The Good Man’s Daughter
“In the dark feudal days of the 12th century, there was a part of France where the light of renaissance shone like a beacon . . . ”
A historically educated reader could be forgiven for flinching at this opening line from the prologue of A Good Man’s Daughter. What follows, however, is an engaging human tale of a young woman’s coming of age in southwest France, set against the background of the Cathar persecutions. The story follows Elouise’s changing relationships with the three men in her life: her father, Jean, a Cathar parfait or holy man; her best friend, Michel, a shepherd (who seems to do remarkably little shepherding); and the knight, Guillaume de Quillan, who becomes her lover. Intriguingly, the story is set not at the high point of the Albigensian Crusade, when the persecutions were conducted by powerful barons with active royal and papal support, but fifteen years later (1243–44), when they had passed into the hands of local clergy and nobility and were fuelled by those with personal scores to settle against their neighbours.
Whilst the four main characters are very believable, those cast as villains (a brutal, sadistic knight and a corrupt and venal priest) seem somewhat two dimensional. There are also some historical anachronisms (characters wearing “cotton shifts” long before cotton became available and, worst of all, Elouise’s skill at cooking “the crispiest roast potatoes”). Sometimes the descriptions of the landscapes put one more in mind of the woods and hills of Southern England than the garrigues and gorges of Languedoc.
Those reservations aside, the plotting is taught, the main characters are sympathetically drawn, and the dialogue is convincing. It offers a somewhat frosted window onto 13th– century France, but it is, nonetheless, a pretty good read.