Tag Archives: Margery Kempe

My reading list just gets longer. Time to prioritise…

Got to the Bodleian yesterday evening about 16:30 when the sky overhead was a deep, luminous blue which surely meant snow.
The book I had ordered was there, waiting for me in the Radcliffe Camera. Normally, for books on the open shelves, readers help themselves but we are temporarily barred from the lower Gladstone Link, due to a leak, and so enjoy the luxury of our books being carried up the metal stairs for us to the Camera.
The book I wanted was Travel A Literary History, by Peter Whitfield, published in 2011, by the Bodleian itself and available in the library’s excellent shop.

As with all books ordered, I did a skim read. Byron is there as is Joan Didion, Dante, Hannibal, Sara Wheeler and Jan Morris among many others. I’m not. (Yes, I checked. I am human, after all.) Egeria is there though Whitfield is a bit dismissive, saying that she tells little about the places she visited. Not so. Earlier this year, I sat in a shaded monastery garden outside Jerusalem, with Earl from the Falls Road, though now known as Gregory, Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery in Jerusalem’s old city. He knew of Egeria ( full marks, Abbot) because of her writings which are greatly valued as being among the earliest first-hand accounts of 4th century liturgy. Her descriptions of the rich hangings and drapes alone are worth reading. She also comments on the plants grown by the monks and on their irrigation systems. You can read more about her in my book The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt ( http://www.maryrussell.info) .

You can also read, in Blessings, about Margery Kempe, the noisy, obstreperous, talkative and, at times, infuriating pilgrim who travelled on foot and by boat from England to Jerusalem in 1414. Strange that she too has been left out of Whitfield’s so comprehensive book. By the way, if I’ve whetted your appetite, you’ll find the radio documentary I made about Margery also on my website.

Whitfield has included an apt comment by Paul Theroux made when a friend remarked that there was no point in travel writing since, said the friend, everyone travels so who wants to read about it. To which Theroux replied: ”Everyone gets laid too but that doesn’t eliminate screwing as a subject – I mean people still write about it.”
So Egeria is here as is Saint Brendan but not, and understandably perhaps, Saint Ia who sailed across the sea on a leaf from Ireland to Cornwall to found the settlement of Saint Ives. Or so I’ve been led to believe.

Whitfield’s book will demand time and attention which I didn’t have last night but I will be back. Not only to read Travel but also to read his upcoming book Mapping Shakespeare’s World, also published by the Bodleian.

This is going to be a fascinating read as it looks at the way in which Shakespeare locates his plays in places he had never – nor could have – visited, such as Verona, Elsinore and Ephesus.

The play I’m currently interested in is Othello, set in Cyprus and in which play Shakespeare moves dates around to suit his dramatic purposes. The Ottomans would have had a right to complain but they didn’t. Instead, they welcomed the Elizabethan travelling salesmen with open arms. And why not? Everyone wanted to hang their palaces and churches with silk from Damascus.Or clothe themselves in the precious silk:  Anne Boleyn wore a damask mantle when she went to her death.

Strange then that, in Whitfield’s book on travel and literature, there’s no mention in the index of Aleppo or Palmyra or, saddest of all, the great city of Damascus.

But here, cue my latest book My Home is Your Home http://www.maryrussell.info which tells you not just about the city and the country but the people who make up that country. Published in 2011 it is now a record of times past.

I will be back in the Bodleian to read more of Peter Whitfield’s travel book but first there’s my bookclub book to finish: Rose Tremain’s The Colour. Then there’s a book review to write for The Irish Times: Leaving Before The Rains Come, by Alexandra Fuller whose Let’s Not Go to the Dogs Tonight, I reviewed and loved. And finally, there’s a post-Christmas gift: Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.

These may keep me going till Mapping Shakespeare’s World is published in June by which time it will be top of my reading list.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles, Books, Life

What is it with older actors? Three women to watch.

Three theatre women worth watching:

Diana Quick: just finished a run at the Theatre Royal in Bath – The Big Meal. This is a challenging play by US writer Dan LeFranc which tells the story of a family through five generations with all the actors playing multiple parts.

Quick was married  to fellowe actor Bill Nighy for some 27 years and her daughter, Mary, is also an actor.

Diana Quick played the part of Margery Kempe in a radio play of  mine that BBC Radio broadcast a few years ago. I liked what I heard but I really wanted to see this character in the flesh. One day….

Clare Dunne: currently playing Hal in the Donmar Warehouse production of Henry lV parts l and ll.

Dunne has worked a lot with Gary Hyne’s Galway-based Druid Theatre Company.  I saw her play Major Barbara at the Abbey in Dublin and she gave it all that that part needed. The Donmar production, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, has an all-female cast and is the second of three such Shakespearean productions with Julius Caesar the first.

Henry lV runs till Nov 29

 

Eileen Atkins: currently playing the lead in The Witch of Edmonton at  the Swan Theatre, Stratford on Avon.  In a recent interview in The Observer, she was asked if playing a witch was typical casting for ” a mature actress.” And she replied: ” Of course. Even today  there’s a resentment  of what you call mature and I call old people.They are thought of as witches. ”  Atkins is seventy-something. Directed by Gregory Doran, she  plays the part of a woman , in 1621, who takes up witchcraft in self-defense. As the Observer notes “…tiresome, isolated, loquacious, she is the sort of neighbour you might prefer to avoid.”  Sounds a bit lke Margery Kempe to me. I’ll know next week – I have the ticket bought.

The Witch of Edmonton runs till 29 Nov

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Life, Radio, Theatre

QEll and Margery Kempe, troublesome woman. My BBC radio play abt her.

Today, Feb 6th, 2012,  Queen Elizabeth ll visited the Norfolk town of King’s Lynn though way back, it was Bishop’s Lynn till the king of the day made it his own.

The mayor of King’s Lynn had a daughter Margery, who married a charming if fairly useless man called John Kempe. After 20 years of marriage and some 14 children, Margery decided there must be more to life than this and off she went. But the only travel destinations considered respectable for women, in 1414, were religious ones so she set off to Jerusalem, walking across Europe to get there. She was gone for two years.

Margery lived to a ripe old age – caring for John when he developed Alzheimers –  and setting off on her travels again after his death. Despite being the mayor’s daughter, Margery could neither read nor write though she dictated her story before she died.

Her nature – stubborn, kind, defiant, courageous, bloody-minded – has always appealed to me and I have written extensively about her and continue to do so.

If you go to my website http://www.maryrussell.info and find Radio, scroll down till you come to The Medieval Hitchiker. There you’ll hear the play I wrote for the BBC but be warned, this is not the end of it….

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized