Synopses & Reviews
A triumphant portrait of a resilient and courageous woman and the life she might have lived . . .
Skillfully interweaving historical fact with psychological insight and vivid imagination, Sharratts redemptive novel, Illuminations, brings to life one of the most extraordinary women of the Middle Ages: Hildegard von Bingen, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath.
Offered to the Church at the age of eight, Hildegard was entombed in a small room where she was expected to live out her days in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned but disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. Instead, Hildegard rejected Juttas masochistic piety and found comfort and grace in studying books, growing herbs, and rejoicing in her own secret visions of the divine. When Jutta died some thirty years later, Hildegard broke out of her prison with the heavenly calling to speak and write about her visions and to liberate her sisters and herself from the soul-destroying anchorage. Riveting and utterly unforgettable, Illuminations is a deeply moving portrayal of a woman willing to risk everything for what she believed.
“With elegance and sensitivity, Mary Sharratt rescues Hildegard von Bingen from the obscurity of legend, bringing to life the flesh-and-blood woman in all her conflict, faith, and unwavering tenacity. Illuminations is an astonishing revelation of a visionary leader willing to sacrifice everything to defend her beliefs in a dangerous time of oppression.”
—C. W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici
"Sharratt (Daughters of the Witching Hill) offers up an imaginative retelling of the fascinating life of the 12th-century nun Hildegard von Bingen. As the 10th child, Hildegard is given to the church as a tithe at age eight, whereupon she becomes a handmaiden to the devout and troubled Jutta von Sponheim. Entombed in an anchorage in what is now Germany as brides of Christ under Benedictine rule, Hildegard and Jutta endure their monastic imprisonment for 30 years, during which time Hildegard experiences divine visions. When her anchoress finally dies, Hildegard is granted 'free passage in the abbey,' but her newfound liberty is accompanied by intensified visions and a desire to make those revelations manifest, an impulse roundly quelled by zealous monks. Nevertheless, years spent captive with Jutta strengthened Hildegard's resolve, and she dutifully perseveres, composing 78 songs; penning a book and hundreds of letters to emperors, popes, and royalty; and going on to found two monasteries. Though confined primarily to the abbey and peopled by a small cast, Sharratt's gripping story, like Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, is primarily about relationships forged under pressure." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"An enchanting beginning to the story of the perennially fascinating 12th-century mystic, Hildegard of Bingen. It is easy to paint a picture of a saint from the outside but much more difficult to show them from the inside. Mary Sharratt has undertaken this with sensitivity and grace."
—Margaret George, author of Mary, Called Magdalene
"I loved Mary Sharratts The Daughters of Witching Hill, but she has outdone herself with Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen. She brings one of the most famous and enigmatic women of the Middle Ages to vibrant life in this tour de force, which will captivate the reader from the very first page."
—Sharon Kay Penman, author of the New York Times bestseller Time and Chance
"I love Mary Sharratt. The grace of her writing and the grace of her subject combine seamlessly in this wonderful novel about the amazing, too-little-known saint, Hildegard of Bingen, a mystic and visionary. Sharratt captures both the pain and the beauty such gifts bring, as well as bringing to life a time of vast sins and vast redemptions."
—Karleen Koen, author of Before Versailles and the best-selling Through a Glass Darkly
"Sharratt offers up an imaginative retelling of the fascinating life of the 12th-century nun Hildegard von Bingen....Though confined primarily to the abbey and peopled by a small cast, Sharratts gripping story, like Ann Patchetts Bel Canto, is primarily about relationships forged under pressure."
"In this affecting historical novel, Sharratt imagines the inner life of Hildegard, first as an angry child, then as a young woman nurturing the other girls forced into this restricted life, and finally as a mature woman leading her companions out of the anchorage, establishing the first monastic institution for women in Germany, and advocating an idea of religious devotion based on love rather than suffering. Psychological insight, passages of moving spirituality, and abundant historical detail—from straw bedding and hairshirts to turtle soup and wooden dolls—make this a memorable addition to the genre of medieval historical fiction."
From critically acclaimed historical fiction author Mary Sharratt, a novel based on the true story of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), who was offered by her parents as a tithe to the Church as a young child and who triumphed to become a powerful abbess, composer, prophet and polymath.
chronicles the life of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), who was tithed to the church at the age of eight and expected to live out her days in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned but disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. Instead, Hildegard rejected Juttas masochistic piety and found comfort and grace in studying books, growing herbs, and rejoicing in her own secret visions of the divine. When Jutta died some three decades later, Hildegard broke out of her prison with the heavenly calling to speak and write about her visions and to liberate her sisters and herself from the soul-destroying anchorage.
Like Anita Diamants portrayal of Dinah in The Red Tent, Mary Sharratt interweaves historical research with psychological insight and vivid imagination to write an engaging and triumphant portrait of a courageous and remarkably resilient woman and the life she might have lived. Deeply affecting, Illuminations is a testament to the power of faith, love, and self-creation.
Daughters of theWitching Hill
brings history to life in a vivid and wrenching account of a family sustained by love as they try to survive the hysteria of a witch-hunt.
Bess Southerns, an impoverished widow living in Pendle Forest, is haunted by visions and gains a reputation as a cunning woman. Drawing on the Catholic folk magic of her youth, Bess heals the sick and foretells the future. As she ages, she instructs her granddaughter, Alizon, in her craft, as well as her best friend, who ultimately turns to dark magic.
When a peddler suffers a stroke after exchanging harsh words with Alizon, a local magistrate, eager to make his name as a witch finder, plays neighbors and family members against one another until suspicion and paranoia reach frenzied heights.
