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message 1: by Barbara (last edited Jun 30, 2011 01:11AM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2107 comments We are going to do a group discussion of Madselin , starting on July 12th with Werner leading the discussion. Peggy had the good idea that we might use the time between then and now to get a copy of the book if we don't have it already.

We had some really good disscussion on Out of This Nettle and I Met A Gypsy in recent group reads and I think that Madselin, the book with the second earliest historical setting in NL's canon, will be just as good and just as enjoyable.

It would be really lovely if some of the new members joined in Madselin . I was a bit reluctant when I first joined the group myself , thinking everybody would be more literary and analytic than me, but it didn't matter at all , so I hope anyone is feeling a similar reluctance ,they can let it go ...


message 2: by Sylvia (last edited Jun 30, 2011 12:49PM) (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments I think your remarks are very encouraging for new and old readers, Barbara. I still feel very inadequate in analyzing a writing, but I take great pleasure in talking about the everyday things, especially in a time so remote to us. This book puts us right into the time of the Norman takeover, and I'm looking forward to all the history Werner will bring to the discussion.

I second Barbara's invitation to all of our new members.


message 3: by Damask (new)

Damask | 15 comments I will try and get a copy....


message 4: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments Hi Damask! For anyone still searching for a copy of Madselin, I checked on Alibris, and today they list 7 used copies from various sellers of hardback copies at just 99 cents, but of course shipping will be around $4. American Book Exchange (ABE) lists 87 available copies of Madselin, but you have to check out each listing for the particulars. So there are quite a few copies out there. In the past I have ordered used books and gotten them fairly quickly - in less than 2 weeks.


message 5: by Werner (last edited Jul 12, 2011 05:01PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Werner | 684 comments I've just started reading Madselin today. (For those not wanting to purchase it, my copy was borrowed through interlibrary loan; it turns out that a lot of libraries have copies, so it shouldn't be hard to obtain that way.)

Madselin was originally copyrighted in 1968, when Lofts had been writing historical fiction for some three decades, so she brought highly polished skills to its creation. Like the great majority of her novels, it's set in England, in her favorite fictional corner of Suffolk (those who have read The Town House will recognize the family name Bowdegrave). In this case, it begins in 1067 (a bit earlier than most Lofts novels --she was perhaps most at home in the later Middle Ages and early modern centuries), in the aftermath of the Norman conquest in 1066. (The battle of Hastings in that year, though, was by no means the end of Saxon resistance to the invaders.) For those interested in a good introduction to the actual historical background of that period, a basic monograph (though written for older kids, it has solid information for adults, too, and is conveyed in a lively narrative) is William the Conqueror by Canadian-born author Thomas Costain. The chapter on William in Jean Morris' The monarchs of England is also worth a read. (And for anyone wanting to follow this book with another novel set in the same period, I can highly recommend Parke Godwin's Sherwood!)

Never having read this book before, and not being very well-read in Lofts' canon as a whole, my leading of this discussion isn't apt to be very well-informed; but I trust you'll bear with me! One observation that suggests itself from the first 16 pages or so (which is as far as I've gotten), is that our author has a lively awareness of the injustice and cruelty that humans can inflict on each other, and no liking for either of them. This setting will give her ample opportunity to turn a searching eye on manifestations of injustice and cruelty; from what I've read elsewhere, she does not at all exaggerate the stark viciousness of the Norman treatment of the conquered population. The Normans' political culture had bred a leadership which was, from the top down, made up largely of men who were essentially criminal sociopaths, human predators who considered themselves entitled to use murder, robbery and rape as normal tools for fulfilling their own appetites, and who basically recognized no restraint but physical force. So there's a good deal of serious social consciousness-raising going on here, which can make a reader more sensitive to the abuse and exploitation of the weak by the strong. To be sure, most of us live in societies where these things aren't allowed to go on quite so blatantly --where we have restraints provided by democracy and the rule of law. But the dynamic of human predation is still with us, as strong and greedy as it ever was, and the common social commitment to democracy and the rule of law wears thinner with each passing year. So it doesn't hurt for us to get a good reminder of what the life of ordinary human beings is like without them.

