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Great Maria

Great Maria

By Cecelia Holland

About the Author

Cecelia Holland was born in 1943 and has written 24 historical novels, the first of which was published in 1966. The New York Times has called her a “literary phenomenon.” She attended Connecticut College and now lives in Northern California.

Reading Group Guide

1. The book opens with Maria at the Shrine of the Virgin, praying to Mary to “call her into a marriage with God.” She learns later that she will be given in marriage to Richard rather than God. Maria often has a strong will of her own, but how does her faith affect her actions? Does she tend to submit to her husband because of her love for him, or does it stem more from religious duty?

2. Maria travels often to visit the shrine of her favorite saint, Mary. After Ceci’s death, Maria decides to build a chapel outside the Shrine of the Virgin, believing this will atone for the sin of killing Walter Bris, and Mary will help her get pregnant again. How does praying to Mary bring Maria peace? What rituals do you have that bring you a sense of calm?

3. Toward the beginning of the book, Maria thinks she’s in love with Roger, and she maintains a certain infatuation with him throughout her life. How does Roger try to manipulate her affection, and how does this compare to how Richard uses Maria? How would Maria’s life have been different if she had married Roger instead of Richard? Would she have been happier?

4. The Saracens give Richard the nickname “Dragon,” and others say he is cruel and treacherous. How does Richard live up to this nickname? What other ways would you describe Richard?

5. Richard and Maria both have strong wills, and they disagree often. How does this affect their relationship? How do they show each other love in spite of disagreements? How does their love and understanding of each other evolve? Does Richard ever really learn that he needs Maria, or does he just manipulate her to get what he wants?

6. The Saracens were the enemies of Maria’s people when she was young, but Richard conquers and befriends them. How does living among Saracens change Maria’s views about them, if at all?

7. There are many major power struggles found in the story: man vs. woman, Richard vs. Roger,Christian vs. Saracen. How are these struggles resolved? Which can you relate to? In the conflict between Richard and Maria, does Maria actually “win” in the end?

8. Robert and Stephen argue a lot. Describe how their relationship as brothers both mirrors and contrasts with Richard and Roger’s. When it is time for one of them to rule in Richard’s place, who will take charge, and how much of a struggle do you think there will be between the brothers?

9. After Roger’s rebellion, Richard allows Maria to decide whether or not to kill Roger.Is this an act of weakness because he can’t bring himself to kill his brother,a test of her loyalty since she’s always had a soft spot for Roger, or a sign that he trusts her judgment? How do you think Richard would react if Maria chose not to kill Roger?

10. Maria suffers multiple hardships: the death of three children, the physical abuse of her husband, and critique from an enemy trying to turn her husband away from her, among others. How does she remain strong through these difficulties? How would you handle similar situations? In which situations would you have done something completely different than Maria?


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