The Anchoress

Release dates:

Faber, UK: February 5 ;  Fourth Estate, Harper Collins, Australia: February 23;

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, USA: May 5 ; Denoel / Gallimard, France: May

England, 1255

Sarah is only seventeen when she chooses to become an anchoress, a holy woman shut away in a small cell, measuring seven paces by nine, at the side of the village church. Fleeing the grief of losing her sister in childbirth and the pressure to marry, she decides to renounce the world, with all its dangers, desires and temptations, and to commit herself to a life of prayer and service to God. But even the thick, unforgiving walls of her cell cannot keep the outside world away, and it is soon clear that Sarah’s body and soul are still in great danger . . .

Robyn Cadwallader’s powerful debut novel tells an absorbing story of faith, desire, shame, fear and the very human need for connection and touch. With a poetic intelligence, Cadwallader explores the relationship between the mind, body and spirit in medieval England, in a story that will hold the reader in a spell until the very last page. An absorbing, entirely human and compulsively readable story of faith, desire, shame, fear and the very human need for connection and touch. Powerful, evocative and haunting, The Anchoress is both quietly heartbreaking and thrillingly unpredictable.

Robyn Cadwallader does the real work of historical fiction, creating a detailed, sensuous and richly imagined shard of the past.  She has successfully placed her narrator, the anchoress, in that tantalizing, precarious, delicate realm:  convincingly of her own distant era, yet emotionally engaging and vividly present to us in our own.

Geraldine Brooks, author of forthcoming novel Caleb’s Crossing and the widely acclaimed historical fiction novel, Year of Wonders.

A quietly deep and fascinating debut novel proving that communication doesn’t have to be a nonsense of chatter or commotion. The author explores friendship, faith, desire, retreat and the gentle strength of women in the thirteenth century… Entirely captivating, Sarah’s story takes you by the hand and leads you in contemplation, through heartbreak, suffering and understanding. The author has the ability to evoke emotions with a whisper, with a suggestion, letting you reach a level of awareness alongside Sarah and Ranaulf. Lovereading

‘A remarkable piece of storytelling, fascinating and disturbing.’ UBS Review of Books

‘…gripping, surprising, haunting and compelling’ Australian Women’s Weekly

‘Sympathetic, fully realized characters and good use of period details make this a winning work of historical fiction.’


Cadwallader weaves a gripping and deeply interesting examination of madness, faith, grief, anger and freedom. It is an intimate novel … Cadwallader is especially talented at world-building … She vividly captures the intricacies and sensibilities of the time, but her prose always feels fresh and contemporary. This is a debut Australian novel that sets itself apart from its peers.

Nina Kenwood, Readings Newsletter

This is a powerful novel that highlights the otherness of the Middle Ages, as much as the unchanging human desires and flaws that we can recognise as our own.

Juanita Coulson, The Lady

Cadwallader’s vivid period descriptions set a stunning backdrop for this beautiful first novel as Sarah rejects a larger world that will not allow her to live on her own terms and goes about creating a smaller one that will. Sarah’s path will intrigue readers at the crossroads of historical fiction, spirituality, and even feminism as she faces the internal and external pressures on women of the Middle Ages.

Booklist, starred review

A perceptive and arresting debut, which illuminates the medieval attitude to women and marks Australian author Cadwallader as a writer to watch.

We Love this Book

From its medieval cell this debut novel soars into the light.

This is a novel of visions, demons, and ghostly presences, balanced against the world of the flesh and its temptations … It is also a novel of page-turning grace. The language is frequently beautiful, and Sarah’s choices linger long in the mind.

Newtown Review of Books

i painted unafraid

i painted unafraid Front Winner, Friendly Street Single Poet Competition, 2009

Cadwallader brings a measured intelligence to her work to create a rush of memorable images that evoke the sights, sounds and taste of each moment. she explores the various roles of womanhood to produce a collection that is intelligent yet comfortably readable, representing a broad range of poetic styles. The result is an outstanding new book of poetry, which expresses emotional lucidity without sacrificing intellectual understanding. it displays Cadwallader’s rare talent: that of balancing rigour with passion.

 – Stephen Lawrence, Judge, Single Poet Competition, 2009


[The poetry] is full of emotion without being unfocused or untidy…Cadwallader has precise skills with rhyme and other poetic effects—as with one clever opening line, “Knee deep in green grown over stone”— and she occasionally throws in a demanding form such as the villanelle. As the title suggests, the poems are vivid and full of colour.

– Kerryn Goldsworthy, Sydney Morning Herald

Cadwallader’s knack for verbal economy manages to impress … several of her poems are almost succinct short stories—and shows a remarkable variety in the poet’s skills. Not only can she command rhythm, rhyme, and metre so deftly, as she shows the reader in other poems, but here she demonstrates how clearly she relishes telling a tall tale.

But she saves her best until the almost last: the penultimate poem, ‘Augustine’s Argument’. In this, her best poem (although I hesitated before typing that, since there are so many very good poems here), Cadwallader creates a poetic exploration of the at once contrasting and complementary nature of argument and touch, rhetoric and romantic love. This poem alone is a tour de force, and the poet must be thrilled with what she has accomplished in this her maiden volume of work.

 I, along with the finely evoked female characters in her poems, toast Cadwallader’s health with the words ‘may you publish many more fine poems of such depth and clarity as these we drink, the “honey liquid” of your words’.

– Alison Clifton, M/C Reviews

Three Methods for Reading the Thirteenth-Century Seinte Marherete

cover photo

This study investigates the implications of the portrayal of the virgin martyr as dragon-slayer. An initial reading of the thirteenth-century text of Seinte Marherete would suggest that Margaret’s power to burst through the dragon’s back, and her self-appellation as kempe, or champion, demonstrates the power available to the virgin to overcome hell and its temptations. While this is a valid reading, it is insufficient to account for the many layers of meaning woven into the text. the wide range of approaches and areas covers will make this highly original study of interest to those working in many disciplines, such as literary theory, medieval studies, teratology, feminist historical studies, body inscription and early medieval Christian theology.


“. . . an excellent piece of work, both in terms of its interpretation of a medieval text and its theoretical sophistication. It is engaging, astute, and thorough.”

Prof. Margaret R. Miles, Graduate Theological Union

“. . . [a] scholarly and critically sophisticated exploration into a complex topic, the significance of the traditional dragon story, read through a close analysis of the story of Seinte Marharete and a range of related material. – Prof. Stephen Knight, Cardiff University

“In her exciting and landmark study of the meaning of virginity both in biblical and romance stories, Cadwallader makes a major contribution to the feminist discourse on the concept of virginity and its related theme of the female body.” – Prof. Marie Turner, Adelaide College of Divinity

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