From the chaos and confusion wrought by the Black Death to the Peasants Revolt, with a 12th century prelude, Sylvia Townsend Warner takes us on a slow progress through thirty years of medieval history in the company of novices, nuns and prioresses, priests and bishops, villagers breaking the bonds of feudalism and educated young men rising on the coat tails of family connections, all connected by the church and priory at Oby, isolated amidst the marshlands and wastelands of the Norfolk coast.
This mid 20th novel has popped up in a few different recommendations I’ve read over the last year, and it turns out I was not alone in being inspired to read it; I had to pounce when I spotted the Little Brown 2012 edition on the Barbican Library’s recommended reads display. That said, I have an inkling that I’ve read it before, a long time ago….
A favourite few sentences:
He was looking at the spire. As the web of low-lying cloud scurried under the wind it seemed to breathe like a living thing. Sometimes it inhaled the light of day, and then its pallor enriched to the colour of a primrose; a moment later it waned and pulled the misty air over it like a veil; and whether it brightened or waned it seemed to be flying towards him against the scudding sky, so that he felt that in a moment it would bend down to his embrace.
Publisher page: The Corner That Held Them – Sylvia Townsend Warner