Sharratt interweaves well-researched historical details of the 1612 Pendle witch-hunt with a beautifully imagined story of strong women, family, and betrayal. Daughters of the Witching Hill is a powerful novel of intrigue and revelation.
Stunningly detailed, richly plotted, and emotionally engrossing, The Real Minerva is the story of three women forging their own paths in a Midwestern farming community. In 1923, as book-loving Penny enters adolescence, her mother, Barbara, pulls her out of school to send her to work. Destined to become a cleaning woman like her mother, Penny sees no escape from her bleak existence until a scandalous figure arrives in the town of Minerva, Minnesota: Cora, very pregnant, very headstrong, and very alone, has come to make a home on her grandfather's farm. Intrigued by this curious new resident, Penny sets out to work for Cora. Suspenseful and moving,The Real Minerva is a remarkable novel about the strength of women and the unexpected bonds that form between them.
Mary Sharratt is the author of the much-acclaimed debut, Summit Avenue, and the forthcoming novel The Vanishing Point. A born-and-bred Minnesotan, Sharratt drew on her mothers and grandmothers stories of Minnesota farm life in the early twentieth century for The Real Minerva. She now lives in Lancashire, England.
In the tradition of Philippa Gregorys smart, transporting fiction comes this tale of dark suspense, love, and betrayal, featuring two star-crossed sisters, one lost and the other searching.
Bright and inquisitive, Hannah Powers was raised by a father who treated her as if she were his son. While her beautiful and reckless sister, May, pushes the limits of propriety in their small English town, Hannah harbors her own secret: their father has given her an education forbidden to women. But Hannahs secret serves her well when she journeys to colonial Maryland to reunite with May, who has been married off to a distant cousin after her sexual misadventures ruined her marriage prospects in England.
As Hannah searches for May, who has disappeared, she finds herself falling in love with her brother-in-law. Alone in a wild, uncultivated land where the old rules no longer apply, Hannah is freed from the constraints of the society that judged both her and May as dangeroustoo smart, too fearless, and too hungry for life. But Hannah is also plagued by doubt, as her quest for answers to Mays fate grows ever more disturbing and tangled.
"An imaginative retelling of the fascinating life of the twelfth-century nun Hildegard von Bingen . . . Sharratts gripping story, like Ann Patchetts Bel Canto, is primarily about relationships forged under pressure." —Publishers Weekly
Skillfully weaving historical fact with psychological insight and vivid imagination, Illuminations
brings to life one of the most extraordinary women of the Middle Ages: Hildegard von Bingen, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath.
Offered to the Church at the age of eight, Hildegard was expected to live in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned, disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. But Hildegard rejected Jutta's masochistic piety, rejoicing in her own secret visions of the divine. When Jutta died, Hildegard broke out of her prison, answering the heavenly call to speak and write about her visions and to liberate her sisters. Riveting and utterly unforgettable, Illuminations is a deeply moving portrayal of a woman willing to risk everything for what she believed.
“Sharratt brings one of the most famous and enigmatic women of the Middle Ages to vibrant life in this tour de force, which will captivate the reader from the very first page.” —Sharon Kay Penman
“One could not anticipate this majesty and drama . . . Illuminations is riveting, following von Bingen through . . . to emerge as one of the significant voices of the 12th century . . . Unforgettable.” —January Magazine
One of the most extraordinary women of the Middle Ages, Hildegard von Bingen—Benedictine abbess, healer, composer, saint—experienced mystic visions from a very young age. Offered by her noble family to the Church at the age of eight, she lived for years in forced silence. But through the study of books and herbs, through music and the kinship of her sisters, Hildegard found her way from a life of submission to a calling that celebrated the divine glories all around us. In this brilliantly researched and insightful novel, Mary Sharratt offers a deeply moving portrait of a woman willing to risk everything for what she believed, a triumphant exploration of the life she might well have lived.
“Gripping . . . Like Ann Patchetts Bel Canto, [Illuminations] is primarily about relationships forged under pressure.” —Publishers Weekly
“Masterful.”—Saint Paul Pioneer Press
A Light Far-Shining: A Novel of the Pendle Witches reveals the true story of Bess Southerns, aka Old Demdike, cunning woman, healer, and the most notorious of the Pendle Witches of 1612. (Set in Lancaster, England)
Minerva, Minnesota, in 1923 is the picture of Willa Cather-like gentility: the Northern Pacific Railway runs through a town center dominated by church steeples and the Hamilton Creamery and Pop Factory. But Minerva is also a small town of limited opportunity, a place where the status quo is firmly entrenched and rigidly enforced. Against this tableau of midwestern placidity and calm, three Minerva women assert their dignity and independence against all odds.
The troubled relationship between young Penny and her mother, Barbara, is getting worse. Disturbed by her mother's affair with the man they clean house for, Penny answers an ad to work for Cora Egan, a Chicago society woman who has fled a bad marriage and intends to raise her child alone on her grandfather's farm. Cora's situation shocks the town, but over time her presence opens a door in Penny's and Barbara's lives. Through these women, Mary Sharratt considers what it takes to reinvent the self, to claim one's true identity.
Mary Sharratt's first novel, Summit Avenue, was hailed as a "remarkablel debut . . . [that] weaves dark, evocative fairy tales and passionate longings into an incandescent coming-of-age story" (Publishers Weekly, starred review). Readers interested in feminine archetypes and women in myth will be similarly drawn to Sharratt's newest novel. Exquisite historical detail and emotional resonance infuseThe Real Minerva,an old-fashioned story with a modern spirit.
About the Author
MARY SHARRATT is an American writer who has lived in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, for the past seven years. The author of the critically acclaimed novels Summit Avenue, The Real Minerva, and The Vanishing Point, Sharratt is also the coeditor of the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit, a celebration of female antiheroes, strong women who break all the rules.