A Vision of Light

Suggested by Brad Nelson • A 14th century Englishwoman enlists the help of a skeptical but hungry monk to help her put down her life’s story. We learn that during a stint as a midwife she is given a special gift. But the 14th century is a rough time, particularly for women, gift or no gift.
Buy at Amazon
 • Suggest a book • (36 views)

Share
This entry was posted in Bookshelf. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to A Vision of Light

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finished this book a couple days ago and found the story interesting from start to finish. This is something between a feminist book and a woman-centric one. But I have no doubt that woman had it pretty rough in the 14th century.

    One of the flaws that must be mentioned is the bad ending. It’s tacked on and inconsistent with the rest of the book. Without giving away too many spoilers, I think the author (a woman) felt compelled not to have a happy ending. It wouldn’t be fair to the sisterhood, or something, to have a woman actually be well off and to live happily ever after. One reviewer aptly wrote:

    As others have mentioned in here, the ending is very weak, which takes away from the quality of the story. The end felt rushed and thrown together like Riley didn’t know how to end it or grew tired of writing it.s

    But up until that time it was an interesting romp through the middle ages. Yes, you guessed it, almost all the men are brutes, criminals, or just plain stupid. But it’s not quite as ugly as all that simply because certainly that was true of a segment of society.

    The man who eventually becomes her husband (and encourages her to write her memoirs) is a good man as is Brother Gregory who is hired to write them down and to teach Margaret to read and write (however reluctantly he does so).

    Brother Gregory is mostly represented as a stereotype. I do think women have problems fleshing out realistic literary characters as compared to men. The relationship between Brother Gregory and Margaret is lightly adversarial. Brother Gregory deigns to work for Margaret although he thinks it’s a bad idea for women to be educated.

    There’s another odd point in the story that probably most reviewers won’t mention. But it sticks out like a sore thumb. Margaret had always taken the mild castigations of Brother Gregory with patience and grace. She had an end goal in mind and suffering Brother Gregory’s narrow-mindedness was just the price to pay. And then one day she’s suddenly particularly offended by him. She cries, pouts, and argues. It’s just a strange change of character in mid stream.

    The feminist angle isn’t hard to take because it’s likely mostly true although the “vision of light” in this book spends most of its time taking a pessimistic view. But assuming the historical facts presented in this are mostly true, it’s interesting that people thought taking baths was an unhealthy thing. Margaret is “progressive” in this sense and (when she is married to her benefactor husband), she bathes everyday. Her husband thinks her skin will eventually fall off.

    And instead of sweeping one’s floor (whether one was lord of the castle or of a small dilapidated home), apparently it was common just to throw rushes and such on the floor making a nice nest for all sorts of creatures and pests, an maybe change it three times a year. Margaret changed the “straw” at least once a week and even prodded her rich husband to install some carpets.

    This book doesn’t shine a very nice light on the Church either…and probably shouldn’t. One never knows if this is a balanced view, but given the horrors the Catholic church accepts as normal today, it’s not hard to imagine a thoroughly corrupt Church back then. And as I understand from reading biographies of St Francis of the 13th century, this was a completely worldly and corrupt organization.

    Whether this is an objective view of what it was like for women in general in the 14th century in England is debatable. That a woman could have lived this kind of life in that century and place seems believable enough. Caveat emptor, though.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    You observations about baths and straw are correct, at least from what I have read over the years.

    This attitude toward bathing has lasted into the recent past. Europeans, particularly the Brits, were not as concerned with personal hygiene the way Americans were. While studying in Europe, I noticed that Americans may look sloppy, but they were generally clean. Europeans might look neat, but could be less washed. The smell would tell.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” might not be an exact bible quote. But it’s self-evidently true, nonetheless.

      I’m not a neat freak. I’m not obsessive-compulsive in this regard. But I am to the extent that I cannot bear to live in my own filth. But I know some who do….literally. And it’s hard to diagnose this as either the result of depression or mental illness. I do not understand and won’t turn your stomach with the stories I know about these particular two people (who are not at all rare).

      Mankind and physical (and/or moral) degradation go hand-in-hand. I’m convinced it’s not degradation that needs to be explained but its opposite. If one can do no more than sweep the floor every morning and take a bath, one has done excellent service to promoting one’s health and happiness.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I’ve read similar things. The practice of putting down new rushes seems to have been genuine practice. Bathing was infrequent (of course, this usually involved bathing in cold water), but I’ve read different versions of how infrequent it was. Some say once a year, and some sources blame it (of course) on the Church, the idea being that bathing was immodest. I wonder how often the Jacobin Marat bathed, given that he was murdered in his bath by Charlotte Corday. (And good riddance it was.) Of course that was centuries later, and no doubt he was an atheist.

      Most women couldn’t read or write in that era, but the same was true of most men, most of the population being peasants. I don’t know what the situation was for bourgeois and aristocratic women, but I suspect many were literate and numerate.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        During the 14th century, I would guess that literacy was pretty much restricted to the clergy, some but not all aristocrats and some merchants. One should also not forget that to be considered truly literate in those days, one had to be able to read and to some degree write Latin.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          And that was mostly restricted to the clergy — hence the “benefit of clergy”, by which those who could read a Biblical verse in Latin would be judged by ecclesiastical rather than secular courts. They always chose the same verse, so clever crooks only had a single verse to memorize. Ecclesiastical courts were limited in available punishments — in particular, no capital punishment.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          During the 14th century, I would guess that literacy was pretty much restricted to the clergy, some but not all aristocrats and some merchants. One should also not forget that to be considered truly literate in those days, one had to be able to read and to some degree write Latin.

