Margery and Julian – the Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox of their day
I propose a new monopoly card — bookseller’s error in your favour, collect £2.78 and a free book!
I say this as I ordered the first volume of Virginia’s Woolf’s diary from Amazon Marketplace a couple of weeks ago, and volume three came instead. The seller apologised, but as it came from America, it was obviously expensive to return, and they didn’t have the first volume after all, so very nicely just refunded me and said I could keep the book. Those kinds of mistakes I’d be happy to be on the receiving end more often.
I had no idea Virginia’s diaries had been published until I saw them on Alan Bennett’s shelf, in the documentary on the BBC at Christmas. Diaries are probably my favourite form of writing, first person experience at its rawest, and it just goes to show how easily it is to find new things to read. A brief wave of a camera over a bookshelf and my bank card knows all about it.
I also saw the Janina Ramirez documentary about Julian of Norwich (born in 1342), on BBC4, which had me ordering again. This is probably the first book of prose written by a woman, and I wanted it. Julian was an anchorite, someone who willingly locks themselves away in a small room attached to a church, where they can hear services and speak to people on the street, and receive food through a hatch (and pass out buckets, too. Yuk.) Margery Kempe went to visit Julian, and her book is probably the first example of a biography in written English, charting her travels. These woman and their firsts! Go sisters!
The idea of being a recluse has always appealed to me (which is easy to say when you don’t live alone and spend a lot of your day with too many people) and monastic life, removed from modern concerns and politics in a Trump world is looking more and more appealing, even to an atheist like me.
Although, as the documentary pointed out, nuns were still guillotined in the French Revolution, so the founding of some kind of non-religious community on a distant, remote island is a priority. The Order of the Book and Teapot? Hmm, that sounds rather like a sacred pub name. The Holy Brothers and Sisters of the Otter Gif and Tunnocks Teacake?
Anyway, as you may have noticed, I am still all about the escapism. Books written in different times, and cute and cosy distractions, bring ’em on!