Visiting author prompts discussions


Charlotte Ehrlich

Book club co-head Grace O’Reilly discusses ‘Circe’ with book club member Estie Seligman. The club meets weekly and is reading the book in anticipation of Madeline Miller’s visit on Nov. 19.

Charlotte Ehrlich, Web Editor

Author Madeline Miller’s novel “Circe” is stealing the hearts of students and faculty alike in anticipation of her visit on Nov. 19.

A modern reteller of ancient Greek classics, Miller is breaking the boundaries of the rigid structure of mythological tales such as Homer’s “The Odyssey” 

“At first blush, ‘Circe’ is a tale of a witch, an immortal who grows up in a world of violence and abuse and is exiled to a life of solitude on an island,” Latin teacher David Jacobson said. “But ‘Circe’ is much more than this. At its heart, it’s a story about life and learning to live, a story about what it means to be human — no small feat for an immortal.”

“Circe” was first introduced to the Convent & Stuart Hall community when several of the faculty attended the Key West Literary Seminar last year and attended Miller’s presentation about her books. Faculty recognized her literary talent in the field of mythology and invited her to speak as a visiting author, according to librarian Reba Sell. 

“Everyone came back raving about how amazing she was during her presentation,” Sell said. “Miller is a beautiful writer. She has a real talent for pulling the reader into the mythological world and connecting with the characters.” 

Convent & Stuart Hall’s book club, co-headed by junior Grace O’Reilly and senior Gabriella Vulakh, is reading the bestselling novel in preparation for Miller’s visit. The club tackles prominent themes in the novel and debates challenging questions and topics, according to O’Reilly.

“I like that even though Circe is ostracized by her family and everyone else, she has a very strong will and doesn’t care what others think,” O’Reilly said. “Circe’s character is so inspiring and I hope that the novel helps people to grow to love reading.” 

Sell and fellow librarian Allyson Barrett are working with the Book Club to foster continuing conversations on “Circe.” Discussions on a wide breadth of concepts are enthusiastic and passionate in every book club meeting, according to Sell. 

“I really admire this book because Circe is written to be very imperfect, which is a contrast to other gods and goddesses in Greek mythology,” book club member Ella Beard said. “I also appreciate how Circe is very tenacious, ambitious, and strong-willed, which is a unique description of a female character. I’ve read Miller’s books before and thought they were excellent, so I was very happy to learn that we’d be reading another Miller story for book club.”

Several classes, including Latin and senior English, are also discussing the book and its application to many different fields, according to Jacobson. 

“I think Miller’s ‘Circe’ matters for my students — indeed, for all students regardless of what language they take — because for millennia the female voices of Greek and Roman literature, all created by men, have been routinely silenced and relegated to the margins,” Jacobson said. 

Miller’s other novel, “Song of Achilles,” follows the same diverging structure from the original classic. It depicts the tale of Achilles and his friend Patroclus and their test of friendship in the midst of the Trojan War, according to Sell. 

“‘Song of Achilles,’ like ‘Circe,’ is told from the point of view of somebody from the myth that we haven’t heard from so much in mythology,” Barrett said. “The language in ‘Song of Achilles’ is very fresh and exciting, the energy is vivid, and there’s a lot of hidden beauty.”

Miller is scheduled to come to Convent & Stuart Hall in two weeks for an assembly with high school students and faculty, specialized workshops with Latin students, and an evening Speaker Series Event on both “Circe” and “Song of Achilles.” 

The two novels are available for check out in the Williams Library through the end of November. “Circe” will also be turned into an HBO Max drama as an eight-episode series with an unreleased premiere date, according to Deadline. 

“I’ve heard several students talking about ‘Circe’ and making a connection to their middle school days when they loved Greek Mythology,” Sell said. “From ‘The Goddess Girls’ to the ‘Percy Jackson’ series, Miller’s works are an accessible next step in reading for any student who enjoys mythology.”