The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century (Ian Mortimer’s Time Traveller’s Guides)
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In Mortimer's skilful handling, the Wife's inner life, revealed in her linguistic riffs, becomes as telling as anything five centuries later by Freud. The phrase "Women and children first" had a different meaning: the quickest way to lighten a sinking ship was to throw any wimple-wearers overboard. Quite apart from using The Canterbury Tales as a source book for life on the road in the 14th century, he quarries the great unfinished masterpiece for evidence of the high medieval mindset.
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You can read about the Black Death until you're blue (or, rather, yellow with funny red blotches) in the face. Official documents provide poor pickings when it comes to building the kind of narratives which grip and won't let go. Apart from the ever-useful Paston Letters, written by an East Anglian yeoman family as they scrambled to prominence in the wake of the Black Death, Mortimer is obliged to scavenge where he can.
The result of this careful blend of scholarship and fancy is a jaunty journey through the 14th century, one that wriggles with the stuff of everyday life. For instance, until the beginning of the 13th century there was no difference between right and left shoes, which must have been useful if you were getting dressed in the dark (and, chances are, you were).
What makes these slightly awkward stylistic choices bearable is that Mortimer knows what he is doing. If he sometimes cites a secondary text which seems to be growing whiskers - for instance WG Hoskins's 1953 classic on the English landscape - then you feel reassured that no other source will quite do.For if one thing is clear in Mortimer's deft summary of life in the high medieval period, it is that you are never alone. On many occasions this wriggling is quite literal: entrails seem to be everywhere, from the pigs' insides slopped in a bucket to the traitors who are forever having their bowels hooked out and burned in front of them. Mortimer also tries to bring us living history by using the second person and the present tense throughout.