13 December 2011

Clara Dupont-Monod: La Passion Selon Juette: Roman (2007)

This novel is inspired by the true story of Juette, born in the small town of Huy, now in Belgium, in 1158. The original story of her life was written in Latin by her friend Hugues de Floreffe, a member of a dissenting religious order.

Clara Dupont-Monod's story is of a young adolescent Juette, groomed by her parents not to develop independent ideas, to sew well in preparation for imminent marriage, to say "Yes, I want him" at the wedding ceremony without understanding its meaning, groomed to suffer the pain, humiliation and fear the same night (and many following nights) of an act that is scarcely distinguishable from rape from a 21st century viewpoint. Juette bears a child she rejects, but she is fortunate in that her anonymous husband dies when she is only eighteen. Her father wants to marry Juette to another potential rapist, but totally against the conventions of the day she rebels.

La Passion selon Juette is made up of passages told by Juette between usually shorter ones by Hugues, who is strongly impressed by the girl who, like him, detests the hypocrisy and the arrogance of the Catholic bishop, the wealth and power of the Church.

Juette sinks all the money inherited from her husband into a leper colony, where she goes to live with five other women.

She has visions, is sought out by her many supporters, and even seen as a saint. She is of course regarded as a heretic by the Catholic Church, and although many dissenters are burned at the stake, Juette survives, although Hugues finishes the story.

This is a feminist novel full of burning hatred for patriarchal medieval society, but which it also succeeds in being is a kind of love story between a devoutly religious man and woman.

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