I picked up Quo Vadis because I so much enjoyed Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Polish history trilogy, as you know if you read my review of With Fire and Sword. This novel is about a young Roman patrician, Vinicius, who falls in love with Ligia, a Christian, in the time of Nero’s rule. Sienkiewicz did extensive research on the period to get the details right.
About half of the book is about Vinicius’s pursuit of Ligia, first through ruthless means, including kidnapping (presumably pagan patricians have no morals), and later through conversion to Christianity. I was frankly uninterested in either Vinicius or Ligia, who are cardboard characters, and I couldn’t care less about whether they got together.
The last half of the book is about the burning of Rome and the persecution of the Christians. It features the last days of St. Paul. The pace picks up a little here, but overall the novel is marred by its focus on extolling Christianity. All of the Christians are noble, and most of the other characters are not. Sienkiewicz was a devout Catholic, as is obvious from a few scenes in all his books, and I can only think that the added emphasis on this aspect in this particular novel gets in the way of the book’s effectiveness, at least as viewed by a modern audience.
I know that Quo Vadis was extremely popular in its time (it was published in 1896) and contributed toward Sienkiewicz winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. I also know that Sienkiewicz was capable of creating more interesting characters and writing more exciting scenes. Perhaps the times have just changed too much since this book was written for it to appeal to a wide audience now.