          There are similarities between Islam and Christianity. One is the attitude toward women, with Islam being much harsher, of course. But, in practice, I don’t doubt at all that women were basically kept barefoot, illiterate, and pregnant by the reigning Men’s Club with complete authority provided by The Church.

          That said, it’s doubtful women ever commonly had as much legal and social power and status as men in any place at any time other than today. This is inherent to their differing roles. It wasn’t necessarily the result of a plan to keep anyone down. A man had to work hard and quite possibly fight in wars while a woman, by necessity, had to take care of home and hearth. It doesn’t take a genius to see how these realities of life lead to differences in economic and social power. Men needed it. Women did not — as a functional, get-through-the-day, reality.

          That said (again), women could, and did, gain an enormous amount of power through their husbands (the best of whom benefited greatly from this input). None of these complicated and nitty-gritty realities are brought up in the book. Again again again: caveat emptor. It’s a fun read. And certainly no one within the sound of my voice is so naive that they wouldn’t see through the bias. But many would not.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            in practice, I don’t doubt at all that women were basically kept barefoot, illiterate, and pregnant by the reigning Men’s Club with complete authority provided by The Church.

            As I recall, in his book, “The White Goddess”, Robert Graves maintains that women’s position was drastically changed through Judaism’s/Christianity’s monotheistic idea of God. This is perhaps and interesting idea, but wholly unprovable. But of course, that hasn’t stopped the anti-Christian left, sorry for being redundant, from latching onto the theory for their grievance politics.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I wonder how often the Jacobin Marat bathed, given that he was murdered in his bath by Charlotte Corday.

        LOL. A good point. False advertising, I’d say.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Most women couldn’t read or write in that era, but the same was true of most men, most of the population being peasants.

        As noted, it’s not that this book isn’t true (not that I absolutely know, one way or the other). It’s that the focus is narrow. There is much storytelling skill in the book that helps one swallow down the narrow focus. But less “women are all victims” and more of a broader approach (men were victims too, and as you noted, often couldn’t read or write either) would have served better.

        Still, I admit that I enjoyed the book even though this book is clearly aimed at the “women are victims” crowd. It doesn’t come off as nagging. Its bias is its narrow scope.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          An interesting take on 14th Century Britain can be found in the Last Templar series by Michael Jecks, mostly set in Devon. The main characters are a local bailiff (who technically is still a serf, which becomes very relevant in one story) and the last surviving Templar (who of course isn’t bragging about his background). They solve crimes and, inevitably get caught up in the history of a troubled series (one of the later books is set during the fall of Edward II, though it doesn’t go into what eventually happened to him at Berkeley Castle).

          I will also mention the mysteries of Margaret Frazer, which involve a nun (of minor aristocratic birth, and a relative of Chaucer) at an East Anglia convent with a talent for solving mysteries. Frazer also did a spin-off series involving an actor from one of the earlier Dame Frevisse books who becomes a British agent. The books are set in the first half of the 15th Century.)

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Here’s that book.

            One of the interesting aspects of “A Vision of Light” (some spoilers coming) is why the Margaret character had super-powers. She had the ability to heal by touch. When she was doing so, she radiated a warm, golden light. She first got this power when she had some kind of mystical vision.

            And I ask this not in terms of the plot (a storyteller can invent what he or she wants). But I wonder why it was necessary for this character to have a healing touch. The story otherwise had no supernatural elements. I read the thing and I don’t have any opinion other than it was added as an affectation or conceit.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Yes, that’s the first book in an extensive series. By the end of it, Simon and Sir Baldwin are friends, allies, and collaborators in solving crimes.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    It’s set later, but reason.com has a review of the Mary Queen of Scots movie that seems to indicate a very politically correct movie — with “nobles of color” in Scotland (I’m extremely skeptical of that) and Mary showing sympathy for a transvestite at one point even though he or she (I don’t know which it was) had been caught fooling around with her then-husband, Lord Darnley. (Darnley, as I recall, got blown up by killers hired by Viscount Bothwell, Mary’s next husband. Her taste in men was a little deficient.)

    I don’t think I’ll be very interested in seeing the movie. The link is:

    https://reason.com/archives/2018/12/07/movie-review-mary-queen-of-scots?utm_medium=email

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      and Mary showing sympathy for a transvestite at one point even though he or she (I don’t know which it was) had been caught fooling around with her then-husband

      I think John Cleese said it best at the end of “The Lumberjack” sketch:

      Dear Sir, I wish to complain in the strongest possible terms about the song which you have just broadcast about the lumberjack who wears women’s clothes. Many of my best friends are lumberjacks, and only a few of them are transvestites. Yours faithfully, Brigadier Sir Charles Arthur Strong (Mrs.)

      Sounds like a very forgettable movie.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      While perverts and deviants have always been with us, one should never forget that they are overrepresented in the arts, particularly in the theater and music.

      So, while it is possible that Mary’s husband Darnley liked to fool around with a transvestite, one must take modern “historical” movies with a grain of salt if for no other reason that the writers, actors, producers and directors actively promote and try to justify their own mental problems.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *