99 pages 3 hours read

Isabel Allende

The House of the Spirits

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1982

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Epigraph-Chapter 4Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Epigraph Summary

Content Warning: This section of the guide contains mentions of sexual assault, graphic violence, and anti-gay bias.

The author dedicates the book to her mother, grandmother, and the other “extraordinary women” in the story. The dedication is followed by two lines of poetry by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda: “How long does a man spend dying? What does it mean to say ‘for ever’?” (IX).

Chapter 1 Summary: “Rosa the Beautiful”

Chapter 1 opens with a line from Clara’s diary: “Barrabás came to us by sea” (1). The narrator, Alba, comments on how she would use Clara’s diaries to “reclaim terrors of [her] own” 50 years later (1).

Clara del Valle and her family attend a mass at church on Holy Thursday. The del Valles are headed by Severo, an atheist who attends church to pursue his political ambitions. Nívea, his wife, is a progressive suffragette and mother to 11 children. Clara suddenly interrupts the sermon, saying, “If that story about hell is a lie, we’re all fucked, aren’t we.…” (7). Severo and Nívea hurry their children out while the priest angrily pronounces Clara to be possessed by the devil.

Ten-year-old Clara is the youngest of the del Valle children and was born with telepathic and clairvoyant abilities. Eighteen-year-old Rosa, an “otherworldly” beauty with green hair and yellow eyes, is the oldest of the daughters.