Character Connection 16
Read about Robert Neville and other spooky
(or not-so-spooky) characters
in this week's Character Connection round up!
This is my first entry for The Introverted Reader's Helluva Halloween Character Connection Giveaway. The rule is simple: link up a post about a great villain.
Now, I've already done a list of My Favourite (Likable) Villains, so I thought I'd do something a little different. This villain doesn't have an ounce of charisma on her.
The Night's Dark Shade
by Elena Maria Vidal
"Do not worry yourself, my child. You will learn our ways in time," said Esclarmonde, smiling unexpectedly. "I hope that you will come to be born into the light." She spoke with an almost imperceptible shudder for at that moment her agate eyes fell upon Raphaelle's amethyst cross.
"Madame, I do not know what is meant by being 'born into the light,'" said Raphaelle.
Further displeasure creased the alabaster brow as Lady Escarmonde perceived the crucifix on the wall. She closed her eyes as if to compose herself. Then she put her arm around Raphaelle. "My dear child, we live in a world of ignorance and superstition. It is ignorance that keeps humanity from achieving greatness and superstition that keeps us from going directly to God. We must divest ourselves of all material things in order to be perfected."
What to make of the Cathar sect? We can be generous and call them heretics, who are, at best, only Christians who blew up one tenet of the universal Faith and took it too far . . . but the Cathars seemed to have another faith entirely. They believed in two gods, a good one who created the spiritual world and an evil one who has entrapped us all in matter. Furthermore, they flatly denied the Incarnation of Christ--the idea that one could be fully divine and fully human--but insisted on calling themselves "Good Christians." It is this rewriting of doctrine and hijacking of tradition that goes into the character of Lady Esclarmonde, a Cathar Perfecta.
When our heroine Lady Raphaelle meets this enigmatic woman, who is to be her mother-in-law, she doesn't know what to make of her, either. On the one hand, Lady Esclarmonde reminds her of her aunt, who is a Mother Abbess: both women dress plainly in robes and wimples; both speak knowledgeably of spiritual things; both lead their houses in devout ritual prayers. On the other hand . . . something is off.
For Raphaelle, the first red flag is the news that Mass is never said in the chapel of her new home--by order of Lady Esclarmonde. But Raphaelle is confused when she follows the sound of chanting in the middle of the night and comes across a religious service presided over by the same lady and sounding very much like the prayers in a regular monastery. Later, Lady Esclarmonde hastens to explain that she and other "Good Christians . . . take our doctrine and practices from the early Church, before it became corrupted by Constantine." And it all still sounds very reasonable . . . until Raphaelle comes across a sick infant being slowly starved to death by his own parents, who had been told by Lady Esclarmonde that since she had already given him a kind of spiritual sacrament known as the consolamentum, if they attempted to feed him anything, his soul would not go to Heaven but be reborn on earth in an animal's body.
Now, Lady Esclarmonde is a True Believer--admirable by certain standards, and certainly as devout and willing to die for her beliefs as any of the believers canonised by the Catholic Church. She does believe she is serving the true God, and her cruel measures are nothing to blink at in an age and country where heretics are too often mutilated and left to die. Characters like her and her enemies are the sort who make some people dismiss religion altogether and wonder whether there is any difference among passionate adherents. Indeed, when Raphaelle defies Lady Esclarmonde's attempts to convert her, the older woman flings the fact that supposedly "good Catholics" have burned heretics at the stake. Raphaelle replies: "I cannot answer for the deeds of other Catholics . . . but if you Cathars controlled the civil authority, then you would do the same to us, of that I am certain."
Yet is a stalemate the best we can do? (I hope not!) Are all believers potential villains? (I don't think so!)
Lady Esclarmonde is not a villain merely because she is religious or even fanatical. She is a villain because her Cathar teachings are a menace, and because her position as chatelaine means that the menace is spread as far and wide as the political influence associated with her castle. After she declares marriage an abomination, because it regularises the abhorred sexual act, her husband turns to a mistress and the villagers feel free to take advantage of those they would never get to marry, like their own nieces or young cousins. After she says it is evil to beget children, because it means the trapping of souls in mortal flesh, the villagers feel justified in procuring abortions. And after she goes about administering the consolamentum to the sick, whose bodies she has no interest in healing, they end up starving to an agonising death.
Under her leadership, the Chateau de Mirambel turns from a source of protection and patronage to a font of confusion and suffering. She is a worthy villain for this rich Historical novel set in thirteenth-century France.
Image Source: The Night's Dark Shade: A Novel of the Cathars by Elena Maria Vidal