Cover image for The good men : a novel of heresy
The good men : a novel of heresy
Craig, Charmaine.
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Publication Information:
New York : Riverhead Books, [2002]

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399 pages : maps ; 25 cm
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Charmaine Craig was studying medieval history at Harvard when she first encountered the startling testimony of Grazida Lizier, a young woman tried by the Inquisition in 1320. Even after she was accepted into the MFA program at the University of California at Irvine, Craig found she couldn't stop thinking about the seven-hundred-year-old document and knew she had to write a novel based on it. The Good Men is the gripping, epic story of what happened when religious persecution turned Christian against Christian and neighbor against neighbor in Montaillou, a small village in south-west France. Three generations of characters are torn between desires for spiritual grace and fleshly pleasure.Historically accurate and pitch-perfect, The Good Men movingly dramatizes how relatively small, and at times barely comprehensible, differences in faith served as the impetus behind a tragedy of enormous proportions. Charmaine Craig reanimates questions of religious belief and faith that are as relevant now as in the fourteenth century and, in the process, exposes human nature in all its baseness as well as beauty. This remarkable first novel brilliantly evokes a horrific event in history, with a scope and emotional power that call to mind Victor Hugo's Les Miserables.The Good Men includes an epigraph that discusses the history on which the novel is based, and other apparatus, including maps, a glossary of heretical terms, and two time lines.

Author Notes

Charmaine Craig received her B.A. from Harvard and an MFA in writing from the University of California at Irvine. Also an actress, she starred in a film from Walt Disney Studios. She lives in Laguna Beach, California. The Good Men is her first novel.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

A rector and the three generations of women he loves are at the heart of Craig's fascinating and meticulously researched debut novel. Pierre Clergue, short of stature and plagued by a frail hip, sees clerical life as his only option, even though he lusts after his brother's lover, Marquise. After his brother abandons the pregnant Marquise, Pierre baptizes her child, Fabrisse. Many years later, Pierre, now a rector in the village of Montaillou, embarks on his first affair and is introduced to the Good Men, heretics who believe in the separation of the body and the soul. Fabrisse marries a Good Man, and their marriage disintegrates under the weight of his strict beliefs, and he finally kills himself in order to achieve the highest status among the Good Men. Their daughter, Grazida, catches the eye of Pierre. But a Dominican friar, Bernard, dedicated to rooting out heretics, is convinced that Pierre sympathizes with the Good Men and is determined to bring about the rector's downfall. A fascinating work inspired by the actual testimony of Grazida. --Kristine Huntley

