigned husband might be willing to look the other way, but his servants will not stand by and watch their beloved master humiliated. From the cobblestone streets of Old City swarming with imperial officials, to the misty bogs of rural Lithuania where pagan deities still rule, The Gate of Dawn is a folkloric tale of rivalry, conspiracy and revenge.

About the author

Marina Julia Neary is an acclaimed historical novelist, award-winning essayist, multilingual journalist, dramatist and poet. Her areas of expertise include Neo-Victorianism, French Romanticism and Irish nationalism. Her literary career to depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the Chernobyl catastrophe. Neary declares that her mission is to tell untold stories, find hidden gems and illuminate the prematurely extinguished stars in history. She explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand. Her debut novel Wynfield's Kingdom: a Tale of London Slums (Fireship Press) appeared on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the UK and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal. Her subsequent novels include Wynfield's War (2010), Brendan Malone: the Last Fenian (2011), Martyrs & Traitors: a Tale of 1916 (2011), Never Be at Peace: a Novel of Irish Rebels (2014) and Saved by the Bang (2015).