Rebecca's Reviews > The Book of the Maidservant

The Book of the Maidservant by Rebecca Barnhouse
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Jun 19, 10

bookshelves: audiobook
Read in June, 2010

I listed to this young adult (YA) novel on my Ipod, and I continue to be amazed at how much YA fiction impresses me. In some ways, good YA fiction seems more poignant than many “adult” novels I have read lately. Perhaps it’s how children and teenagers see the world so differently than adults, and thus it brings the world into sharper focus, tragedies and joys alike.

One of the fascinating things about this novel is that it is based on a true historical figure, Dame Margery Kempe’s maidservant. Dame Margery, a so-called holy woman dictated The Book of Margery Kempe to an unnamed priest, and this book is considered the first autobiography written in English. Barnhouse got the idea for The Book of the Maidservant from the mention of Dame Margery’s maidservant in her autobiography.

In The Book of Margery Kempe Dame Margery tells the story of her pilgrimage to Rome and often accused the maidservant who accompanied her of laziness, stupidity, and disobedience. When the travelers arrived in Constance, the rest of the pilgrims would not allow the maidservant to accompany Dame Margery, and she blames the maidservant for abandoning her. In her author’s note, Barnhouse states that these comments about the maidservant struck her and were her inspiration to write the story from the maidservant’s point of view.

I think this would be a great book to read with a daughter or a girls’ bible study. While Dame Margery’s abuse of Johanna the maidservant is at times heartbreaking, Johanna is also not perfect and does grow up throughout the novel. I also thought Barnhouse did a good job of depicting what life would have been like for a young serving girl in the middle ages, especially how prevalent Catholic beliefs about saints, ritual prayer, and religious services were in everyday people’s lives. I also recommend for adults interested in this time period; it’s a short easy read which will engage you and touch your heart.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Shannon This sounds really good! What time period? I may take your suggestion and read it with Anna next year.


Rebecca Middle ages--late 1400s I think?


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