Publisher's Weekly Review

Chronicling the uncertainties and ethical crises of a village rector in early 14th-century France who struggles as much with his bodily yearnings as with his spiritual needs, this heady novel draws on depositions given during the French Inquisition to fictionalize the strange story of the Cathars, a Christian sect of medieval southern France. When the Cathars, or the Good Men, as they are known, enter rector Pierre Clergue's village of Montaillou, professing Satan's creation of all things mortal and preaching the renunciation of the flesh, Clergue, who has suffered mentally and physically from degenerative hip disease since age 11, is drawn to their teachings. In particular, he is strengthened by their determination to renounce women. And yet, like his masters, his renunciation of the flesh makes human communion even more tempting, and he finds he cannot help surrendering to his desire for Grazida Lizier, the 15-year-old daughter of his brother's bastard child. Although Craig relies a bit too heavily on biblical allusions to get her point across an inquisitor, Bernard, is left, like Moses, as a babe "planted among the reeds" her use of alternate vantage points creates a believable, poignant story based on themes of religious conviction and spiritual crisis. Her splendid use of imagery and fully fleshed out characters add depth to the novel, as do period details. The density of the material means the book will be best appreciated by those with some knowledge of the period, but resolute general readers will be helped along by several sharp and satisfying plot twists. Foreign rights sold in Denmark, Finland, France, Holland, Italy. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Tried by the Inquisition in 1320, Grazida Lizier left testimony that serves as the basis for Craig's first novel. Foreign rights have already been sold to five countries, and the publisher has great expectations for this book. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Long before a woman called Echo was tried for the crimes of heresy and incest, before even her mother was born a bastard, the boy Pierre Clergue looked out his window and decided to make the village Montaillou his own. He had been woken that morning with the word that his brothers were to accompany their father down to the lowlands on a mission to purchase tools for autumn sowing. As Pierre was both sickly and gravely slight of stature for his seven years, he was to remain at home. His brothers made a great show of bundling themselves into their breeches and woolen tunics and hooded coats, taunting him with tales of adventure he would never know. Pierre pretended to sleep as they prepared, and covered his ears with the rough edge of his serge blanket. When his brothers left, he rose, climbed up onto the small beech-wood chest he kept propped at the foot of his window, and thrust open the leaves of the shutter. It had rained through the night, and a heavy mist lay over the village, which clung to the slope of a steep knoll on a plateau high in the Pyrenees. He spotted his brothers and father, riding mules down the winding village road. They disappeared into the shroud of mist, and he felt as if he had never been so alone. Then dawn shone, and yellow light sifted through the mist, gilding the wet wood-shingled roofs of the village houses, and the sodden hillocks, stubble fields and plowlands of the valley below. Pierre told himself he did not need his brothers' freedom. Montaillou contained as much of the world as he wanted to know, as much of the world worth claiming as his own.   That evening, as every evening, he and his mother attended Mass in the chapel to pray he would strengthen and grow. The rector was a tall, good-looking man with kind gray eyes and a voice as fluid as running water. After vespers were sung, he called Pierre up to the altar, and then pressed his hand down firmly on Pierre's shoulder, speaking a solemn prayer. "Lord, let this boy grow." Pierre looked out at the grim faces of the villagers sitting on the straw-covered floor. Candles sputtered on the altar, filling the chapel with smoke and casting flickering light over the villagers. "Let this boy grow," they chanted mournfully with the rector, and Pierre's heart leaped up in exaltation. Later, as he and his mother passed the crosses on the graves in the churchyard, he gazed up toward the summit of the knoll, at the moonlit towers of the stone fortress inhabited by the overseer of the village, an appointee of the Comte de Foix. He made out the dark, craggy peaks of the mountains rising above the fortress in the distance, and the mystery of the prayers that had been uttered on his behalf mingled with the mystery of the earth and the mystery of the Comte's greatness, and it seemed to him that he might indeed sleep and wake to find himself grown.   