The heretic is Giordano Bruno, fugitive monk, wandering scholar, who three hundred and seventy years ago was burnt in the Campo dei Fiori in Rome.
In Bruno, West sees the dilemma of twentieth-century man, of whom governments – the democracies most insidiously of all – demand conformity as the price of survival. “I could not believe,” he writes in his preface, “that any man should be required to sell his soul – however undeveloped – to anyone who promised him order, discipline, social acceptance and three meals a day… I found myself in him: my fears, my doubts, my own wrong-headedness, my conviction that soon or late a man has to know a reason for living or dying. The reason may be wrong, but man’s right to hold the reason is inalienable.”
To all who share these convictions Bruno speaks directly and eloquently in this play, first performed in 1970, with Leonard Rossiter as Bruno.
Morris Langlo West (26 April 1916 – 9 October 1999) was an Australian novelist and playwright, best known for his novels “The Devil’s Advocate” (1959), “The Shoes of the Fisherman” (1963), and “The Clowns of God” (1981). His books were published in 27 languages and sold more than 60 million copies worldwide. West’s works were often focused on international politics and the role of the Roman Catholic Church in international affairs.
Described as one of the great storytellers of the twentieth century, Morris West was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1916. After a difficult childhood, at the age of 14 he joined the Christian Brothers Juniorate in Victoria. On the eve of taking his final vows almost 12 years later, he had a change of heart and chose a more worldly existence. Following his first marriage to Elizabeth Harvey in 1941, he was appointed Lieutenant in the Intelligence Division of the Australian Military Forces, and it was while working as a cipher expert in Northern Australia in 1942 that he wrote his first, autobiographical, novel, “Moon in My Pocket”, one of the first secular titles to lift the veil on the religious life.
West later worked in publicity for Murdoch’s newspaper chain and set up his own radio production company. In 1953, he sold the business and started writing full-time, with the support of his second wife Joy. He published one best-seller after another, and his novels gained a reputation for being uncannily prophetic. He wrote 28 novels, many of which were made into films.
West died while working at his desk on the final chapters of his novel “The Last Confession”, about the trials and imprisonment of Giordano Bruno who was burned at the stake for heresy in 1600. Bruno was a person with whom West had long sympathised and even identified. In 1969 he had published a blank-verse play, “The Heretic” (available on DCPAS), on the same subject, which was staged in London in 1970. In 1998 he converted it into a libretto for an opera, which was set to music by Colin Brumby but was never staged. The family posthumously published the novel, unfinished and unedited.