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The Anchoress

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  2,036 ratings  ·  375 reviews
England, 1255. What could drive a girl on the cusp of womanhood to lock herself away from the world forever?

Sarah is just seventeen when she chooses to become an anchoress, a holy woman shut away in a cell that measures only seven by nine paces, at the side of the village church. Fleeing the grief of losing a much-loved sister in childbirth as well as pressure to marry the
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published May 12th 2015 by Sarah Crichton Books (first published January 1st 2015)
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3.61  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,036 ratings  ·  375 reviews

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☼♄Jülie 
Jun 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lover's of Historical Fiction/Medieval
Recommended to ☼♄Jülie  by: Self

"The Anchoritic Life
Medieval anchorites, as strange as it may seem to us, sought to withdraw so radically from the world that they had themselves sealed into cells for life. In fact, the word anchorite comes ultimately from the Greek verb anacwre-ein, which means "to withdraw." Anchorites (both men and women) withdrew from the world not only to avoid physical temptation, but to engage in the kind of spiritual warfare practiced by desert saints like St. Anthony (the founder of Western monasticis
May 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical, 2015
What would lead you to leave your life, your world possessions, even your sense of self behind, and enter a cell nine steps wide for the rest of your natural life?

Sarah, fresh from the grief of her sister's death, made the decision to enter the anchorage, and states Here, inside these walls, Christ would heal me of my grief, help me let go of my woman's body, it's frailty and desire.

To find God and to let go of her grief, Sarah needed to remove herself from all earthly concerns and lock h
Stef Rozitis
I knew I would find this book disturbing and difficult to read, that it would be about some of my really big fears like being locked in a room, deprived of things, self-harm all that sort of stuff. All of that was in there as well as rape which I also find difficult to read about (so that's a warning for people I guess) but what surprised me was the richness of possibilities in the anchoress' life, that while many aspects of the time and the life were problematised, this was done without coming ...more
Mar 29, 2015 rated it liked it
The subject matter of this book is distinctly intriguing. Anchorites and anchoresses were a subclass of religious hermits, who lived entirely enclosed lives, in locked cells adjoining churches. They were cut off from the physical world to an extent ominously symbolized in the rituals surrounding their enclosure, which incorporated a burial service, signalling the anchorite’s or anchoress’s living “death.”

It was this unusual subject matter that attracted me to Robyn Cadwallader’s novel, together
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Feb 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
I received a copy of this in exchange for an honest review

Publisher summary:
England, 1255: Sarah is only seventeen when she chooses to become an anchoress, a holy woman much like the one who taught Saint Hildegard of Bingen, shut away in a small cell, measuring seven by nine paces, at the side of the village church. Fleeing the grief of losing a much-loved sister in childbirth as well as pressure to marry, she decides to renounce the world—with all its dangers, desires, and temptations—and comm
Jun 07, 2015 rated it did not like it
An anorexic walks into a bar...

An anorexic nun walks into a cloister ...

An idiot walks into a village. She finds what she has been seeking all her life.

There, that's better.

I can hardly find words to describe the shallowness of this book. Truth be told, I even looked into my thesaurus to see if there was some word which escaped me at the moment, and which would adequately cover it. None exists.

The closest approximation I can muster is that this is a medievalist's Eat, Pray, Love, which is
Elyse Walters
May 22, 2015 marked it as to-read
Reasons I personally won't read this book....

I just read the 'blurp',,,
Yes...I read it all....
I'm thinking to myself...,"why in the hell would I even 'consider' reading such a book given what
I'm living with now? I already feel confined enough in a cast, (can't go for a walk, or swim, or drive,
I certainly do not want to read about a book where a woman chooses to live
in a cell.

I'm sure it may even be a good book! I

I don't want to go there!

Cass Moriarty
Jan 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Historical fiction is an opportunity to learn much about a particular time in history, and you can tell when an author has spent many, many hours (months? years?) researching their topic. So it is with The Anchoress (4th Estate 2015), the debut novel by Robyn Cadwallader. Set in England in 1255, the story seems at first to be a simple one, with a simple setting: Sarah, the 17-year-old daughter of a cloth merchant is wracked with grief after the death of her beloved sister in childbirth, and so m ...more
Most historical fiction novelists don't make the effort to steep their stories in the mores of the time and culture where they're set. They simply take a set of modern characters and plop in them in the days of auld lang syne. There's something to be said in favor of this approach. It presents the human condition as immutable and constant, and for me at least, there seems to be an undeniable truth as well as a comfortable warmth to the idea that humans, as a species, are more or less the same; i ...more
Robyn Cadwallader takes us deeply inside the medieval mind and then takes us deeper again into the mind and life of an anchoress. A woman who chose to live literally sealed into a tiny room away from the world cared for only remotely by a maidservant or two whom she could not see.