At the same time, Lofts reminds us explicitly that Christian ethics recognizes hatred and desire for vengeance --even when it's directed at oppressors-- as sins. For those of us who have a commitment to the Christian faith (as, on the evidence of some of her writings, did Lofts, though she didn't wear it on her sleeve) how we square that reality with desire to protect the innocent and to see justice prevail, in a world where both oppressors and oppressed are still very much with us, isn't self-evident and can be a challenge to our moral discernment. (It will be interesting to see how it plays out here!)

Another marked characteristic of Lofts' writing is her exceptional sensitivity to realistic moral nuance in her characters, and this novel is no exception. So many of the characters we've met so far --Madselin herself, her mother, Hild, Eitel-- have their blended faults and virtues, strengths and weaknesses. And she treats them all with understanding and sympathy.

Maybe a worthwhile discussion question --especially for readers who have more acquaintance with other Lofts novels than I have!-- is, how does Madselin compare, in the way she's characterized here, with other Lofts heroines? What kind of person is she? Is she a "round" (that is, fully developed) character? Does she grow as a person over the course of the novel? (Since we're not very far into it yet, those probably can be ongoing questions.)


message 6: by Sylvia (last edited Jul 12, 2011 06:06PM) (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments Welcome back, Werner. And here we go! I think Madselin can be considered a fully developed character, growing as we all do, through her life experiences. I was shocked at the severity of her mother in trying to force Madselin to marry Eitel, throwing her into the filthy, locked dovecote and virtually starving her. I think we can also see the strength Madselin has inherited from her mother in enduring the imprisonment and the beatings to avoid the arranged marriage. Do we all believe that she was holding out for marriage to Stigand, and gave in to the marriage to Eitel only when she heard that Stigand was getting married? She claimed that she gave in, not because of promised new clothing and her mother's amber beads, but because of a cooked partridge, so she was proud as well as strong-minded.

Madselin's maid Hild is a character study as well. She also endured beatings to serve Madselin while imprisoned, even though her feelings were very mixed. I thought it was clever of Hild to impart news by singing about what was happening.


message 7: by Peggy (last edited Jul 12, 2011 07:03PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Peggy (peggy908) | 882 comments What a good start! My copy was also obtained thru interlibrary loan.

I like the way Norah Lofts provided the setting in a few brief pages; she hits us right away with the harsh circumstances of the time. The reference to the great comet (Halley's Comet) being seen as an omen for the bad times to come, followed by the plague, the struggle to maintain the farms with a shortage of manpower, and coping with the new rule.

We can see that Madselin is headstrong and brave--plus she likes to be comfortable! She seems self-centered to me but I don't mean that in a bad way--just the way that people generally are when they are pretty young.


message 8: by Barbara (last edited Jul 12, 2011 08:05PM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2107 comments I do agree with Werner's idea of the characters being of blended faults and virtues ( very NL) .

Hard to see Madselin's mother in a positive light, but then, it hard to imagine ourselves in a situation where arranged marrages were an unquestioned norm and indeed more like alliances than 'love matches'.
I saw a really interesting discussion on the Almack's site ( Georgette Heyer) where a contributer from Pakistan explained what it was like in the here and now to live in a milieu where arranged marriages are just the usual way .

Madselin's mother genuinely believes, I suppose, that she is securing her daughter's future in the best way she knows. She is quite ( we would say ) hard, and so too is Madselin in terms of resolve and stubborness. But I love the way she recognises Eitel's worth at the end and set out to do the right thing by him.

And I don't think it was the partridge that made her give in in the dovecote, it was Stigand's marriage but she was too proud to ever let that show. She is such a blend of the pragmatic and the romantic, Madselin , I love her . And NL develops her character so well too - Madselin ( I think ) develops laterally, the seed of who she will be are already there, whereas Hild's life course is changed , even perverted by the local effects of the Norman invasion


message 9: by Werner (last edited Jul 13, 2011 03:38PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Werner | 684 comments I completely agree that it was learning that Stigand was being married to someone else that got Madselin to come out of the dovecote. She realized then that there was no chance of successfully holding out for him.

Yes, I think Madselin's mother, Edith, honestly did have her welfare at heart, and was convinced that forcing the marriage was for her daughter's own good. She would have considered it axiomatic that she knew best, and that the whims of a 17-year-old girl shouldn't trump what Edith saw as self-evident practicality.

