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Women in the Wall (1973)

Tekijä: Julia O'Faolain

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
1316210,146 (3.89)64
In sixth century Gaul, nuns become involved the political intrigues of the day.

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Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 6) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
This was an intense novel focusing on the lives of nuns in the 6th century Gaul. It took me a while to get going with it, but Radegunda and the anchoress who are among the focal characters of the novel were ultimately compelling. ( )
  mari_reads | Jul 21, 2018 |
Magnificent, incisive and insightful.
  FionaTW | Apr 10, 2017 |
Set in the 6th Century AD and based on the chronicles of the time Julia O'Faolain has created a fictionalised account of the life of Radegunda and her life as the founderess of a nunnery. This also includes the story of the abbess Agnes and her relationship with the poet, and later priest, Fotunatas; the political machinations of Gaul at the time and an anchorite at the nunnery.

The basic story covers around twenty years with some flashbacks to earlier times. Told from several viewpoints and not in a linear fashion this was not an easy read. I'm sure O'Faolin has done her research but she does take the story in some unexpected directions, as explained in her introduction. So this is fiction and as such it was an occasionally uncomfortable read but also a possible explanation of life at the time, ( )
2 ääni calm | Apr 26, 2012 |
Scholars have argued extensively about the relationship between the sacred and the erotic in the lives of women ascetics in the early Catholic Church. Were the ascetic practices of these women genuine; symptoms of hysteria, sexual frustration, lack of control; assertions of power in a male-dominated world; or something else? In her historical novel Women in the Wall, Julia O’Faolain explores all of these possibilities. Women in the Wall tells the story of St. Radegunda, her ward Agnes, and Ingunda, the woman in the wall. These three women and the poet Fortunatus take turns narrating the events of each other’s lives both within and without the convent and analyzing the implications of the ascetic life.

In their book The Mystic Mind: The Psychology of Medieval Mystics and Ascetics, Jerome Koll and Bernard Bachrach argue that Radegunda’s asceticism, her excessive mortification of the flesh, and lengthy fasts are manifestations of early childhood trauma. Certainly, Radegunda experienced ample trauma in her early life. Born in Thuringia (located in present day central Germany) circa 525 CE, Radegunda lived through her father’s murder, her mother’s death (possibly by murder as well) and saw her uncle King Hermanfrid and his household slaughtered by the Merovingian Frankish kings, Theodoric I and Clothar I. Taken prisoner along with her infant brother, Radegunda was educated in Clothar’s household.

At fifteen, Radegunda became Clothar’s wife (probably against her will). Clothar would certainly later claim he had married a nun rather than a wife. By all accounts, her relationship with Clothar was not a happy one—hardly surprising in view of the situation. As Venantius Fortunatus, Radegunda’s friend and later her confessor, noted in The Life of the Holy Radegund, Radegunda would,

when she lay with her prince . . . ask leave to rise and leave the chamber to relieve nature. Then she would prostrate herself in prayer under a hair cloak by the privy so long that the cold pierced her through and through and only her spirit was warm. Her whole flesh prematurely dead, indifferent to her body's torment, she kept her mind intent on Paradise and counted her suffering trivial, if only she might avoid becoming cheap in Christ's eyes.

King Clothar could hardly have felt complimented that his wife preferred the privy floor to his company.

But is Radegunda’s choice of the ascetic life so neatly packaged as psychological trauma? Julia O’Faolain suggests otherwise. . . .

Read the rest of this review at Club Balzac (http://clubbalzac.blogspot.com/2011/01/sacred-sin-or-profane-silence-julia.html) ( )
21 ääni urania1 | Jan 2, 2011 |
This is an incredibly depressing book. It takes place in 6th century Gaul (France) and is based on historical characters. The story centers on two women of royal birth, one forced to marry the Frankish king who killed her family, and the other a younger woman given to her as a child for her to raise. Together they found a convent, at which most of the story takes place.

Life in a 6th century convent was brutal, although probably not as brutal as outside the "walls". Here, the world intrudes infrequently, but when it does it usually brings disruption, chaos, or death. The most disturbing part of the story is told in first person by a nun who has chosen to become an anchoress, a nun literally shut up between walls in the convent. No human contact, no light but the slit through which food and water are silently passed, no hygiene, or medical care, or even "facilities". In this case, the cell she occupies is too small to allow her to lie down. Being an anchoress was a life commitment. The practice was allowed because the presence of an anchoress brought renown to the convent and, it was thought, good fortune. Not to the poor soul immured in the wall, of course. Here, as she slowly goes insane, she tries to remember to offer up her suffering to God.

Actually, a lot of the book is concerned with the characters excusing suffering by offering it up to God while their civilization is disintegrating, and as fear and uncertainty breed superstition to explain the world to a people needing something, anything, to get through their lives. Signs and portents are seen everywhere, as guides to decision making, proof of guilt or innocence, and explanations for why things happened. The violence and the excuses for it are appalling. But as horrifying as the story is, O'Faolain holds the reader's interest up to the end. Just don't expect a happy ending. ( )
2 ääni auntmarge64 | May 5, 2010 |
Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 6) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
Warning: full review contains massive spoilers.

But there is another way of looking at history, one that becomes fiercer and wilder the further back you go; one that says that people in the past, thanks to radically different physical, political, religious and cultural situations, may be almost unrecognisable to their modern counterparts. In this version of the past, historical novels have something in common with the best of science fiction and a creation of a world that is coherent, satisfyingly detailed, yet imaginatively strange and challenging.

O'Faolain's book is a remarkable example of this. Its original Guardian reviewer may have called it "urbane", but for me the world she writes about outside the convent gates is almost feral. Her language is peppered with images and metaphors of decay and darkness, and nature, sometimes benign but often vicious, dominates. Life is wartorn and precarious, the roads littered with bodies, rotten or rotting, "pagan shrines surrounded by every sort of idolatrous rubbish, including some stinking horses' heads set on poles and picked at by daws". The traveller who sees this arrives at the convent gates "pale as a parsnip and gaunt as a cormorant".

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The mad cannot sin.
Almost all the characters in this story lived in Gaul thirteen centuries ago and left behind odd, slivered images of themselves. (Introductory Note)
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