"The House of the Spirits," Vocabulary from Chapters 1-2

A fictionalized multigenerational account of the Chilean political scene, Isabel Allende's "House of the Spirits" doesn't limit itself to discussions of corruption and torture- there are also scenes of prophesy and magic. Learn this word list that focuses on religious attitudes.

Here are links to our word lists for the novel: Chapters 1-2, Chapters 3-5, Chapters 6-8, Chapters 9-11, and Chapters 12-Epilogue.

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. retinue
    the group following and attending to some important person
    Beneath these funereal sheets the celestial retinue resembled nothing so much as a roomful of furniture awaiting movers, an impression that the candles, the incense, and the soft moans of the organ were powerless to counteract.
  2. penitence
    remorse for your past conduct
    It was a long week of penitence and fasting, during which there were no card games and no music that might lead to lust or abandon; and within the limits of possibility, the strictest sadness and chastity were observed, even though it was precisely at this time that the forked tail of the devil pricked most insistently at Catholic flesh.
  3. incriminate
    suggest that someone is guilty
    The priest was blessed with a long, incriminating finger, which he used to point out sinners in public, and a tongue well schooled in arousing emotions.
  4. carrion
    the dead and rotting body of an animal; unfit for human food
    “Repent, sinners, foul carrion, unworthy of our Lord’s great sacrifice!
  5. ecclesiastic
    of or associated with a church
    Carried away by vocational zeal, the priest had all he could do to avoid openly disobeying the instructions of his ecclesiastic superiors, who, shaken by the winds of modernism, were opposed to hair shirts and flagellation.
  6. oratory
    addressing an audience formally
    He himself was a firm believer in the value of a good thrashing to vanquish the weaknesses of the soul and was famous for his unrestrained oratory.
  7. myriad
    too numerous to be counted
    The faithful followed him from parish to parish, sweating as he described the torments of the damned in hell, the bodies ripped apart by various ingenious torture apparatuses, the eternal flames, the hooks that pierced the male member, the disgusting reptiles that crept up female orifices, and the myriad other sufferings that he wove into his sermons to strike the fear of God into the hearts of his parishioners.
  8. indolent
    disinclined to work or exertion
    Even Satan was described in his most intimate perversions in the Galician accents of this priest whose mission in this world was to rouse the conscience of his indolent Creole flock.
  9. explicit
    precisely and clearly expressed or readily observable
    She was able to attribute her present discomfort to Father Restrepo when he pointed at her to illustrate a point about the Pharisees, who had tried to legalize bastards and civil marriage, thereby dismembering the family, the fatherland, private property, and the Church, and putting women on an equal footing with men—this in open defiance of the law of God, which was most explicit on the issue.
    As a female author who dedicated her novel to her mother, grandmother and all the other extraordinary women of the story, Allende is making fun of this male priest's declaration that God's law is explicitly against women being on equal footing with men. Additionally, she mocks him for being too explicit in his descriptions of torture, which arouses interest in physical images and can lead to more sins.
  10. aberration
    a state or condition markedly different from the norm
    Clara was seated beside her mother, who squeezed her hand impatiently whenever the priest lingered too long on the sins of the flesh, for she knew that this would only lead the child to visualize with even greater accuracy aberrations that transcended reality.
  11. translucent
    allowing light to pass through diffusely
    From her very first bath, Nana had washed her hair with camomile, which softened its color, giving it the hue of old bronze, and put her out in the sun with nothing on, to strengthen her skin, which was translucent in the most delicate parts of her chest and armpits, where the veins and secret texture of the muscles could be seen. Nana’s gypsy tricks did not suffice, however, and rumors quickly spread that Nivea had borne an angel.
  12. tenuous
    very thin in gauge or diameter
    There was something of the fish to her (if she had had a scaly tail, she would have been a mermaid), but her two legs placed her squarely on the tenuous line between a human being and a creature of myth.
  13. iridescent
    having a play of lustrous rainbow colors
    She was immune to vanity and that day she was more absent than usual, dreaming of new beasts to embroider on her tablecloth, creatures that were half bird and half mammal, covered with iridescent feathers and endowed with horns and hooves, and so fat and with such stubby wings that they defied the laws of biology and aerodynamics.
  14. connoisseur
    an expert able to appreciate a field
    They were in one of those long breaks in the sermon that the priest, a connoisseur of unbearable silences, used with frequency and to great effect.
  15. cataclysm
    an event resulting in great loss and misfortune
    Severo understood that he must act before collective laughter broke out around them or some divine cataclysm occurred.