God did not answer his prayers. In the years that followed Pierre grew very little, and then, when he was eleven, his hip began to deteriorate. For months, he tried to ignore the throbbing in his side, walking without limping in the presence of his brothers and staying in his room when the pain was too severe. One morning, he was making his way to the beech-wood chest by the window when his mother caught him limping. "Pierre," she said from the door. He turned and saw her quivering mouth, her blue eyes filling with tears. "Why has God not spared you?" That afternoon, the healer Na Roqua paid him a visit, telling him to remove his linen undergarment and lie upon his bed. She was a lean, unmarried woman, with a head as bony as that of a corpse, and when she put her long, cold fingers to his hip, he gasped. "There are herbs for the pain," she said in a strained whisper. "Root of peony mixed with oil of roses. But herbs will not make this hip well." She squinted at his mother, standing near. "Perhaps the soul of this boy is eating away his flesh, trying to escape his body," she said. "Flesh is a prison of temptation. Unbearable for the soul that is pure." Pierre was at once frightened and thrilled by the mystery of her words. That evening, his mother carried him against the softness of her body to the chapel for vespers. When the rector called him up for the prayer, he stood but did not approach the altar. If the healer had been correct and his soul was so pure it was trying to escape his body, then praying for his body to grow, for his hip to become strong, was praying for his soul to be further imprisoned. He glanced at the villagers sitting on the floor. A young, tender-eyed woman blinked at him with pity; her little boy hid his nose in her dress; a toothless shepherd sucked on his bottom lip, staring. "Pierre," he heard the rector sigh. "Come up for your prayer." He glimpsed the statue of the Virgin by the altar, and noticed her eyes gazing down at him with care. Her lips were pursed shyly, as if she were smiling at him, and he thought perhaps God had never intended him to grow. Perhaps growing was against the nature of his soul. He cleared his throat, looking to the rector, whose eyes narrowed with concern. "I suppose, Dominus," Pierre said in near whisper, "I would like to stay small." A trembling smile played at the corners of the rector's lips. He nodded and Pierre sat, pretending not to notice his mother's furrowed brow. All his life, he would remember that moment as the first time he had attempted to abandon the misery of his body for the mercies of his soul.   He decided he wanted to follow the Virgin, and asked the rector if he might be his pupil, "so that one day, I might be priest," he said. For three years, he studied Latin, making letters first with a stylus on wax tablets, then with a quill on parchment. He learned rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. He memorized passages by Virgil and Ovid, from The Moral Sayings by Cato. Hymns and psalms played in his sleep. In the daylight, he endured the taunts of his brothers and fellow boys. "Petit Vieg!" they snickered. "Little Penis!" Or sometimes, if they caught him reading under the elm in the square, "Petit Evesque!" "Little Bishop!" The latter was particularly painful for him, in that it mocked what he had begun to want most privately for himself--to be not only the rector of Montaillou, but also the Bishop of his diocese, and thus more sweepingly important than any villager had been. He knew the boys must have seen a glimmer of self-satisfaction in his eyes when he translated a difficult passage. He thought, in some way, he deserved their mocking--they had caught him feeling reverence, not for God, but for his own burgeoning Godliness. When he was fourteen, the rector named him the official curate of the chapel, and he performed his duties with vigor, lighting and extinguishing candles for the Mass, preparing incense in the thurible, and collecting oblations from parishioners--eggs at Easter, yarn at Whitsuntide, candles at Christmas, and loaves of bread at the Feast of the Virgin in September. As he worked, he believed his soul was growing stronger. But at home, in the company of his brothers, he felt invaded by the talk that spread between them, and by the force of their deepening desire for fleshly pleasure. One evening at dusk, his mother asked him to fetch straw from the stable to sprinkle over the kitchen floor. As he approached the stable, he heard the mare making the sounds of mating. He entered, and stopped when he saw his older brother Guillaume standing in a shaft of orange light that fell from a hole in the roof. Guillaume had his trousers down around his ankles. In his hand, he held his member, visibly thick and firm. He was watching the mare kick away from the donkey trying to mount her. As the donkey thrust forward, Guillaume moved his hand quickly over his member, opening his mouth and tipping his head back, as if to drink the orange light. Pierre crouched down in a shadowy corner behind a spiderweb, feeling his heart pound in his head. He stayed there until the mare stopped bawling and Guillaume passed by, wiping his hands on his trousers. When darkness settled all around, he walked home, hoping his mother would have already turned in for bed. The summer after, he and his brothers were herding the family pigs through the forest so that the pigs might forage on fallen acorns and chestnuts and crabapples, when he overheard Guillaume describing how he had taken a girl named Marquise in a field. She was from the nearby village of Prades d'Aillon; Pierre had seen her before, seen her dark hair and one mysteriously narrow eye--an eye some said she had inherited not from her Aragonese blood, but from a race of people far across the sea. Her eye, Pierre thought, resembled both eyes of the Virgin. "She was like lips down there," said Guillaume, pointing to his groin. He lifted his hands and made the shape of a woman's bottom in the air. "Warm and slippery," he said. Pierre kicked a crabapple at a pig and his brothers broke out in laughter. "Putana!" Pierre muttered, stomping off into the forest brush. It would be more than forty years before he used the word "whore" again. Then, he would understand why. Excerpted from The Good Men by Charmaine Craig. Copyright © 2002 by Charmaine Craig. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.