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The Anchoress: A Novel by Robyn Cadwallader
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The Anchoress: A Novel (original 2015; edition 2015)

by Robyn Cadwallader (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1719110,818 (3.78)15
Set in the twelfth century, The Anchoress tells the story of Sarah, only seventeen when she chooses to become an anchoress, a holy woman shut away in a small cell, measuring seven paces by nine, at the side of the village church. Fleeing the grief of losing a much-loved sister in childbirth and the pressure to marry, she decides to renounce the world, with all its dangers, desires and temptations, and to commit herself to a life of prayer and service to God. But as she slowly begins to understand, even the thick, unforgiving walls of her cell cannot keep the outside world away, and it is soon clear that Sarah's body and soul are still in great danger.… (more)
Member:Angela.M.Otwell
Title:The Anchoress: A Novel
Authors:Robyn Cadwallader (Author)
Info:Sarah Crichton Books (2015), 321 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:****
Tags:anchoress, historical fiction, novel, solitude, Christian

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The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader (2015)

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» See also 15 mentions

English (8)  French (1)  All languages (9)
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
An outstanding debut novel which explores the psychology of extreme devotion: in 13th-century England a 17-year-old girl is willingly "buried alive," shut up in a single room for the rest of her life so she can devote herself to prayer and contemplation. But no (wo)man is an island: she has two maids and a confessor, although curtains are supposed to separate them at all times. A cat also insists on joining her. Richly evocative of its time and place yet very accessible. ( )
  ElyseBell | May 25, 2019 |
Interesting premise, which for some reason reminds me of the Keepers from Marian Zimmerman Bradley's Darkover series (each Tower had a Keeper...).

I will get around to reading this eventual,
Shira
7 February, 12017 HE
  FourFreedoms | May 17, 2019 |
Interesting premise, which for some reason reminds me of the Keepers from Marian Zimmerman Bradley's Darkover series (each Tower had a Keeper...).

I will get around to reading this eventual,
Shira
7 February, 12017 HE
  ShiraDest | Mar 6, 2019 |
A gentle, thoughtful debut novel, The Anchoress tells of Sarah, a teenage girl from thirteenth-century England who chooses to live the most enclosed type of religious life. Permanently locked into a small chamber attached to the wall of a rural parish church, Sarah "dies" to the world around her in order to spend her life in unfettered contemplation and prayer. That, at least, is the hope—but although Sarah can no longer see the faces of those with whom she communicates, or even a scrap of sky, she finds that it's not so easy to remove herself from ongoing events or from the consequences of her past. Robyn Cadwallader clearly knows a great deal about medieval Christian understandings of the body, gender, and faith, but wears that learning lightly—this is not a novel which feels didactic. Just as impressively, Cadwallader has created a cast of characters whom the modern reader can find sympathetic but whose way of thinking is of their time. ( )
1 vote siriaeve | Jun 28, 2018 |
An anchoress (or anchorite if male) was the term for very holy Christian women who elected to retire from the world and be sealed into a small cell attached to the outside of a church, where they would pray daily and devote their lives to God until succumbing to an early death.

These cells were very small - no more than 12 or 15 feet square - and only had 3 small windows: a squint into the church, a window to receive their frugal food and drink from those who tended to them, and a small window to the outside which was covered with a curtain but allowed light in. Some anchoresses were even enclosed with their own graves already dug inside their anchorhold.

To leave an anchorhold after committing to God in this way was considered a terrible sin, and once entombed an anchoress was expected to stay there until her death.

Robyn Cadwallader has taken this fascinating aspect of history and written a really superb debut fictional novel (so much so that once or twice I skipped back to the start to check it really was a debut - although she was already a creative writing lecturer so not a total novice). She strayed a little from historical fact around the set up of the anchoress Sarah's anchorhold, but this enabled her to weave a number of other characters into the story, which worked so well I'll forgive her for any embellishments. A book just about one central character in her cell would have been tough going after a while.

Set in the 13th century, Sarah, at 17, has elected to enter into an anchorhold after the death of her sister. Choosing to exist in a state somewhere between life and death, she discovers that whilst her body may be locked away it's truly impossible to run away from your thoughts, and the interest that the locals have in her has a way of dangerously distracting her from her life of devotion.

There's a great narrative running through this book. At the centre of it is Sarah, facing her physical, emotional and spiritual battles, but Cadwallader interweaves an excellent secondary story of the peasants who tend to her and come for spiritual counsel, the overbearing landlord who holds the life of all of them (including the anchoress) in his hands, and the conflicting emotions of the priest who hears her confessions.

All in all a really enjoyable read. It's terrifying to think how you would feel being locked away in a small space for the rest of your life, and I think the author did a good job with a fascinating subject. ( )
5 vote AlisonY | Dec 17, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Robyn Cadwallader plays gracefully with medieval ideas about gender, power and writing: if the Bible is the written word of God, who may read it? What might women learn from their exclusion? The classic early-modern poetic comparisons between the room, the womb and tomb are lightly carried and masterfully used at what is probably the gentle climax of the story.
added by zapzap | editThe Guardian, Sarah Moss (Feb 28, 2015)
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robyn Cadwalladerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Baignot, ArnaudTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chambon, PerrineTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leslay, MadeleineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wells, Mary JaneNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
West, SteveNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
'Tis not that Dying hurts us so—
'Tis Living—hurts us more—
But Dying—is a different way—
A Kind behind the Door—

The Southern Custom—of the Bird—
That ere the Frosts are due—
Accepts a better Latitude—
We—are the Birds—that stay.

— Emily Dickinson
’Tis not that Dying hurts us so —
’Tis Living — hurts us more
— But Dying — is a different way —
A Kind behind the Door —
The Southern Custom — of the Bird —
That ere the Frosts are due —
Accepts a better Latitude —
We — are the Birds — that stay.
Emily Dickinson
Dedication
For Anneliese
For Anneliese
First words
I had always wanted to be a jongleur, to leap from the shoulders of another, to fly and tumble, to dare myself in thin air with nothing but my arms and legs to land me safely on the ground.
I HAD ALWAYS WANTED to be a jongleur, to leap from the shoulders of another, to fly and tumble, to dare myself in thin air with nothing but my arms and legs to land me safely on the ground.
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Set in the thirteenth century, The Anchoress tells the story of Sarah, only seventeen when she chooses to become an anchoress, a holy woman shut away in a small cell, measuring seven paces by nine, at the side of the village church. Fleeing the grief of losing a much-loved sister in childbirth and the pressure to marry, she decides to renounce the world, with all its dangers, desires and temptations, and to commit herself to a life of prayer and service to God.

But as she slowly begins to understand, even the thick, unforgiving walls of her cell cannot keep the outside world away, and it is soon clear that Sarah's body and soul are still in great danger..
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