Madselin's flashback memory of the wolf incident reflects the view medieval people had of wolves, a view handed down to the present and believed in by almost all people who haven't seriously studied wolves. (Lofts herself probably assumed it to be accurate, since she wouldn't have ever had any obvious reason to question it, living as she did at a time when wolves were extinct in England.) In actual fact, though, despite all the fear and hearsay, there has never been a known case of a healthy (as opposed to a rabid) wolf attacking a human being without provocation. Everything that's known of wolf habits would suggest that in real life, a desperately hungry wolf would have gone for the horse, not for the girl. (For more information on this point, that's written for general readers, I'd recommend Canadian naturalist Farley Mowat's book Never Cry Wolf : Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves.)


message 10: by Peggy (last edited Jul 14, 2011 04:15AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Peggy (peggy908) | 882 comments Thinking about Madselin and Eitel, it is kind of a theme with Norah Lofts for young girls to marry (or be asked to marry) older men with missing teeth,funny as that sounds! Also references to wolves appear in quite a few of her books.

After what you posted about the invaders, Werner, I am even more amazed at Madselin's courage in going back to her home to face them. Hild also had courage to insist on accompanying her and it is sad, as Barbara pointed out, how that changed her life.


message 11: by Barbara (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2107 comments That is really interesting stuff about wolves Werner -I sort of knew it but somehow put it on hold for the story , but yes, believing what she did Madselin was seriously brave and resourceful As she was to be all her life really . She respected strength - in a man that is, look at how Eitel rose in her eyes from old man to warrior. And it prefigures
S
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Rolf later don't you think?


message 12: by MaryC (new)

MaryC Clawsey | 704 comments I hav e to say that I find it very hard to like Madselin'f mother! Since Stigand was as suitable and eligible a match as Eitel, it seems that Edith's insistence on Madselin's marrying Eitel stemmed only from her desire to impose her own will. (If she was so set on an alliance with Eitel's family, I can think of a more suitable match for him, one closer to his own age.) The analogy she drew in her own mind was particularly chilling--that "in order to get her calf to market, she must mar it." (I may not be quoting 100% accurately.) Not only does it imply that she saw her daughter merely as a chattel to be traded to best advantage, but what was the likely fate of that hypothetical calf? Most likely the slaughterhouse.

Speaking of Parke Godwin, I also recommend his/her A Memory of Lions, which is set shortly after the Conquest--and turns out to be a whodunit!


Werner | 684 comments Mary, to be fair to Edith, a female calf would more likely end up in the dairy than the slaughterhouse. But I see your point about the insensitivity of the thought! Mind you, I didn't say I liked the lady much either --just that I understand where she was coming from. :-)

The two-fold problem with Stigand as a husband for Madselin is: a.) at the time, he was already taken, and Edith knew that; and b.) though Madselin spun romantic fantasies about him as an 11-year-old girl, there's no indication she said anything about it to anybody --partly because she knew he was headed for Constantinople and planned to stay there, and partly because she strikes me as a very proud and private girl who would have felt it appropriate for a male to take the initiative in asking for her hand, rather than the other way around. And though Edith and Eitel would seem to us like a better match, I don't think what she wanted was an alliance with his family for herself; she was already well-off, didn't need it, and probably preferred being her own boss. What she did want was a well-off and respectable mate for Madselin, who could ensure her daughter's well-being and give her children to continue the family line.

Like some others who've posted above, I was favorably impressed by Madselin's courage, too. That's a quality I admire in anyone, male or female.

