This story is about a young woman who chooses solitude over marriage. Esclarmonde is fifteen at the start of this novel and required by birth as the daughter of a lord to marry a knight who her father has chosen. This disturbs Esclarmonde who views the knight, Lothaire, as a reckless ladies man who can not be trusted to marry. On the night of her betrothal to Lothaire, Esclarmonde slices her ear off and condemns herself to a life of sainthood. This action enrages the community at large. Everyone believes that she is crazy to have committed such an act, however, Esclarmonde convinces the entire village that it was what God intended. Incensed, Esclarmonde's father attempts to force her into marriage anyway, but upon the advice of the archbishop, he decides he has no choice but to allow his daughter to be walled up in the castle where she will only receive visitors through a small window in the cell that is now her home. But before Esclarmonde is walled up, her father takes his rage out on her by raping Esclarmonde and as a result she becomes impregnated.
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When the child is born, he is surprisingly beautiful and healthy. Esclarmonde delivers the child alone with the advice of a local midwife. But after a few days of being alone, she realizes that she will need to reveal the truth to her father. When Esclarmonde's father learns of the baby, he takes his son with him under the auspice of giving him a better home, however, he returns with the boy in a few days time and to Esclarmonde's horror, the boy's hands are pierced as if on a stake, like Jesus. The baby undergoes a terrible recovery, with Esclarmonde calling on healers for herbs and prayers that the boy might survive. When it is all said and done, the boy survives and is healthy. The fact that his hands are pierced does give credence to Esclarmonde being like the Virgin Mary, giving birth to the son of God. People all around the village hear of this and begin to revere her.
During her time in solitude, Esclarmonde is allowed to see her son and people travel from the country over to visit her, their saint and have advice from her and confess their own sins. They bring gifts and although Esclarmonde grows famous, her relationship with her father is still strained. Finally, the man resolves to piercing his own hands, nailing himself to a bed post with one hand out of guilt from what he did to his son. His wife, Douce, is unsure what to do and goes to Esclarmonde for help. When Esclarmonde advises him to go to war in the Holy Land, his wife is incensed and tells Esclarmonde that she will never tell him to do such a thing, especially since she is expecting a child of her own. In the end, Esclarmonde's father does finally go to war and is killed as a result. Many other people in the village die as a result of this war and Esclarmonde lives forever as their saint.
Best part of story, including ending:
I liked the originality of this book. It was interesting to think about the severity of maiming oneself before marrying.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Esclarmonde's stepmother, Douce, comes to Esclarmonde for help with her husband and tells Esclarmonde that no matter how many people believe in her sainthood, she never will. This part of the narrative was key in exposing Esclarmonde's selfish and corrupt will.
Opinion about the main character:
I did not like how Esclarmonde took advantage of her sainthood. In my mind she was not worthy of the position.