Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 829
Ansiau (ahn-see-OW), the old lord of Linnières in Champagne. Returning from the Crusades half-blind and ill, grieving for the son who died in the Holy Land, and troubled about his ungovernable illegitimate daughter, he finds that he no longer has the force to govern. He resigns his fief to his son Herbert and sets out on a pilgrimage to Acre and Jerusalem. Eventually, he becomes totally blind and thus especially vulnerable to the marauders in battle-torn southern France. His piety and his kindly nature win him the respect of strangers and the loyalty of three companions. Although he fails to locate his son’s grave in Acre and falls into the hands of Muslims before he can reach Jerusalem, he is venerated by his captors as a holy man. He dies at peace with God.
Herbert le Gros
Herbert le Gros (groh), Ansiau’s son, the new lord of Linnières, a huge man with huge appetites. He is a wife abuser, a womanizer, and a glutton, but his primary interest is in acquiring land, money, and power. He values his son and heir, Haguenier, as someone who can help him achieve those goals, and he becomes furious whenever Haguenier fails to live up to his expectations. Although licentious, Herbert is calculating; only once does he lets his passions run away with him: By sleeping with his half sister, he risks criminal prosecution, damnation by God, and the disapproval of his mother. Although he is cursed both by her and by his rejected lover, the immediate cause of his death is his own brutality. When Herbert attacks his unfaithful wife, Haguenier fights against him, and Herbert’s back is broken. Herbert forgives his son and is forgiven by his mother before he dies, but he also makes sure that the future is arranged as he wishes it to be.
Haguenier (ah-geh-NYAY), Herbert’s son and heir, an idealistic nineteen-year-old who is particularly susceptible to women. After meeting Lady Marie de Mongenost, he decides to spend his life making her happy. His sympathy toward women causes him to defy his father, as when he balks at divorcing his wife. Tragically, by protecting his stepmother, he causes Herbert’s death. Guilt-ridden, he accedes to his father’s deathbed demands. Haguenier arranges the marriage of his infant daughter, turns over his property to his baby daughter’s husband, and becomes a monk.
Lady Marie de Mongenost
Lady Marie de Mongenost (mohn-geh-NOHST), a self-centered beauty who amuses herself by toying with men’s affections. She sees the idealistic Haguenier as a perfect subject for her experiments in power, which are supposedly based on the tenets of courtly love. Her skill in deceiving Haguenier is shown by the fact that he orders his motherless daughter to be reared by Marie.
Eglantine (ehg-lahn-TEEN), Ansiau’s illegitimate daughter. Her wildness is a continuous reproach to the father, who loves her dearly. By sleeping with her brother, she feels that she has confirmed her status as an outcast from the Christian community. His rejection leaves her completely isolated. She aborts her child and dedicates him to a pagan goddess, whom she thinks will help her to destroy Herbert. Eglantine’s spells result in her own death. Believing that she has cursed the land, the peasants murder her.
Ernaut (ehr-NOH), the bastard son of Herbert by a peasant girl. He becomes one of Haguenier’s best friends. Even though he has been knighted and given property by his father, because of his low birth Ernaut is refused the hand of the woman he loves. When she marries someone else, he hangs himself.
Lady Alis (ah-LEE), Ansiau’s loving wife. A devout, strong-minded woman, she is respected and feared by her son, Herbert. Because of his dissolute lifestyle, she refuses to live in his castle. After learning about his affair with Eglantine, she curses him, an act she later regrets.
Auberi (oh-beh-REE), a twelve-year-old boy, Ansiau’s servant. Although initially he bewails his lot, soon he is so devoted to his master that the Muslims who capture them think they are father and son. At Ansiau’s insistence, he escapes and makes his way back to the Christian community
Riquet, a runaway monk who joins Ansiau on his pilgrimage. A strong, resourceful young man, he protects and provides for his companions. After staying behind to pursue a girl, he rejoins them in Marseilles and arranges for their passage to the Holy Land. Ansiau last sees him marching off into slavery.
Gaucelm of Castans
Gaucelm of Castans (gow-SEHLM, kas-TAHN), also called Bertrand, a traveling companion of Ansiau, who has been blinded for a heresy he did not embrace. His wife and their daughters have been killed, so his only remaining hope is that his son has survived. When he finds the boy bent on martyrdom, Bertrand subsides into bitterness and despair. After he is captured, he courts death and is decapitated.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 270
Ames, Alfred C. “Mounting Power in Rare Novel.” Chicago Sunday Tribune, January 9, 1955, p. 3. Praises the author for her “proud lack of compromise” in treating a complicated subject. Despite the fact that their way of life and their modes of thought are foreign to twentieth century readers, all of Oldenbourg’s characters come to life and become objects of concern.
Janeway, Elizabeth. “Courage and Faith in a Distracted Age.” The New York Times Book Review, January 9, 1955, 4. States that Oldenbourg’s theme is the triumph of “courage and faith” in a period of conflict, violence, and rapid change. Although she reveals the worst side of Christianity, as well as the best, the author sees religion as the only sound basis for existence.
“Medieval Tapestry.” Time 65 (January 10, 1955): 88. States that the novel is “artfully written.” The accounts of vicious behavior and brutality are justified by Oldenbourg’s intention to present a “huge and intricate tapestry” which shows clearly what life was like in the thirteenth century.
Pick, Robert. “Eros in a Wimple.” Saturday Review 38 (January 8, 1955): 10. The Cornerstone is the first modern novel to re-create the world of chivalric love in all its subtlety and its innocent blasphemy. Additionally, the characters symbolize historical change. Herbert is a man of the Middle Ages, and the son who kills him is a Renaissance humanist. Interesting comments.
Raymond, John. Review of The Cornerstone. New Statesman and Nation 48 (December 4, 1954): 762. Blending historical events with her characters’ very human reactions to them, the author has produced a “great historical novel.” The three major figures—crusader, son, and grandson—are seen not merely as individuals but also as representatives of an era.
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