EXTRAMUROS by Jesus Fernandez Santos


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From Spain, as part of Columbia's 20th-century Continental Fiction series: a heated yet dignified novel set in 15th-century Spain, during a time of war and famine. A nunnery languishes, ignored by its nobleman/protector; nuns are dying from hunger and disease with the rest of the populace; novices rarely if ever now seek inclusion. Then one of the nuns comes up with an impiously clever idea: she'll fake stigmata, pass herself off as a saint--and the convent will thereby grow in renown and favor and advantage. Her clandestine lover, another nun (and the narrator here), is reluctantly enrolled into doing the deed, stabbing the nun's hands. And the ploy is successful: the news of the possible new saint spreads, bringing with it flocks of pilgrims; even the ambitious daughter of the noble protector is drawn to the novitiate. But then power politics intrude. The old prioress can't withstand the popularity of the new saint, who is elected to succeed her. Yet the deposed prioress also knows the secret of her successor's sexual relationship with the other sister. And even worse, when the new saint's wounds grow infected, the Inquisition is alerted. In Helen R. Lane's august translation, Fernandez Santos plays all this out as a sort of dream. There are one or two scenes of direct drama--the election of the new prioress, the cauterizing of the saint's festering wounds. But most of the novel operates, appropriately, on the slightly unhealthy plane of Baroque Spanish sanctity--offering the elegant and controlled fictional equivalent of a religious-fervor swoon.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1984
Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press