Barbara, I'm going to start a spoiler thread for this discussion, and will respond to your comment there!


message 14: by Sallie (new)

Sallie | 306 comments Werner, many thanks for the correct thread to the Madselin discussion. Taking into account her age, 17, (ladies think back to the romantic fantasies we had at that age!!!), her disappointment at not being able to be with Stigand, the conflict with her mother, being bullied & forced into an unwanted marriage.... she takes it out on poor old Eitel, giving him the cold shoulder and only minor tidbits of affection. Only realizing his worth as a good/brave person when those he loves and his home
are threatened, she summons up her own bravado,
confronts the enemy to try to retrieve his body for a Christian burial. She is also clever and cunning, assessing dangerous situations and manipulating the outcomes to her advantage. Not unlike some cultures today, women of that time period had little power or worth. Madselin tries to leverage her influence, trying to get her own way covertly.


message 15: by Sallie (new)

Sallie | 306 comments PS = Though the 11th century brutality seems horrific to us today, in many areas of the world it seems we have not progressed very far - man's inhumanity to man.


message 16: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments ...and man's inhumanity to women, even today, thinking of a recent stand some women took in Afghanistan simply for decency from men while they walk along the streets doing their errands!

I have the impression, maybe wrongly, that a thousand years ago, few cultures gave women a choice in the man she would marry. So probably few women would have taken the stand Madselin took in refusing Eitel. I think she knew to expect severity from her mother for this kind of disobedience.

But NL tells us that "Hild and everyone else had thought it heartless in a mother" to beat her frail daughter and throw her back in the dovecote. NL tells us Ethel "was grieving" when she made the remark about her marred calf. It would have been dishonorable for Ethel to reneg on her bargain and her promise to Eitel, and from her perspective, I also feel she was doing her best to provide for her daughter. IMO it may have only been Hild who knew and understood Madselin's love for Stigand.

I think we had decided on the last group read to indicate where we are in the current book. I have previously read Madselin, but don't remember many details. I am currently on page 85.


message 17: by Werner (last edited Jul 15, 2011 09:30AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Werner | 684 comments Yes, human nature today is no different than human nature in Madselin's time, even in the "civilized" West. Now as then, there are moral and decent people, and many of the laws and structures of our present society have been shaped historically by their collective influence, in the centuries since 1067. But that influence probably peaked in the early 20th century in most areas of life, and seems to be going downhill today, IMO. A hefty number of modern "civilized" people seem perfectly willing to be every bit as inhumane to their fellow humans as they can get by with, and many more are quite willing to tolerate inhumanity to others as long as it doesn't affect them (or their family/friends) personally.


message 18: by Sallie (new)

Sallie | 306 comments Amen, Werner. NL seems to give many of her women an inner dignity - the fortitude to persevere in the most difficult circumstances, the most inhumane conditions. That little spark enables them to continue lives that have little beauty or respect. Women - even now - are considered property, chattel to be bargained for the most adventages gain such as money or land. Rarely love matches. But therein lies the drama - unfulfilled or unrequited love.


Werner | 684 comments Sylvia, good idea about posting where we are in the book as we comment. I'm currently up to p. 69, in the edition I'm reading from.

And Mary, I've already read something that indicates that after Stigand got back from Constantinople, things between him and Madselin got more serious and out in the open, at least between the two of them. So it seems I may have to eat that part of my words, at least!


message 20: by Ayah (last edited Jul 15, 2011 05:22PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ayah | 26 comments Too true Werner. We like to flatter ourselves that we've come such a long way, yet all indications are that we're still essentially the same. Only now we have bigger, nastier weapons.


message 21: by Barbara (last edited Jul 15, 2011 11:55PM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2107 comments I've just been looking back a bit at the part about the priest, Father Afleg after he came back from Bradwald, 'mocked and jostled " and sent on his way as there was a 'proper' Norman priest coming. His emotional and spiritual collapse is very movingly rendered- and it seemed to me NL was making it a kind of metaphor for the collapse and disintegration of the old Saxon British way of life in the face of the Norman invasion. I jsut watched a Time Team programme recently in which the archaeologist were digging on a Norman church site and uncovered the site of an earlier wooden Saxon church, almost certainly razed to make way for the new . As I had just read the part about Father Afleg, it made a very poignant point to me. Not just an archaelogical dig, but the site of the ruins of a society .....

I think perhaps Madselin, strong , determined, pragmatic, is the face of the new era , despite her roots in the old. Hild, and father Afleg on the other hand and perhaps Eitel too, would never have been able to make the change . Nor wanted to .


message 22: by Barbara (last edited Jul 16, 2011 12:18AM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2107 comments I just want to try out the spoiler device Peggy mentioned
(view spoiler)


Werner | 684 comments Peggy, I was aware of the existence of the "hide spoiler" feature on Goodreads, but I don't know how to do it. Could you or Barbara post instructions here on how it's done? If we all know how to do that, I'll close out the spoiler thread, and we can have the best of both worlds with just one thread --as Barbara noted elsewhere, it can be a confusing nuisance to have to have two.

