The Wandering Harlot: The Marie Series

Written by Iny Lorentz Lee Chadeayne (trans.)
Review by Shannon Gallagher

This novel’s title provides no clue to the craftsmanship within its pages. In 1410 in Constance, Germany, Marie Schärer lives a seemingly idyllic life as the spoiled only child of a wealthy merchant. Her ambitious father arranges for her to marry a count’s illegitimate son, which for him would be a leap up the social ladder. However, Marie’s betrothed, Rupert Splendidus, a lawyer by trade, accuses Marie on the eve of their wedding of prostitution and produces several “clients” to attest to having bedded her. She is taken from her home in her nightdress, dragged through the streets, and locked in the dungeon. Here, the men who had claimed to have contractual sex with her earlier brutally rape her, to avoid lying at the judicial hearing. Marie believes that when a neighbor arrives in the morning to examine her that the plot will be exposed, but it seems Splendidus has another on his payroll. She is swiftly tried, found guilty, whipped, and driven from her home.

Marie wanders alone, barely alive, and finally lies down for what she thinks will be the last time – and perhaps it would have been had Hiltrud not been walking by. Hiltrud nurses Marie back to life, but the realization that Hiltrud is a prostitute, and that if Marie intends to survive she must become one as well, nearly breaks the resilient Marie. The women become fast friends, and Marie resolves herself to her fate, not because she enjoys it but merely because it keeps her fed. Hatred and the burning desire for revenge drive her on.

The novel is full of wonderfully rich detail and reveals extensive historical research. While its main theme is Marie’s plight, there are countless minor plots and unexpected twists and turns. I thoroughly enjoyed The Wandering Harlot, which gives voice to those heretofore ignored members of society living on the fringes.