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Book of the Month, July 2022 - The Cloister and The Hearth by Charles Reade

Book of the Month, July 2022 - The Cloister and The Hearth by Charles Reade

Posted on - 26th July 2022

Hi, there. Maggie Shaw here, proud owner of Eregendal and author.

 

As a lifelong lover of reading, each month I choose one of my favourite books – and tell you all about it.

 

For July’s Book of the Month I have chosen The Cloister and The Hearth by Charles Reade, first published in book form in 1861 after being serialised in part in the Once a Week magazine under the title A Good Fight in 1859 with a different ending. The author Reade studied at Magdalene College, and was called to the bar in London in 1843. He considered himself a dramatist first and also an author. Most of his writing protested against the unjust conditions in society at that time, such as the abuses in private lunatic asylums, the causes of the rise of trade unions, and the need to reform prisons. The literary nature of the novel, a fictionalised and serialised life story of a historical or Biblical character, appears to have been popular in Victorian times.

 

A friend lent me a copy of this book to entertain me while I was recovering from a road accident in 1977, on full leg traction in hospital for nearly four months. It was lovely to pick up another copy of the same book all these years later, and delve once more into the close print and vivid descriptions of life in 15th century Europe. The author was inspired to write the novel after reading the few lines written by the philosopher and theologian Erasmus about his parents Margaret Rutgers (Brandt in the novel) and Gerard Eliassoen. The overarching theme of the book is the struggle between a man’s obligations to his family and to the Church.

 

This was the ideal book to read during a long hospital stay, with my edition running at over 600 pages of engaging storylines and detailed descriptions of a long-lost world outside. It follows the life of the protagonist Gerard, from his childhood, early marriage, the victimisation which made him leave the Netherlands for Rome, and the duplicity of his brothers who told him falsely that his wife had died. When chance saves Gerard from suicide, he becomes a Dominican friar and preaches throughout Europe. His travels take him back to the Netherlands where he discovers his wife is not dead and has born him a son. He becomes a vicar and lives with Margaret in the same household but not as man and wife. After Margaret later dies of the plague, Gerard re-enters the monastery until his death, when he is buried with a lock of her hair in his coffin.

 

While this novel can be considered anti-Catholic for its portrayal of the challenges of priestly celibacy, the overall impression it left me with, was an appreciation of the challenges of living in Europe in the late medieval era during the generation before the Reformation. I consider The Cloister and The Hearth to be the source that inspired me to place the Knight Gendal series of novels in Europe, about a century before this story is set.

 

So there we have it, July’s Book of the Month! Be sure to check back in August as I’ll be revealing another must read.

 

Take care,

 

Maggie x