Barbara, I think you're definitely right that Madselin is a strong, pragmatic survivor, determined to live through the cataclysmic change and help others live through it, if possible. (That, of course, doesn't change the fact that it's a drastic change for the worse, and for human beings to be forced to live through it was unconscionable. I was reminded, in the descriptions of the changes being introduced at Bradwald, of Lofts' depiction of slavery in Colin Lowrie.)

The system that William forcibly introduced into England, of course, is what we call feudalism, which arose on the Continent in the Dark Ages. A key basis of the system was the legislation that had been imposed way back in the 300s by the Roman Emperor Diocletan; he was concerned that too many rural laborers were flocking to the cities, so he legally bound them to the soil they tilled. The Germanic barbarians who overran the empire, like the Romans, had a concept of law; and they believed that conquered peoples were to be governed according to their own law, not that of the conquerors. So those who tilled the conquered farmland were, according to their own law, passed along with the land to whoever now owned it. But the Anglo-Saxons in Britain had never lived under Roman law as quasi-slaves, so the Normans lacked even that thin justification for forcing them into brutal servitude.

Lofts mentions at one point that Rolf had a "brutal" father. It's quite a common attitude now to deny individual human moral responsibility, and blame all bad conduct on poor childhood upbringing and social/ environmental influence (and for the Normans, of course, in the kind of culture they had, much of the latter influence was negative). It's easy to carry that idea to unrealistic (IMO) extremes, as when we excuse remorseless serial killers because they had unhappy childhoods. But it's clear that human moral choice and responsibility isn't exercised in a vacuum. Characteristically, Lofts uses her literary art here, not to resolve the issue, but to let thoughtful readers pose it for themselves and draw their own conclusions. What do you all think about this? Individual Normans here are guilty of actions that we recognize as obviously criminal, even though their "legal" system (run by the criminals) doesn't. How far do we regard their actions as individually culpable? (And does that differ depending on the individuals, and the particular actions?)


message 24: by Ayah (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ayah | 26 comments While there may be some limited individual culpability, I think that living in a culture wherein one is inculcated with the belief in the superiority of one's tribe or culture makes it seem quite reasonable to abuse those one has been taught to think of as lesser humans. Even up until today, we have many examples of the effects of this sort of training. Also, one can't dismiss the inclination humans generally have to abuse power, especially among those who had previously felt powerless (think of the Stanford Prison Experiment, or, more recently, of the ways poorly paid TSA agents have been known to behave toward airline passengers). This inclination is incredibly difficult to resist, especially when one is part of a larger group in which the prevailing attitude excuses or even encourages abuse of power.

As for the individual, yes, every human (I believe) has an internal moral compass. But in addition to the influence of one's group, there is also the matter of individual experience. One may have suffered and become bitter through it and this becomes, in the individual's mind, justification for lashing out at others (I'm thinking of Giffard and the anger and discontent with his lot that seem to influence his high-handed behavior). Somerset Maugham often pointed out that suffering, poverty, and misfortune do not ennoble those affected by them, as so many wish to believe. Rather, such bitter experiences make people selfish, petty, and mean. I am inclined to agree. I don't think one who has not suffered would be quite so enthusiastic about abusing those under his power, even as part of the larger group. Thus, I think that while anyone from such a background might be inclined to abuse, an individual coming from exceptionally harsh circumstances might be inclined to particular cruelty.


message 25: by Peggy (last edited Jul 16, 2011 10:29AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Peggy (peggy908) | 882 comments I posted how to do spoilers on a separate thread in "Off Topic"


Peggy (peggy908) | 882 comments The brutality of the Normans in branding the Saxon men and expecting them to follow orders when they didn't even speak the same language really bothered me.

