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"The White Ladies of Worcester" by Florence Barclay

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It is the 12th century in the city of Worcester, England. At the Nunnery of the White Ladies, old lay-sister Mary Antony performs her daily ritual. As the nuns return from Vespers through the underground passage into the cloisters, she counts them in her unique way--dropping one pea for each nun from her hand into a bag. Today the count is different. Today the nuns pass, all the peas drop into the bag, and then one more nun passes by.

Who is this intruder? Could Mary Antony's senses be failing her? Or is it the ghost of Sister Agatha who, many years before, was accidentally locked into the underground passageway and suffered an untimely death?

The White Ladies of Worcester is another winner from Florence Barclay, author of The Rosary. As in The Rosary, Barclay pulls you into the action of the novel straight away. The rest of the story revolves around the Prioress of the nunnery who, in her youth, was deserted by her betrothed. The depth of her anguish sends her to the nunnery, and she eventually rises to the top of the ranks. Later events unfold to make the Prioress question the vows she took, while others try to sway her decisions with their own interests in mind.

Barclay invents some wonderful, developed characters here. Our hero, the knight Hugh d'Argent, is strong and burley--a guy you wouldn't want to mess with. But he's easily the most sensitive guy in the novel. Unlike Fanny Burney's heroes that you want to slap for being so whiny, Hugh has strong emotions but always acts sensibly, which makes one love him all the better.

As I made my casting recommendations for The Rosary, I also have some in mind for The White Ladies.

Cate BlanchettThe Prioress
Actress: Cate Blanchett
Cate would make a lovely Prioress. She must be beautiful, but understated enough for a nunnery. She must have long, flowing, blonde hair. She also must have a temper and be strong in her resolve.
Richard ArmitageHugh d'Argent
Actor: Richard Armitage
Oh how I wanted to cast Richard Armitage as Garth Dalmain in The Rosary! But that just wouldn't work out, James McAvoy fits Garth much better. However, Armitage would fit the Knight to perfection: dark and handsome, has that melting stare, and looks great in armor.
Jeremy IronsThe Bishop
Actor: Jeremy Irons
I had a hard time picturing the Bishop for the majority of the novel, probably because he's a hard character to make out. Is he good, is he bad, is he neither? Towards the end it finally came to me: Jeremy Irons would meld this ambiguity of character wonderfully.
Jessica TandyMary Antony
Actress: Jessica Tandy (in a posthumous appearance)

This is my favorite character in the book, and I imagine she would also be the most fun to enact. She's quite old, and she's got an attitude. Someone like Jessica Tandy would be great, however it appears she is no longer with us.

Discussion

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