Literary Wives: “Wife” as Depicted in The Inquisitor’s Wife

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The February read for our on-line Literary Wives book club is The Inquisitor’s Wife, by Jeanne Kalogridis. 

The Inquisitor’s Wife is the tale of a young woman named Marisol García who gets caught up in the turbulence of the Spanish Inquisition. Marisol is the daughter of an “old Christian” and a conversa – a Jew who has converted to Christianity – and her family eventually becomes the target of  the Inquisition whose mission was to hunt down conversas suspected of secretly practicing Judaism.

In an arranged marriage Marisol weds Gabriel, whom she has despised since childhood ever since she witnessed him brutally beat an elderly Jewish man. Her father has married Marisol off to him because of Gabriel’s connections with the Inquisition, in the hopes that she would be protected as his wife. At her wedding, she sees the shadowy figure of her long lost love, Antonio. She first laid eyes on Antonio when he came to the rescue during the beating of the Jewish man. Marisol and Antonio fell in love then and pledged to marry, but for some mysterious reason Marisol stopped hearing from him once he left for university.

There is no love in Marisol’s marriage to Gabriel, and she soon realizes that the protection she had been promised never truly existed. Her father is captured and tortured as is Marisol, who is pressured to make certain confessions in order to save her father. In the final section of the book we learn about Marisol’s mother’s secrets, the role of Antonio, and the real reason why Marisol’s father was captured.

Here are the questions that we are asking in our discussion:

1. What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

The upper class wife in 15th century Spain is a pretty miserable position. She is completely dependent on her husband for her livelihood and is relegated to the home day in and day out.

However, we also see, through the three wives in this story – Marisol, her mother Magdalena, and Queen Isabella – that wives are strong, independent-minded, strategic and, because of the restrictions that shackle them, calculating. Magdalena foresees the dangers of the Inquisition well before her husband does and insists on taking action to protect themselves. She is instead met by the back of her husband’s hand. Her husband is desperate to stop her from poisoning their daughter’s mind with her “lunatic” ravings. This lack of cooperation and respect then push her to mastermind another way out.

Marisol is similarly independent and fierce and is struck by her husband for her attitude. She withstands torture and refuses to give in to the inquisitors’ questioning while at the same time goes to great lengths to try to get her father released. Like her mother, she has to be scheming and to take action covertly.

Even Queen Isabella “married Fernando in order to do the unthinkable: win enough followers to claim the throne of Castile and León for a woman, despite ancient laws that forbade it – and to unite Spain into one kingdom.” (page 207)

The wives in this novel try to exert their power and free will by working around the boundaries of their time.

2. In what way does this woman define “wife”—or in what way is she defined by “wife”?

Marisol plays the role of the proper wife on the surface but is observant and calculating underneath. In this scene with Gabriel, Marisol is warned to not say a word of a transgression he had committed the night before. This is what she says in response:

“I looked up at him, trying to keep my smile fixed and my gaze innocent-looking – even though I’d just learned where a possible source of power in my otherwise helpless position lay. ‘Of course [I won’t say a word], husband,’ I answered sweetly. ‘Of course.'” (pages 133-134)

As events get more desperate, however, Marisol begins to shed more and more of her wifely persona. When she realizes that Gabriel has lied to her, she gets so angry that she attacks him in public. She is no match for him and his machismo, of course, and soon falls unconscious from the blow he gives her. When she awakes and sees him, she tells him she hates him and states that she doesn’t care if he hits her again and that she would “gouge out his eyes” if she were able to move (page 241).

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This book was okay and I didn’t really have strong reactions to it either way. Honestly speaking, I started it with very little enthusiasm, expecting a bodice-ripping romance with poor writing and it was better than I expected. While the characters are fairly one-dimensional (the good guys are noble (and the women noble and beautiful) and the bad guys are bad) and their actions predictable, I appreciated the introduction to the Spanish Inquisition which I knew little about and I found this a fast guilty-pleasure kind of read. I was not expecting Hilary Mantel and read it for what it was. I understand from fans that this is the most disappointing of Kalogridis’s books, so readers who are interested may want to check out her other work.

Have you read The Inquisitor’s Wife or books like it? What did you think? Do you have recommendations? And do you judge books by their covers?

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Please also check out the other Literary Wives bloggers’ pages to see what they have to say about the book! 

Ariel of One Little Library

Audra of Unabridged Chick

Carolyn O of Rosemary and Reading Glasses

Kay of WHATMEREAD

Lynn of Smoke & Mirrors

I’d like to mention also that Emily at The Bookshelf of Emily J. is taking a break from Literary Wives to tend to her busy schedule as a graduate student and mother :-)

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For the first Monday in April we will be reading The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman, a true story of the Holocaust about the directors of the Warsaw Zoo who sheltered over 300 Jews. We’d love it if you read and post along with us! You can send us your link and we’ll post it to our Facebook page. :-)

17 comments on “Literary Wives: “Wife” as Depicted in The Inquisitor’s Wife

  1. Naomi says:

    The Zookeeper’s Wife sounds like a good one! It would be fun to join you for that one. Your new facebook page looks great!

    • Cecilia says:

      Thanks for checking out the FB page! And that would be great if you read along on The Zookeeper’s Wife! If you end up posting about it, please do send me your link and I can feature it on my blog and on the Facebook page. I *am* looking forward to this title :-)

  2. whatmeread says:

    Nice review. You were a little more analytical about the role of wives in this book. I just saw her being a wife as a plot device to keep her away from Antonio.

  3. Carolyn O says:

    Nice review, Cecilia! I think “calculating” is a good way to describe the wives, too. :)

  4. Ariel Price says:

    I like that you looked at the other wives, too. Isabella’s position, in particular, was very interesting. Even though she was a prominent character in the book, we never saw her with her husband.

    • Cecilia says:

      Isabella would be an interesting figure to study because she was real. It’s quite impressive that she rose to such an influential position at that time. I really don’t know much about her at all…

  5. Lynn says:

    Nice analysis, especially of wives other than Marisol. Seems I always just concentrate on that one main wife, the protagonist! (Tunnel vision! Ha!) And I never thought of including mention of posting others’ reviews to the FB page. Thank you for that. I didn’t even think to expect a “bodice-ripping romance”! :) I would have been doubly leery of this book if I had thought that. Appreciate your insight regarding her other books, though it appears they may be a bit too “dark” for my liking…

    • Cecilia says:

      Ha ha, it was the cover of the book! But when I looked closely at it I have to confess that there is no reason I should have believed it would be a bodice-ripper. I think I just haven’t read any books recently with pictures of women in fancy gowns!

      I had to remember to include the other wives and nearly forgot Queen Isabella!

  6. Fictionquest says:

    Could this book be turned into an oprea?

  7. Ngan R. says:

    I’m sad to say I definitely judge books by the cover and this is not a book I would have picked up based on the cover itself. However, I largely select books to read based on recommendations, so I don’t always see the cover before getting the book. I need a fast/guilty pleasure read every so often, so I will keep this on the short list. (I will have to recommend this to my sister since this is right up her alley!) I will go grab The Zookeeper’s Wife so I can follow the next Literary Wives’ reviews!

  8. rudrip says:

    I am uncertain that I’d pick up this book based on the cover. I think, though, you distill it perfectly. You weren’t expecting Mantel, but accepted the book for the elements that propelled you to finish it. Your review reminded me of Phillippa George’s, The Other Boleyn Girl. I read through that book quickly and to my surprise I picked up on some elements of British history that I had forgotten.

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