“ In 1100 Europe was open in boundaries, faith and outlook. By the middle of the fourteenth century it was ‘closed’ – by Mongol and Turkish invasions, by the rift with Byzantium, by the intolerant dogmatism of the Church.”
I have been feeling down the last couple of weeks due to a health issue as well as the state of the world. Sometimes when I am like that, reading history helps. I love reading about past worlds, and the more you read history the more you realise that nothing has changed. Human nature is the same no matter what century, as is the struggle between good and evil. So when times are bad, I take comfort and a glimmer of hope from the fact that they have been as bad or worse before.
I first read this book 20 years ago, but it seems so relevant as I read it again. The Medieval world had much beauty, but also much ignorance, and great prejudices against Islam and Judaism. It also had huge failures in the leadership of church and state which condoned such prejudice and hatred. Does any of this sound familiar?
Friedrich Heer was an Austrian left wing Catholic, and a brilliant cultural historian. History comes alive in his writing. He was also a very courageous man. He was first arrested by Austrian Nazis in 1938 at the age of 22 and during World War II he founded a small resistance group comprised of Christians, Communists and trade unionists.
Heer writes that “Anti-Semitic feeling for a long time remained largely confined to the lower levels of the population, the underdogs of town and country. It was the preaching of religion that spread the infection, particularly in the towns.” Sounds like the spread of prejudice today!
Entire communities of Jews were put to death in various locations across Europe as every stillbirth, every accident, every famine or epidemic was presumed to be the work of evildoers, i.e.: Jews or witches. Many Jewish communities were massacred in the aftermath of the Great Plague in 1348.
After the Jews, it was women that were reviled as the root of all evil. St Jerome, patron saint of mysoginists wrote “woman is the gate of the devil, the path of wickedness, the sting of the serpent, in a word a perilous object”. What had any woman done to him to think this way? He was taught this, he believed it, and woman became the Other, not human, certainly not important. So sad, but such madness and fanaticism continues today, in different forms.
There are myriad chapters in this book about all sorts of subjects, including courtly love, science, art and architecture, and the crusades.Recommended if you enjoy reading about history.
This is a fascinating book about a world that on the surface seems alien, but is closer to our world than first appears. Heer concludes “History is the present, the present is history.” Absolutely!
” I remain quiet. I am determined to close myself to the world, to tighten my heart and hold on to what has not yet been stolen from me… They will see the whore, the madwoman, the murderess, the female dripping blood into the grass and laughing with her mouth choked with dirt. They will say ‘Agnes’ …But they will not see me. I will not be there.”
“There is is an urgency that comes with slaughter. The weather is bad, there is ice in the rain, and the wind is like a wolf nipping at your heels, reminding you that winter is coming. I feel as low as the dense clouds get are gathering. No one wanted to work in yo the night, and so we are all wrapped in layers, waiting outside in the October half-light.”
“The weight of his fingers on mine, like a bird landing on a branch. It was the drop of the match. I did not see that we were surrounded by tinder until I felt it burst into flames.”
All quotations are from “Burial Rites”.
“Burial Rites” is a fictionalised account of the life and last days of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman executed in Iceland for her part in the murder of two men in 1829. The descriptions of a brutal, bleak landscape are breathtaking. You can almost feel the extreme cold, and wonder at the will power of the characters to survive each day in such a harsh world.
Agnes is portrayed as a complex and haunted character, and as her story unfolds, you begin to gauge the depths of her suffering, and become more amazed at her strength to endure extreme grief and pain.
Brilliant book, gut wrenching in parts, the debut novel of an Australian woman when only in her twenties, the research undertaken for it is formidable.
Highly recommended. 5 ⭐️
I learned some things along the way. One of the things I learned is that I had to bend or else break. And I also learned that it is possible to bend and break at the same time.
Isak Dinesen said that she wrote a little every day, without hope and without despair. Someday I’ll put that on a three-by-five card and tape it to the wall beside my desk.
I have a three-by -five up there with this fragment of a sentence from a story by Chekhov: “… and suddenly everything became clear to him.” I find these words filled with wonder and possibility. I love their simple clarity, and the hint of revelation that’s implied.
It’s possible… to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things … with immense, even startling power…That’s the kind of writing that interests me.
The above are all quotations from Carver’s essays.
“Fires” is an interesting collection of work by Raymond Carver, consisting of essays, poems and stories. The essays in particular I found really interesting, and are a fascinating insight into his method of writing, and the influences on his writing. A memoir of his father “My Father’s Life”, is poignant with the regret of things left unsaid. The title essay “Fires” was really meaningful for me, because in it he names his children as the biggest influence on his writing.
His responsibilities as a father were such, and the menial work he was forced to do was so time consuming that it left little time for writing. Writing a novel was an impossible dream, so he decided to specialise in short stories that could be written in one or two nights, and then refined. As Carver states in one essay on the crafting of his stories: “Get in, get out. Don’t linger.” The rest as they say, is history.
Maybe it’s for Carver aficionados only, but I really enjoyed this book. 4⭐️
This edition published by Vintage in 2009. Original publication 1988.
My name is Cynthia, and I live in Melbourne, Australia. I love reading and writing about books I have read and that I am hoping to read. My main areas of interest are classic and literary fiction, art, biography and poetry.
After posting on Instagram, I realised that being image based it’s not really conducive to lengthy captions, and certainly not for long essay pieces. I hope to regularly publish book reviews, essays on poetry that I have loved, and musings on books or writers that I have enjoyed in the past.
Being totally new to blogging, I am happy to receive feedback and hope to connect with like minded book lovers.