The Barefoot Girl
Set in 14th-century Italy, The Barefoot Girl follows the life of a poor peasant girl from the harvest fields of Ancona to the market town of San Severino, where she is taken by her future husband, the cruel, abusive and very wealthy Domenico Vasari. Sold to Vasari by her father, who sees the marriage as a boon for his struggling family, 15-year-old Margherita is torn unwillingly from her mother and sister and the farm boy she loves, bathed, dressed in a yellow damask gown and warned to act like a lady while in the company of Vasari’s friends – or else.
Lonely, surrounded by avarice and subjected to cruelty, the girl is drawn to San Severino’s starving impoverished; despite her husband’s warnings, she becomes determined to help them. Dressed in rags and shoeless in the dead of winter, she slips from Vasari’s castle to deliver food to the homeless and suffers terrible physical abuse at Vasari’s hands because of it. Encouraged by the trust she has earned from the hungry as well as her friendship with a handsome, young priest and the promise of love she feels in the baby growing inside her, Margherita continues her mission – at times, a true battle – to help San Severino’s poor, particularly the young girls and women forced into lives of prostitution to earn a crumb of bread.
The first in a series of fictional historical biographies by Paula Paul writing as Catherine Monroe, The Barefoot Girl is told by the elderly Margherita looking back on the bare bones of her life, a life marked by physical beatings, rape, greed, murder and, thankfully, love. The author handles these themes frankly and with the abundance of grace appropriate to St. Margaret, the Barefooted One, Patroness of the Abused.