I have certainly asked myself that question in a desultory way on the odd occasion when the fact of the anchorite life has been drawn to my attention. But it has been a moment's thought. Rapidly dismissed, forgotte
Julia Tulloh Harper
For a while I didn’t buy this book as I was put off by the cover: it has a bird on the front, and I had assumed it was another novel using birds as a metaphor for life (‘learning to fly’, ‘leaving the nest’, ‘migrating’) which I am well and truly sick of. However, the blurb sucked me in. The Anchoress is about a woman in the 12th century who chooses to live in an enclosed stone cell for life. I was totally intrigued, partly because I’ve always been fascinated by the middle ages, and partly becau ...more
Karen M
Apr 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aww-2015
When I was a kid I used to wonder what it might be like if life was other than it was - say, what it might be like to be blind (I practiced being blind by doing things with my eyes closed), or what it might have been like to be a nun. I used to think I could handle being a nun if I was an olden times girl, not because I was particularly devout, but because it would be better than being married off to some gross old man with no teeth and cankers (not that I knew what a canker was). Besides, all t ...more
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Have you ever seen a more beautiful cover on a book. (It is far more beautiful in person than it looks in the image on here.) The cover is what attracted me to this in the first place, but it is a tale of medieval times and I really like reading about that period of history. I'm so pleased I picked it up. Inside that lush cover is a story of sacrifice. Sarah, a young girl reeling from the grief of her sister's death and the lascivious advances of the son of the local Lord, decides to become The ...more
Jun 07, 2015 rated it liked it
This book suffers. Its core is the dichotomy of will/mind vs body/physical. The era is completely 1200's in rural England. Our protagonist is 17 and has chosen to become a vowed Anchoress within a nailed-closed stone cell of a rural chapel. Her first 18 months or so within this environment is the progression of the book. It won't be for many readers who want action and dense plots of multiple twists, that is for sure. In some ways, more than Hild or other books of enclosed women I have read, thi ...more
Martine Bailey
This is a truly intriguing premise for a novel, to examine the life of a religious recluse living a life of withdrawal in a tiny cell. It is little known that an odd arrangement of stones low down on the outside of a British church often indicates the former presence of an anchorite’s cell. There is one in the wall of a house in my hometown of Chester and its mystery does suggest the huge gap between the medieval and modern sensibility. I had long wanted to listen to this audio book, keen to dis ...more
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, ...more
Nov 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Surprisingly unmodern for a contemporary novel about a medieval anchorite. Robyn Cadwallader novel, The Anchoress didn’t entirely ‘take me back’ but I liked it very much. The plot will no doubt seem stark and bare to readers unfamiliar with the era, yet it actually moved too quickly IMNSHO.

I read it in one long night and finished it up the next morning, but that isn’t the reason I think the story was rushed. Everything which happens to the protagonist, Sarah, occurs during the space of a year a
Robin Mccormack
Jan 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was intrigued by the story of The Anchoress as I'd never heard of the anchorite life before. I knew about cloistered nuns as I had visited a cloistered convent when I was a teenager. We were allowed to talk to them through a screen in which they could only see us from the waist up, a privacy screen raised in case any outside visitor was inappropriately dressed. They were a giggly group of ladies who enjoyed their simple life of prayer and work inside the convent walls. It was an interesting ex ...more
Sarah is but 17 when she decides to leave the world outside her door. Tired of dealing with all the worldly temptations, grieving for the younger sister she adored who died giving birth (and a mother who also died in childbirth), Sarah decides to dedicate herself to a life of prayer.

Taking place in England in the year 1255, Sarah becomes an "Anchoress". She lives in a room only 9 x 7 paces in size, with a rough straw bed, a tiny table, a Rule book, and a small window. She has a servant who comes
Jennifer (JC-S)
‘This was to be my home – no, my grave – for the rest of my life.’

In the English Midlands in the middle of the 13th century, Sarah, the daughter of a cloth merchant, chooses to become an anchoress at the church of St Juliana in the village of Hartham. This choice requires Sarah to be walled up in a cell – nine paces by seven paces – adjoining the church. The cell, known as an anchorhold, has a window, an aperture which allows Sarah to see the altar – only – of the church. The cell door is nailed
Oct 05, 2015 rated it liked it
I had never heard before about an "anchoress". In Christianity, an anchoress is a woman who chooses to withdraw from the world to live a solitary life of prayer and mortification. The word anchoress comes from the Greek “anachoreo” meaning to withdraw. For all practical reasons, the woman is dead to the world, lives in a cell attached to the church and has few visitors. Here the cell measures 9 paces by 7. The door is nailed shut. There is a squint that she can see a little of the inside of the ...more
Poppy Gee
Mar 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This interesting historical tale of a religious recluse is surprisingly sensuous and thrilling. In medieval England, the anchoress is a 17 year old woman who willingly allows herself to be walled inside the church anchorhold. This is a stone cell attached to the church that has a squint for her to see out of, a small opening for food to come through, and a door that has been nailed shut. She will stay there in the dark until she dies, at which time she will be buried beneath the stone floor. The ...more
Aug 12, 2015 rated it it was ok
To borrow from the religious vernacular that features heavily here, THANK GOD I FINALLY FINISHED THIS. What blessed relief.