    "Collective laughter" and "divine cataclysm" are extreme opposites--Allende puts them together to mock the priest (who would expect the second reaction) and his Catholic ideas of hell (which Allende uses ten-year-old Clara to question in order to produce the first reaction in her readers).
  16. fanaticism
    excessive intolerance of opposing views
    They were afraid of other people’s curses and Father Restrepo’s fanaticism.
  17. ascribe
    attribute or credit to
    Until that day they had never given a name to the eccentricities of their youngest daughter, nor had it ever crossed their minds to ascribe them to Satanic influence.
  18. pallid
    deficient in color suggesting physical or emotional distress
    His was the only perfectly clear image she retained from her whole childhood, and in order to describe him she did not need to consult the daguerreotype in the drawing room that showed him dressed as an explorer leaning on an old-fashioned double-barreled rifle with his right foot on the neck of a Malaysian tiger, the same triumphant position in which she had seen the Virgin standing between plaster clouds and pallid angels at the main altar, one foot on the vanquished devil.
  19. fetid
    offensively malodorous
    He performed alchemy experiments in the kitchen, filling the house with fetid smoke and ruining pots and pans with solid substances that stuck to their bottoms and were impossible to remove.
    The fetid alchemy experiments of Uncle Marcos might outwardly contrast with the iridescent creatures of Rosa's embroidered tablecloth, but together, they emphasize the unusual nature of Clara's family, whose members often go beyond the rules of religion, reality, and society.
  20. surreptitious
    marked by quiet and caution and secrecy
    Thanks to the surreptitious prayers of the women and children, as he himself admitted, he was alive and well and in full possession of his faculties, including his sense of humor.
  21. pertinent
    having precise or logical relevance to the matter at hand
    She would whisper in her Uncle Marcos’s ear, and he in turn would transmit the message to the client, along with any improvisations of his own that he thought pertinent.
  22. bedraggle
    make wet and dirty, as from rain
    Thus their fame spread, because all those who arrived sad and bedraggled at the consulting room left filled with hope.
  23. mitigate
    lessen or to try to lessen the seriousness or extent of
    At the end of autumn, when the family had calmed down about Father Restrepo, who was forced to mitigate his inquisitional behavior after the bishop had personally warned him to leave little Clara del Valle alone, and when they had all resigned themselves to the fact that Uncle Marcos was truly dead, Severo’s political designs began to take shape.
  24. copious
    large in number or quantity
    The weeping was copious, but it was dignified and muted. Some of the women murmured prayers under their breath.
  25. supplicate
    ask for humbly or earnestly, as in prayer
    Her eyes were closed, but the little girl, because of the shadows, her own distance, and her imagination, thought she saw a supplicating and humiliated expression on her sister’s face.
  26. salient
    conspicuous, prominent, or important
    His most salient trait was his moodiness and a tendency to grow violent and lose his head, a characteristic he had had since childhood, when he used to throw himself on the floor foaming at the mouth, so furious that he could scarcely breathe, and kicking like one possessed by the devil.
  27. rapprochement
    the reestablishing of cordial relations
    But that rapprochement did not last long, and Ferula was quick to realize that she had been used.
    Esteban is used to being reproached by Ferula ("That’s what you get for spending Mama’s medicine money on your private little whims. God punished you."), which is why their rapprochement only lasted while Esteban needed Ferula to help him get Rosa.
  28. privation
    act of depriving someone of food or money or rights
    His had been a childhood of privations, discomfort, harshness, interminable nighttime rosaries, fear, and guilt.
  29. abstemious
    sparing in consumption of especially food and drink
    The peasants were still living exactly as they had in colonial times, and had not heard of unions, or Sundays off, or the minimum wage; but now delegates from the new-formed parties of the left, disguised as evangelicals, were beginning to infiltrate the haciendas, with a Bible tucked under one armpit and Marxist pamphlets under the other, simultaneously preaching the abstemious life and revolution or death.
  30. antediluvian
    so extremely old as seeming to belong to an earlier period
    Those conspiratorial lunches of the patrones would culminate in either Romanesque debauchery or cockfights, and by evening the men would take the Red Lantern by storm, where twelve-year-old prostitutes and Carmelo, the only homosexual in the brothel and the town, would dance to the strains of an antediluvian Victrola beneath the watchful eye of Sofia
    "Antediluvian" also means "of or relating to the period before the biblical flood"--although this definition would not fit the description of the Victrola (which was invented at the beginning of the 20th century), it could emphasize the two-faced nature of the landowners who go to church yet take pleasure in prostitutes, cockfights, and conspiracies.

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