Saturday, 10 August 2013

A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchmann

I started reading a history book about 14th century France.  I don't usually go for history books. This one is a biography of the son of a wealthy family in Picardy. But is essentially a social history of Western Europe for the whole of the 100 years war.

One thing that has caught my imagination, possibly because I am making a reliquary to a lost child, is the attitude of people of that period to children. Apparently there is very little reference to children, even the children of great families like this one. And even less to parental love. The author gives a long list of advice/ self-help books from the period, about all sorts of trivial and homely things, but none about raising children. This might be related to the very high death rate of children, or to the fact that people became adults at 14. There must have been love and nurturing of children then as there is now, but for some reason it was not thought a fit subject for writing or painting. The only images of a mother and child are of Mary and baby Jesus, and often she is looking distinctly uninterested in him!

I wonder if there was a kind of collective blindness to this because of the grief that must have gone along with it for so many people. And the amazingly gruesome and callous way they dealt with crime and treason. Peoples' heads were put on sticks in public places and left there for months. And they were still drawing a quartering people. Not to mention the Black Death killing 1/3 of all people in Europe.

Which would certainly harden your heart to the suffering of others at an early age, if only for your own emotional survival.

The hardening of my heart through my life experience is really what this piece of work is about. And what I have lost by it.

In retrospect I can see that this idea was inspired by pieces by Roseanne Hawksley, some of which were obviously inspired by reliquaries in turn. (See blog entry dated 15th April)

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