Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


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...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

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.