Skip to Main Content

English & Literature Texts: The Anchoress - Robyn Cadwallader

Year 7-12 | Helpful guides for your English & Literature text studies.

The Anchoress

England, 1255. What could drive a girl on the cusp of womanhood to lock herself away from the world forever?

Sarah is just seventeen when she chooses to become an anchoress, a holy woman shut away in a cell that measures only seven by nine paces, at the side of the village church. Fleeing the grief of losing a much-loved sister in childbirth as well as pressure to marry the local lord's son, she decides to renounce the world--with all its dangers, desires, and temptations--and commit herself to a life of prayer.

But it soon becomes clear that the thick, unforgiving walls of Sarah's cell cannot protect her as well as she had thought. With the outside world clamoring to get in and the intensity of her isolation driving her toward drastic actions, even madness, her body and soul are still in grave danger. When she starts hearing the voice of the previous anchoress whispering to her from the walls, Sarah finds herself questioning what she thought she knew about the anchorhold, and about the village itself.

With the lyricism of Nicola Griffith's Hild and the vivid historical setting of Hannah Kent's Burial Rites, Robyn Cadwallader's powerful debut novel tells an absorbing story of faith, desire, shame, fear, and the very human need for connection and touch. Compelling, evocative, and haunting, The Anchoress is both quietly heartbreaking and thrillingly unpredictable. 

From Goodreads

Lu Bro ObJN. (2014, January 31). [Julian of Norwich icon]. Retrieved from

Learn about Julian of Norwich, English anchoress 1342-1416:

Christian History Institute Article #31 "All shall be well"

The History Witch blog post - "and all shall be well"

Cambridge History of English and American Literature - 9. Juliana of Norwich.

The Story of Julian of Norwich, the most famous anchorite of her day - Slate article by Atlas Obscura.

The Order of Julian of Norwich

An order of Anglican monks and nuns, founded in 1985 inspired by the 'spirit of our Mother St Julian'.  Plenty of resources including excerpts of St Julian's writings "Revelations of Divine Love".

The Julian Centre

A website full of resources, managed by the Julian Centre which is situated next to St Julian's Church in the UK.

Click on the hyperlinks below to access these reviews of The Anchoress & related interviews published online:

Review by The Monthly

Review by The New York Times

Review by The Guardian

A short Review by Readings bookstore

Interview with Robyn Cadwallader by Sydney Morning Herald

Another interview with Robyn Cadwallader on the Book Keeping website

A fascinating journal article in the Medieval Feminist Forum, exploring some of the themes of the novel.

Read about Ancrene Wisse or the "Anchoresses' Guide" (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 402), written sometime roughly between 1225 and 1240

The author quotes sections of the Guide throughout The Anchoress

'The life of the anchoress' Article by Mary Wellesley, British Library, 2018

A well-research article answering questions like 'What was an anchoress?' and 'What was life like for an anchoress?'.   Includes images of original artifacts and documents held in the British Library collection.

'About Anchorites', Hermites & Anchorites of England

A website with information on the anchorite movement.

New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia online article 'Anchorites'

('anachoréo, I withdraw), also hermits (èremîtai, desert-dwellers, Latin, eremitæ).

Discover a modern-day anchorite Sr Rachel who writes about her interpretation of the anchoress lifestyle.

How I became a medieval-style anchorite - a woman writes about her year spent as an anchoress, cut off from the outside world.



"But that was exactly the challenge for me: not to dismiss these women as foolish, weird and deluded, but to respect the choice they made, and to try to understand it. And so began my imagining into the head and heart of Sarah, my anchoress." - Robyn Cadwallader in her blog post 'The Cell: Real and Imagined' 


Image Left: The opening to an anchorite cell in Lindsell, Essex UK 

Image Right: The anchorite cell in the north wall with a view to the altar at Lindsell, Essex UK


BLOG POST: Read about the author's experiences in an anchoress cell, and her inspiration behind this novel



Robyn Cadwallader

Denim on post dam

I’ve always been involved with words and writing in one way or another. I have spent much time and energy teaching creative writing and all kinds of English literature at university, with a special interest in medieval literature. I loved it, but now I’ve moved on to focus on what I had always wanted to do — writing.

My poems and short stories have been published in the usual places, and I have a book of poetry, i painted unafraid, published by Wakefield Press and Adelaide’s wonderful Friendly Street Poets after the manuscript won the Friendly Street Poets Single Poet competition. A short play, ‘Artemisia’, about the remarkable Artemisia Gentileschi, has been performed at Adelaide Fringe, and at the Sydney and Melbourne Short+Sweet Festival.

My novel The Anchoress won the Varuna LitLink NSW Byron Bay Unpublished Manuscript Award in 2010 and is published by Fourth Estate, HarperCollins, Australia; Faber, UK; it will be released by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, USA, and Gallimard /Denoel in France on May 12, 2015.

My PhD thesis is a study of the story of St Margaret of Antioch, patron saint of childbirth, who was swallowed by a dragon and burst out its back, proclaiming herself a hero. It has been published as Three Methods for Reading the Thirteenth-Century Seinte Marherete, by Mellen Press; it’s academic writing, about female virginity and agency, and is actually more interesting than the title might suggest!

I live in the country outside Canberra. A lovely man, two dogs, two alpacas, four chooks and a host of birdlife keep me company.

Visit Robyn's website for more information on her different books and to access her blog - she writes about researching for her fiction, travel, exciting news and musings on the writing process.