Monday, January 9, 2012

Connecting Through The Ages

One of the defining elements in the way a writer works is the connections their mind makes. And let’s face it, writers’ minds can make some pretty unusual connections sometimes. Maybe one of the reasons writers like to hang out in groups when we get the opportunity is because our minds work in similarly eccentric ways.

One of the connections I enjoy is with other women writers through the ages. And since I’m an historian, I especially enjoy connecting with women writers of long ago. That’s why one of my favorite things about writing A Darkly Hidden Truth, Monastery Murders 2, was presenting the work of two women who hold places in history for "firsts."

Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) became the first woman to write a book in English when she wrote an account of the 16 mystical "showings" she experienced of the love of God.

Margery Kempe (1373-1440) "wrote" the first autobiography in English, although she was illiterate, by dictating it.

Although both women had mystical visions and their life spans crossed— they actually met in an event Margery records— they lived far different lives, had far different personalities and wrote in vastly different styles:

After her amazing showings Julian lived a life of quiet contemplation as an anchoress in a single room attached to a church in Norwich, going nowhere and seeing only her servant and those who came to her worldside window for counseling— Margery being one of those seekers. Margery travelled the world, going on pilgrimages as far afield as the Holy Land and Santiago de Compostelo.

Julian wrote her Revelations of Divine Love, speaking only of her visions and of the love of God for his creatures. She divulges no details of her personal life— we don’t even know her name. We call her Julian because that was the dedication of her church. We know how she would have lived because she lived by The Ancrene Rule which set out rules for anchoresses. That left me free as a novelist to imagine a life for her prior to her visions which she experienced at the age of 30. Had she been married? Had she taken vows as a nun? No one knows, but I had great fun entering into "what might have been."

Margery tells all. Even of the joyous sex life she shared with her husband. (They had 14 children.) She tells of her period of madness after the birth of her first child. She tells of her spiritual struggles with earthly vanity. She tells of her shrieking and bouts of uncontrollable weeping that made one group of pilgrims abandon her so that she had to cross the Alps in a blizzard with only an aged priest as companion.

And yet both women tell of the love of God, of the goodness of life. They speak of joy and beauty in the midst of unbelievable suffering. They tell stories I could never invent in my wildest fantasy. And it’s all true. And it’s all ours because two women centuries ago put their unique experiences on paper. Is it any wonder I feel my roots tingling when I contemplate the connections?

What writers of past or present do you feel connected with?

Donna Fletcher Crow, whose newest book A Darkly Hidden Truth, Monastery Murders 2, was recently released by Monarch Books, at the doorway to Julian's cell where she lived and wrote for 40 years.


  1. Fascinating post, Donna. I love history, but I never imagine myself as one of those heroines. I'm not brave enough! I identify more with farm women and young women teaching in one-room school houses on the prairies. I used to identify with L.M.Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables) until I read that she was despondent much of her life. Amazing that someone with such dark moods could create the sunny, optimisitc character of Anne Shirley.
    Anyway, your heroines sound fascinating.

  2. I love reading old books. I write as well. The characters that I feel a great connection to are Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, the entire cast of Little Women, and Anne of Green Gables. I'm really not so sure what authors i feel a connection to. That's something I'll have to think on.

  3. Two interesting women you mention and intresting question.I love to read Madeleine L'Engle and have a number of her non fiction books. Walking on Water is my favourite. I often found even when I didn't agree with her she challenged me to think and that's always valuable.

  4. Donna, thanks for your fascinating post! Jane Austen's era is as far back as I've gone with my historical reading & I think I need to broaden my horizons :)

  5. Wow! What a great list of "connections: L. M. Montgomery, Madeline L'Engle and jane Austen. Interesting, too, how some feel connected to the authors, others to the characters.

  6. Donna, thanks for an awesome post! That was really interesting.

  7. Really interesting post, Donna! Thanks so much. I have a Julian of Norwich quote on my wall here but didn't know so much about Margery. Like Dale, I also love Madeleine L'Engle, but she's much more recent than Julian of Norwich. Teresa of Avila is another interesting one - those contemplatives wrote such deep thoughts and yes, they definitely inspire me too.