From the Publisher
In this book, originally published after her bestselling debut with
the Wideacre trilogy, New York Times
Philippa Gregory takes readers to Henry VIII''s England, on a
journey to the outer reaches of passion, where magic and female
Alys joins a nunnery to escape the poverty of her life on the
moor with her foster mother, Morach, the local wise woman with whom
she lives as an outcast, but she soon finds herself thrown back
into the world when Henry VIII''s wreckers destroy her sanctuary.
Summoned to the castle as the old lord''s scribe, she falls
obsessively in love with his son Hugo, who is married to Catherine.
Driven to desperation by her desire, she summons the most dangerous
powers Morach has taught her, but soon the passionate triangle of
Alys, Hugo, and Catherine begins to explode, launching them into
uncharted sexual waters. The magic Alys has conjured now has a life
of its own -- a life that is horrifyingly and disastrously out of
Is she a witch? Since heresy means the stake, and witchcraft the
rope, Alys is in mortal danger, treading a perilous path between
her faith and her own female power.
About the Author
Author Philippa Gregory was born in Nairobi, Kenya on January 9, 1954. At the age of two, she moved to England with her family. She received a B.A. in history at Sussex University in 1982 and a Ph.D. in 18th-century literature from the University of Edinburgh in 1984. She has taught at numerous universities and was made a fellow of Kingston University in 1994. She adapted her novel A Respectable Trade, about the slave trade in England, into a four part series for BBC television. Her script was nominated for a BAFTA and won an award from the Committee for Racial Equality. She won the Feminist Book Fortnight Award in 1990 and the Romantic Novelist of the Year Award in 2002. She also writes children's books, is a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines, a frequent broadcaster for radio and television, and runs a small charity that builds wells in schoolyards in Gambia. She currently lives in the North of England with her husband and two children.
The Wise Woman
1. Philippa Gregory has created some wicked characters in this
book. Who did you see as the ultimate villain? At what times did
Alys have your sympathies? Did she ever go so far in her
selfishness that she lost your compassion? What about Catherine?
Did you ever begin to feel bad for her despite her ill treatment of
some of the other women? Did the old lord Hugh or Hugo ever gain
2. Alys tries to find ways to regain safety and stability after
the abbey is burned. She tells Morach, "I have no safety without
some power." In what ways does she try to gain power once she gets
to the castle? Do you think Alys handled her power wisely?
3. Morach tells Alys, "You''re a woman of no loyalty, Alys.
It''s whatever will serve a purpose for you." To what degree do you
find this true? Do any of the characters in The Wise Woman
show loyalty? At what times does Alys''s disloyalty save her? What
does she lose by continually acting selfishly?
4. The book takes place during the English Reformation. How do
Alys''s affiliations with black magic and Catholicism mimic each
other? Why do you think both witches and heretics were put to
death? What dangers did they present to the Church of England?
5. The book also takes place during the reign of King Henry
VIII. "[Hugo] and his father had craved sons, but this reign had
taught men the value of pretty women as pawns in the power game."
Discuss some of the gender role differences in Lord Hugh''s castle.
How did women gain power? How did the historical events that took
place during King Henry VIII''s reign affect the fictional story of
Alys and Catherine?
6. Alys initially becomes a nun because the abbey provides a
relatively luxurious and comfortable life. She measures her success
in Lord Hugh''s castle by how many gowns she has compared to
Catherine. Why do you think Alys is so concerned with material
possessions? How did her preoccupation with wealth and material
gain inform her decisions throughout the story?
7. Discuss Alys''s relationship with Tom. Do you think she truly
loved him? Did you expect that he would return again and become the
one person Alys could love unconditionally?
8. Alys considers Hildebrande a "woman mad for martyrdom,
rushing toward exposure and danger." Did you see Hildebrande''s
loyalty to her religion as foolish? Or was Alys''s extreme
disloyalty more surprising? Are some beliefs worth dying for?
9. Given what you read in the novel, do you think that Alys had
magical powers? Can the wax be explained scientifically? What about
the carved bones? What do you think became of the wax figures once
10. Do you think that Alys finally made the right decision at
the end of the book? If she was in fact pregnant, do you think it
was sinful of her to cast her unborn child onto the fire with her?
What is the significance of beginning and ending the novel from
Alys''s point of view, and with the same words?
About the Book
The bestselling author of "Wideacre, Meridon," and "The Favored Child" masterfully blends history, romance, and the occult in a spellbinding new novel.