Skip to main content

Mariette in Ecstasy: A Novel

About the Book

Mariette in Ecstasy: A Novel

It is August, 1906. The Sisters of the Crucifixion are awakened--hours before dawn--to the knocking of Sister Hermance's wooden castanets. She pauses a moment, and then shouts, "In Jesus Christ, my sisters, let us rise." And they do, one by one, each entering with a different ritual into another day of devotion. Soon, they will all gather in church to pray for their new postulant--Mariette. In a country house not far away, Mariette, only seventeen years old, esteems her young body in an upright mirror, and, "haunting" it with her hands, passionately offers it to God.

In Mariette in Ecstasy, Ron Hansen conveys with breathtaking clarity the essence of a life lived within a religious order--a life punctuated by fervent, prayerful whispers; by Gregorian Chants; or by the caw of a crow somewhere beyond the church windows. With prose as spare as the unadorned halls of the Sisters of Crucifixion convent, he tells a story that is rich and complex, provocative and fascinating, and, at times, terribly unsettling. Through Mariette Baptiste, a young, beautiful prioress among many older (some embittered) nuns, he explores the confounding mysteries surrounding rapturous devotion to the divine.

Mariette enters the convent with a ceremony similar to that of a traditional Christian wedding. Wearing her mother's wedding dress and flanked by girlfriends, classmates, and villagers, she makes her way to the church. At the Church of Our Lady of Sorrow, she walks down a white runner to the prie-dieu. Amid the rite, the assessment of Mariette begins. Mother Saint-Raphael thinks that she is "too-pretty," but nonetheless, is pleased. Sister Honore glances at Mariette, thinking unwillingly of another sister who was expelled from the Motherhouse for tattooing the Sacred Heart on her chest. Sister Philomene is overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy, and prays for the grace to be just like Mariette.

Indeed, Mariette's presence in the priory has an immediate--and eventually profound--affect on the quiet, introspective nuns. Her devotion to Jesus is complete, and her reputation for lapsing into episodes of prayerful "ecstasy" inspires in her fellow sisters both reverent awe and bitter jealousy. Jesus appears to Mariette often, and they hope that by being close to her they are closer to him. They are jealous because each one of them--craving that intimate connection with Jesus--has sacrificed the worldly pleasures of the outside for a cloistered religious life. Why has he chosen Mariette, and not them? When Mariette's "ecstasy" culminates in a series of stigmatas, the peace of the convent is irrevocably shattered, and the mysteries inherent in divine possession are starkly laid bare.

However tempting it may be to fixate on the question surrounding the authenticity of Mariette's stigmata, to do so would be to skein only the surface of Ron Hansen's haunting novel. There are more profound mysteries in Mariette in Ecstasy: What feeds the human compulsion to connect with the divine? How closely related are religious rapture and sexual ecstasy? And why, through the ages, have we persistently searched and yearned for miracles? Ron Hansen doesn't presume to know the answers to these questions, and we, too, can only wonder. But by offering readers this exquisite, unnerving novel, he does suggest that that life abounds with mysteries richer than anything the human mind can easily comprehend. And that should be the only answer we need.

Mariette in Ecstasy: A Novel
by Ron Hansen

  • Publication Date: June 5, 1992
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060981180
  • ISBN-13: 9780060981181