That's not to say that I hated this book. It's beautifully written but frustratingly slow paced. Perhaps evocative of the passage of time when you have chosen to be locked in a small, dark cell for the rest of your days.

This has been impeccably researched and the imagery is quite striking but the flaws in the plot made it hard for me to enjoy it. Even when the drama inexpl
Jill Emery
Apr 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is really well written. At times I wasn't sure I wanted to continue with the religious component but the characters are so real that it draws you in. The book is very much about the people, communication and just living the life you have.
LAPL Reads
Oct 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
At age seventeen, Sarah asks to be sealed into a windowless cell for the rest of her life. Why would someone do such a thing, especially at such a young age?

Sarah is an anchoress, a holy woman who spends her days in prayer and gives spiritual advice to the women of her 11th century English village. Sarah hopes to follow in the footsteps of the previous anchoress, who the villagers claim was so holy that she didn’t even need food or water to survive. As soon as the door is nailed shut, Sarah swal
R. G. Nairam
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: medieval-fiction
I've complained a lot lately, and really all the time if I'm honest, about the tendency of books set in medieval Europe to force backwards 20th and 21st century views on religion, society, marriage, men and women--the list goes on and on. A desperate attempt to make people more like us for our own comfort even while reveling in the Strangeness of lacking plumbing and dealing with the plague.

Well, this book doesn't do that.

It is especially good at showing faith, especially emphases on vowed virgi
**This book is more of a 3.5, but I always round up (they really should include half-stars on here)**

I had to read this for my ENG 380: Feminine Utopias and Dystopias class, and it wasn't bad. It was well-written and interesting. But here's where I have a problem with most "adult" literature: it was dry. It was like stale was fulfilling but if I didn't need to eat it, I wouldn't have.
The story is about Sarah, an anchoress, or one who decides to give up earthly needs and live in a cell
Jun 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
I have had a long fascination with anchorites ever since I first learned about them. It seemed then, and now, to be one of the most severe things a person could do in pursuit of a spiritual life. Walled inside a tiny room attached to the back of a church, with only a few narrow windows from which connect to the outside world--how could a person live like that? What would cause a person to choose that life? Wouldn't they go crazy? Why not just join a convent or find a remote cave somewhere and li ...more
"My Rule tells me that I must come to know God by controlling my senses, by keeping the flesh in need and not allowing my eyes or nose or ears to lead me back into the world. I had read and reread the words, wearied myself, tried so hard to be a holy woman, beaten my body and heart against stone. But that morning, it was if I turned, and love was there, simple and without rules."

NOTE: I put this in my "Christian fic that's worth it" shelf because, even if Cadwallader didn't intend it as a piece
Sep 18, 2015 rated it did not like it
Okay so I have to admit that I purchased this book solely because it had a pretty shiny cover when I saw it in my Uni bookstore. However the version I ordered online ended up being not so shiny.
It took me a very long time to read this book. Not because it was difficult to read, in fact I could often be found reading it, but because the concepts were new and confusing and, honestly, not exactly my type of entertainment.
This book was interesting and informative and religion is a subject that both
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Defence Community...: Cadwallader, Robyn - The Anchoress (BOM April2015) 8 16 Apr 27, 2015 02:42PM  

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Robyn Cadwallader has spent much time and energy teaching creative writing and all kinds of English literature at university, with a special interest in medieval literature. She writes poems and short stories, and her novel The Anchoress won the Varuna LitLink NSW Byron Bay Unpublished Manuscript Award in 2010. Her PhD thesis about female virginity and agency, Three Methods for Reading the Thirtee ...more
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“A few words from me won’t touch your grief, and nor should they. Tend your grief like hard ground, and wait. One day, something will grow; there won’t be an answer, but you will see you’ve found a way to live, and to live with death.” 4 likes
“Anger, while it lasts, so blinds the heart that it is unable to discern the truth. It is a kind of enchanter, which can transform human nature. Anger is a shape-shifter, as stories tell us, for it strips people of their reason and totally changes their appearance, and transforms them from a human into the likeness of a beast.” 3 likes
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