Ayah, were you perhaps thinking of Peter being discontented and high-handed rather than Giffard? Giffard has been one of the more reasonable characters to me; he knew English and tried to improve his knowledge of it with Madselin's help and he takes a stand now and then for treating people decently. I certainly agree with your statement that people who live in a culture that they feel is superior have a tendency to abuse those they think of as lesser humans. There are so many examples of this in every country.


message 27: by Ayah (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ayah | 26 comments Too right, Peggy, I was thinking of Peter! He's a good example of what I meant about people's internal bitterness turning outward.


message 28: by Damask (new)

Damask | 15 comments I dont think of it as anything that might not be expected. War is brutal and at the time, conquerors saw the poeple they had conquered as inferior...
ANd while Im not expert I doubt if Saxon culture, while not perhaps as harsh as the Norman, was all that mcuh better. but for the sake of "dramaitc conflict", Lofts is probably going to emphasise the relative freedom of the Saxons...


message 29: by Barbara (last edited Jul 16, 2011 07:21PM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2107 comments I do so agree with Ayah's comments above, re the enormous socialising power of the group/tribe/gender/race etc to instill the idea of justification for cruelty - on the grounds the victim deserved it, or expects it ,or needs it it in order to know its place and thus maintain the functionality of the wider society. History as someone famous once said, is always written from the POV of the victor, and dehumanising the enemy is as prevalent now as then, to our eternal shame

I think NL was extremely good at understanding and using this - as well as the more literary/dramatic ideas on individual personality also making a difference.

PS , anybody any ideas re father Afleg or was I rather over-reading it ?


message 30: by Peggy (last edited Jul 17, 2011 04:49AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Peggy (peggy908) | 882 comments Barbara, I loved the analogy in your comment about the site of the wooden Saxon church being buried under a Norman church, symbolizing the ruins of a society. Although Father Afleg was not treated with much respect by others, he was a sympathetic character in his worry over how Madselin was going to be treated (and his beloved mule--I loved that typical Norah Lofts touch).

I feel like I am learning so much history with our discussions--it is great!


message 31: by Sallie (new)

Sallie | 306 comments Napolean - We are either kings or pawns
It seems this has been true since the beginning of recorded history. And no one ever learns from the past so we are doomed to repeat it.


message 32: by MaryC (last edited Jul 17, 2011 09:16AM) (new)

MaryC Clawsey | 704 comments Werner, although I'm a medievalist with an undergraduate major in classics, I didn't realize until I read your post that Diocletian had set up the basis of the feudal system. Thank you! I did know, however, from some articles I read in the late 1950s, the our state laws regarding eligiblity for public assistance had roots in medieval "poor laws," which were "designed to tie the poor to the land." (After so many years, I can't guarantee that I'm quoting accurately, but that was certainly the sense of it.) In fact, about ten years after that, when I worked briefly for the Department of Social Services in Baltimore, the most we could often do for needy people from out of state was to give them bus fare back to where they had come from.


Werner | 684 comments Barbara and Peggy, I tried to close the spoiler thread to further comments just now, since Peggy supplied us with the directions we need to hide spoilers on this thread. But evidently only group moderators can do that, so that job will have to fall to one of you.

Mary, there's not a lot of mention of Diocletan's law and its relation to feudalism in most history books. I happened to run across it years ago in a book by Ferdinand Lot, The End of the Ancient World and the Beginning of the Middle Ages; but I've never seen it really discussed elsewhere. I learned something interesting from your post, too; I was aware that the Old English poor laws were strongly concerned with the problem of the mobile poor, who didn't stay in their place of origin but preferred to look for better conditions elsewhere, but I didn't realize the degree to which that tradition still influenced American laws centuries later!

I'm up to p. 91 in the book, but haven't had much time to read or post this weekend. Since early afternoon yesterday, Barb and I have been pretty tied up dealing with a family medical crisis. :-(


message 34: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments So sorry to hear about your medical crisis, Werner. I know our hearts are all with you and your family.

Everyone's comments are so interesting and knowledge building! I wanted to comment on one superstition that NL tells us was rooted in practicality, the belief that it was unlucky for someone not related to die under one's roof. The superstition dictated that two members of your own family would then die. NL says it was "one of the oldest superstitions", and prevented strangers from being murdered as they ate or slept. It probably grew out of the likelihood that strangers brought sickness with them. (pg. 121 in lg. print ed.)


