Road trip Wednesday

Today’s topic is … drumroll please … Crap, the phone’s ringing. Hang on, BRB.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Meredith, this is the universe calling.”

“Ummm … hi. What can I do for you?”

“I just wanted to let you know that today’s RTW topic is a gift from me. YWIA.”

“Sweet! What is it?”

If you could travel back in time to any historical era for research purposes, which would you choose?

“Dude, this is perfect for me!”

“That’s why I said YWIA. Why does no one ever listen when I talk, dammit?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Whatever, I’ll get back at you in parking tickets.” — Click.
So yeah, I write a lot of historical fiction, nearly all of it set in England. I’ve gone through many phases—the Elizabethan phase after taking a Shakespearean acting class in college, the Georgian phase after a marathon Pride and Prejudice-watching session with a friend (Colin Firth version, duh), the Victorian phase after visiting London for the first time. My present MS is set in medieval England, which I’ll admit I had ZERO interest in until I started researching it. And then I discovered just how cool the Middle Ages actually were.
Ok yes, the justice system was unfair on a good day and barbaric on a bad. Yes, personal hygiene was atrocious. Yes, your fate and livelihood were pretty much determined at birth. BUT it wasn’t nearly as stuffy as later phases of English history, especially for women. Throw out your preconceived damsel-in-distress notions—those are Victorian or Edwardian creations. Prude, they were not, that’s for sure. Women were tasked with running estates, which, when large, could include a bakery, a brewery, a dairy, a stable, a garden, and so on… Plenty of women went into business for themselves. Take Margery Kemp, a fashionista of the day. Her husband refused to fund her taste in expensive clothing, so she set up shop as a professional hysteric. For the right price, she’d cry at funerals, weep through sermons, faint in front of a crucifix. Business was good.
It was a male-dominated society for sure, and women were often used as bartering tools, but women certainly weren’t sitting around waiting for men to rescue them. (And more often than not, when a knight did show up, he left the shining armor at home and arrived as a drunken brute). They paved their own way and frequently did it quite well.

Get me started on the Middle Ages, and I could go on (Did you know that if you wanted to get rich, your best bet was to become a monk?) … and on (Or that Richard the Lionheart doesn’t deserve the admiration he gets today—he only spent 6 months out of his entire reign in England and frequently tried to sell London to the highest bidder), but I’ll stop now and just say that the Middle Ages were fascinating and I would love to have witnessed them firsthand. But since I can’t, I’ll rely on the next best thing.

Another great read is Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives.
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11 Responses

  1. Susan says:

    Wow! What an informative and fun post. I did *not* know that my best bet for wealth was monk-dom. Nor did I know that women weren't damsels-in-distress back then.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Marquita Hockaday says:

    What a cool and interesting post! I am glad that it was so catered towards what you do (which btw I would LOVE to read someday as I am history teacher/buff). You provided some great info that I can use when I teach my 9-10th graders about the Middle Ages next nine weeks! Thanks for sharing :)

  3. Sarah Enni says:

    "Whatever, I'll get back at you in parking tickets."

    LOL

    Wow, that would be a hell of a trip, all the way back to the Middle Ages. Why is it that I can only picture Monty Python when I imagine it?? Awesome choice, and I love that that time travel book is real!!

  4. Alicia Gregoire says:

    Meredith, I talked about the middle ages too. Of course, I just said I would visit there to learn more. You know more than me right now. Great post.

  5. Kaitlin Ward says:

    YES the middle ages are so very very cool. Dirty and gross and so awesome.

  6. Kristin Miller says:

    I love this post! So informative, especially since I adore the social history of women. I'm enthralled by the idea of becoming a professional hysteric now, if only to support my shoe habit. That's some serious entrepreneurship!

  7. Abby Stevens says:

    A professional hysteric! Oh my, lol. That reminds me a bit of the old tradition of hired lamenters sometimes (still) found at Irish funerals.

    And I think I'm going to have to get those books!

  8. Kate Hart says:

    This was another of my favorite history classes! So fascinating.

  9. The Newbie Novelist says:

    Good ol' Marge- always good for a cry. AWESOME!

    Amanda
    @AmandaLBurford
    http://thenewbienovelist.blogspot.com/

  10. Caitlin says:

    Omigod, I have the same book as you! How amazing is it! If I was to ever time-travel to Medieval England, it would be my Bible. I'd like to TRAVEL to that time, not be born in it, though – chances are I'd fall down a well or something because I need glasses. Hmmm…

  11. Michelle Schusterman says:

    Such a great post! One of the most educational I've read in awhile. Thanks for playing!

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