The Good Men

The Good Men

by Charmaine Craig

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781573229739
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/18/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 480
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

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.

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The Good Men Chapter 1

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.

—From The Good Men: A Novel of Heresy by Charmaine Craig. (c) January 2002, Riverhead Books, used by permission.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“The Roman Catholic Church kept transcripts of these inquisitional processes, providing an intimate, almost voyeuristic window into the affairs of men and women who lived seven centuries ago. These documents continue to fascinate…they provide inspiration for an ambitious first novel, The Good Men, by Charmaine Craig.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“As a writer, she’s the real deal…The action takes place in Montaillou, a tiny mountain village that is falling under the influence of saintly wanderers known as the Good Men who preach that the world was created by the devil and should be despised. The narrative, which is based on historical sources, unfolds from several points of view: those of an alcoholic widow, a lustful village priest, a cobbler struggling with his homosexuality, a conflicted Inquisitor. Craig has the gift of finding complexity in simple people, and she tells their stories in fluid, shapely prose that blends mysteries both religious and erotic with the…realities of peasant life.”—Time
 
“I have never read so powerful an account, fictive or historical, of the Cathar rebels against the Roman Catholic Church. Craig’s vision encompasses an entire culture, which was forever destroyed.”—Harold Bloom
 
“A rich tale of the struggle between spiritual thirst and bodily hunger… Craig deserves critical acclaim…for creating a novel that is not only highly readable, but one that forces her audience to squirm in the face of historical tragedy—and squirm we should.”—Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Craig’s stunning first novel is redolent with time and place…absorbing.”—Los Angeles Times
 
The Good Men is an authentic novel of heresy. The book is beautifully composed and darkly memorable…powerful.”—Harold Bloom, author of The Western Canon and Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human
 
“Grazida Lizier is a true heroine…There is something noble about the author’s full-fledged fictional re-creation of a woman who certainly deserves to be restored to history. Grazida belongs to the luminous minority of those who, absent formal education and in the darkest of ages, nevertheless insist on thinking for themselves.”—New York Newsday
 
“In her admirable novel, The Good Men, Charmaine Craig transports her readers to medieval France and the dark labyrinths of heresy. She offers no easy answers to the questions of faith and persecution but rather shows us passionate characters struggling with their own desires and dilemmas. This is a memorable and absorbing debut.”—Margot Livesey
 
“As a writer, she’s the real deal…When the Inquisition descends on Montaillou, Craig credibly and creditably allots all sides—heretics, informers, even torturers—a measure of sympathy. She demonstrates powerfully that even those who escape the rack, by good luck or God’s grace, can end up being broken by life in other ways.”—Time Magazine
 
“There is much to admire in The Good Men, especially its deft juggling of complex intersecting story lines.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“In her sensual imagining of the physical as well as the inner life of Grazida Lizier, Charmaine Craig has achieved a bold resurrection from the fourteenth century. She dramatizes the personal and catastrophic consequences of the calculated application of the machinery and cold passion of bureaucratic belief, the Inquisition’s attack on inquiry, the muting of a questioner’s voice. Lucky for fiction, Craig’s own voice is alive and well, knowing and musical.”—Geoffrey Wolff
“A fascinating story. It asks questions which are as relevant today as they were in the 14th century. Questions of sex and relationships, of religious faith, of women’s role in society all form the substance of this interesting and unusual novel.”—Edmonton Journal
 
“Gripping… Craig skillfully blends universal themes—piety, lust, guilt, love, shame, obedience, hate—with hard, hateful elements of history.”—Fort Worth Star-Telegram
 
“The struggle between the sins of the flesh and the transcendence of the spirit is the subject of this fictional account of the Inquisition…History is what makes The Good Men worth reading for its portrayal of a pivotal period in the life of southern France.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
 
“[An] elegant, richly detailed historical novel…[Craig] populates her book with an epic cast of characters, all of them yearning for salvation while trying to reconcile the ‘recklessness of the flesh’…Craig’s novel addresses the powerful sense of dualism that has radically influenced the development of Western culture.”—Book Magazine
 
“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…a believable, poignant story based on themes of religious conviction and spiritual crises. [Craig’s] splendid use of imagery and fully fleshed out characters add depth to the novel, as do period details…Sharp and satisfying.”—Publishers Weekly
 
“Craig’s remarkable debut novel, The Good Men, is an epic tale…of faith, doubt, love, betrayal, and the conflict between the flesh and the spirit.”—Coast Magazine
 
“Fascinating and meticulously researched.”—Booklist
 
“It’s also a spicy page-turner.”—The Orange County Register

 

Interviews

Author Essay
The Good Men was inspired by the inquisition waged by the medieval Catholic Church against heresy. While time and place separate me from the villagers on whom I have based my characters, the religious persecution they faced is a subject that is not foreign to me. I was raised on tales of ancestors spurned, incarcerated, or made to flee for their religious beliefs. My father, the storyteller of our family, instilled in my brother, sister, and me a sense of mystery and greatness about the past, and a pride in our ancestors who had fought and suffered for the sake of religious liberty.