Werner | 684 comments Thanks, Sylvia!


Peggy (peggy908) | 882 comments Who would have thought that our state laws in the US regarding eligibility for public assistance had roots in medieval "poor laws"?! Thank you, Mary and Werner, for sharing those insights.

Sylvia, glad you brought up the superstition concerning guests. Since places for overnight lodging were scarce during those years (I believe monasteries filled that need to some degree), it was a risky thing to stay at a stranger's house (as it is today--just imagine) and a risky thing to take somebody in, not knowing if they were carrying the plague.

Did anybody notice the reference to Rolf's leg wound being wrapped in willow bark? I love the little bits of herbal lore that NL shares in her books. Think I read somewhere that willow bark is a natural analgesic.

I'm not putting this in a spoiler since everybody is sure to be past this point, but after Madselin goes to reclaim her husband's body and accepts Rolf's proposal, Giffard and Rolf have a short conversation that indicates Rolf was the one who killed Madselin's mother.

Werner, I closed the "spoiler thread" to further comments as you suggested.


Werner | 684 comments Thanks, Peggy!

I did know that willow bark was quite commonly used in various herbal medicine traditions, though I didn't know it was an analgesic.

In the conversation referenced above, I took Giffard's, "There now.... And you'd have killed the wench as you did the old woman at the other place," in context, as addressed to Peter, not to Rolf. Rolf had just spoken to Peter; Peter was the one arguing against the marriage, while Rolf was the one who had mentioned the useful information Madselin provided; and most importantly, Peter (not Rolf) was the one who was murderously hostile to Madselin earlier.


message 38: by Peggy (last edited Jul 18, 2011 06:41PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Peggy (peggy908) | 882 comments Ah, Warner, that makes sense about it being Peter instead of Rolf. I will have to go back and read that part again and figure out how I misunderstood it.


message 39: by Barbara (last edited Jul 18, 2011 11:26PM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2107 comments Yes, had Rolf been the one who killed her mother , I feel even the so-pragmatic Madselin might have had more qualms about a liaison with him.

Interesting if M's mother is referred to as an 'old woman' . Unless Madselin, who is 17 at this point in the story was born very late in life to her , she probably wasn't much above 40. Tho there was an older sister I know. I thought 'old woman ' referred to Bertha dead under the ox in the snow.

On p 66, of my copy, it says 'the wind veered, the snow became rain. Eitel lay in his shallow makeshift grave. The old mule lay down and died. Madelin slept. In her own bed"

Isn't that the most typical NL succint eulogy for Saxon England................


message 40: by MaryC (new)

MaryC Clawsey | 704 comments Re willow bark, salicylic acid, an extract of willow bark, is the main ingredient in aspirin. Maybe it's made synthetically now, but it's fun to envision Bayer employees our gathering bark! Years ago, I read that the major problem with using it as a painkiller was that it was so hard on the stomach, and Mr. Baer (Herr Baer, I suppose) found ways to offset that side effect. I had never heard of its being applied to wounds, but there IS Apergum.


message 41: by Sallie (new)

Sallie | 306 comments NL often gives the herbal/barnyard/garden remedy for ancient ailments (goose grease for chilblains, certain roots to promot miscarriage, digitalis plant for heart troubles, etc.) And in some cases her characters might use a "good" herb for nefarious purposes. And look at the modern pendulm swinging back to many applications such as these after generations of chemical intervention. Kudoes to Mr. Baer, however, because if I am stranded on a desert island I'd take aspirin with me.


Peggy (peggy908) | 882 comments Barbara, NL provided a perfect eulogy for Saxon England; it sounded so desolate, except for a touch of hope for Madselin.

Besides the willow bark, I noticed Giffard packed the wound with salt; Rolf must have been pretty tough to tolerate that. Wasn't it Eitel that wounded Rolf? The part about the horned helmet and old weapons hanging on the wall in the house from Eitel's ancestors--with the vacant space where Eitel took down his weapons--was a great visual.


message 43: by Werner (last edited Jul 19, 2011 01:47PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Werner | 684 comments Barbara, to my shame, I didn't even really remember Bertha when I read Giffard's comment about the "old woman." Still, I think he was most likely talking about Edith. Since a woman can bear children well into her late 30s (and Edith wouldn't have used any form of artificial birth control), she could easily have been in her late 50s in 1067; with the shorter average life spans then, many people thought of that age as "old."

Ayah and Barbara, all of your points about the power of cultural socialization, and harmful childhood experiences, for shaping behavior and prejudices in a negative way are valid. But I'm still inclined to be less of an environmental/cultural determinist than most, partly because the individual differences among Normans (here, and in real life), and other people in similar situations, argues for significant "wiggle room" for individual reactions and proclivities. (And the effect of suffering abuse isn't always to make the victim abusive. I was bullied unmercifully as a child; its effect on me was to give me an intense dislike of bullies --which of course disposes me to be more hostile to the Normans than some!-- and a deep sympathy for the underdog in most situations.) We also have to take into account that a part of the Normans' cultural socialization process was induction into Roman Catholic Christianity as a state church; and no matter how morally compromised and subservient the hierarchy of that day was to political power, and no matter how good individuals were at ignoring parts of the Christian faith they didn't like, they had to, at some point, stumble across an awareness of the love commands and the Golden Rule. What they did with that awareness was affected by their own choice. Of course, a Christian perspective would suggest that only God can finally truly understand the heart of human beings and how they perceive their behavior; so only God can finally excuse or condemn with perfect judgment.

Damask, you raised a question as to whether Norman and Anglo-Saxon society were actually pretty similar in their distribution of power and treatment of the lower classes, and if Lofts isn't simply painting a false dichotomy for dramatic effect. From what I've read and studied of this period (as a History major, and having taught World History I in college) I would say the answer is no. Anglo-Saxon society wasn't, by our standards, democratic or equalitarian, but it incorporated vastly more humane and liberating legal and economic structures than the order introduced by the Normans. I think most historians would agree that Lofts is NOT exaggerating the negative effect of the conquest on the Saxon people in any particular. I don't have any specific material in front of me to cite in support of that view at the moment, though.


message 44: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments I had originally thought the old, dead woman was Bertha as well. But Madselin had seen Bertha lying dead under her ox and recognized her, even with her face split in two, so she would have recognized her mother.

Very good discussion on the willow bark, salt, and remedies. Sometimes I think we need a separate thread to collect all of NL's cures, disease descriptions, herbal remedies, and health customs she writes about. Her non-fiction book,
"Domestic Life in England" doesn't nearly cover all that she mentions in her books.

I am now at the point when Madselin has a nightmare about Stigand, and calls out his name. I did not realize until this happened that there was any mention of Stigand's death. She tells Rolf that he died on Senlac Field. (pg. 152, lg. pr. ed.) Did anyone else remember any mention of him dying, or is Madselin just trying to ease a possible jealousy that might brew?

(view spoiler)


message 45: by Sallie (new)

Sallie | 306 comments I thought the same thing, Slyvia. I even skimmed back thinking I had missed the time/cause of his death. Perhaps Madselin prefered to keep her fantasy love/relationship with Stig to herself, prefered to keep him separated from her "arranged by necessity" marriage to Rolf immediately after Eitel's death.


message 46: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments Sallie, I also scanned the previous pages and found no mention of Stigand's death. I think Madselin went quickly into a protection mode to explain her crying out of Stigand's name to Rolf.

(view spoiler)


message 47: by Sallie (new)

Sallie | 306 comments That sounds right, Syl. She was walking a fine line - sleeping with the enemy.


Werner | 684 comments At this point, I'm up to p. 141, or a little way into Chapter 7 (in case your edition's pagination differs from mine). Like Sallie and Sylvia, I didn't find any prior reference to Stigand's death. Of course, Madselin saying he was killed at Hastings doesn't prove that he actually was. But even if we hypothetically assume he wasn't, Madselin may well have honestly believed that he was, if he was erroneously reported as dead. That kind of mistake can happen even nowadays.


message 49: by Sallie (new)

Sallie | 306 comments Did NL miss an opportunity ? Here she is married to Rolf, Stig returns alive from the wars, his old wife is dead, what does Madsel do?


message 50: by Barbara (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2107 comments aha...time will tell, Sallie..............


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