My father's grandfather, twelve generations back, was William Bradford, who sailed on the Mayflower and served as governor of Plymouth colony and its historian. Governor Bradford and other Separatists from the village of Scrooby in the English Midlands were a radical strain of Puritans. They wanted to secede from the Church of England and believed that each congregation should function independently. Their government in Plymouth was based on the idea that people could make covenants under the eyes of God without the sanction of a higher authority-a concept not so different from that preached by The Good Men in the Pyrenees of the early fourteenth century.

According to family legend, Governor Bradford's great-granddaughter, from whom my family is descended, married a man whose own forefathers had fled France because of religious persecution. Called heretics, or Huguenots, these forefathers had been members of a church established by John Calvin in France. They believed in the right of the individual to interpret Scripture, and the ability of men and women to achieve salvation without the mediation of the Church. "Heresy is in our blood," my father has often told me.

Fascinated as my father is with the rebelliousness of his own ancestors, he is even more passionate about the history of my mother's family. Her father came from a line of Sephardic Jews who, during the sixteenth century, fled the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal for the tropical port town of Cochin, on the Malabar Coast in India. One of my grandfather's ancestors, a doctor, is said to have saved the life of the local raja's son. In return, the raja deeded him and his progeny a plot of land next to his palace, where they went on to build a synagogue and thrive for centuries.

My mother's father was born into a community of Jews in Rangoon, orphaned at an early age, and sent to Calcutta to be raised by an aunt, who sent him to a local Church of England boarding school to be educated. Always a romantic, my grandfather fell in love with the hymns sung in the chapel and with the mystery of the Christ story. Although both of his grandfathers had been rabbis, he converted to Christianity at age fourteen and was soon cast out from his own outcast family, who uttered death prayers on his behalf and stripped him of his Jewish name.

In time, my grandfather went to work for the British customs service as an officer in Burma, then a province of British India. In a seaport town, he fell in love with my maternal grandmother, similarly a member of a religious and racial minority. Burma is, and was, predominantly Buddhist and ethnically Burman, and surrounded on three sides by mountain regions where minority groups-including the Karen, my grandmother's race-have lived and escaped the racial discrimination that has long marked the country's history. The Karen are traditionally animist, but in the early 1800's, the famous American Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson penetrated the jungle and converted a significant number of Karen to his faith. My grandmother was a product of the marriage of animism and Christianity; she believed in the spirits of the earth and the divinity of Christ.

I am certain that part of what brought my grandparents together was their shared minority status in Burma, a status that subsequently caused them much suffering. During World War II, and then later, during the Burmese civil war, in which the Karen battled not only to obtain equal rights but also to preserve their race (a war that continues to this day), my grandfather was repeatedly imprisoned and tortured. Later, my mother's first husband, a Karen brigadier general, was assassinated during "peace talks." My mother went on to command his troops before marrying my father and leaving for America.

I have lived with these stories all my life, and the voices of the deposed medieval villagers of the Pyrenees have seemed closer to me in consequence: more resonant, more personal, reaching beyond the barriers of language and culture and time. (Charmaine Craig)

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The Good Men 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Tanya Mravik, 32 year-old single female, Los Angeles, CA I was introduced to the Cathars and the heretical Inquisition through Stephen O'Shea's The Perfect Heresy. It was so fascinating to me that my supervisor at work recommended that I read another book about the heresy that was written by a student who had gone through our writing program (at UCLA Extension). That book, a novel, is called The Good Men: A Novel of Heresy and was written by Charmaine Craig. Ms. Craig has done a SUPERB job researching for this novel and her writing style gave life to these characters who are based on real people who lived in the Middle Ages. She has made the human issues as realistic as those that we deal with today. This book was highly entertaining, educational, relevant, and should be read and enjoyed by everybody who is interested in the Inquisition, the Medieval time period, and/or southern France.