The Black Death : The Intimate Story of a Village in Crisis, 1345-50 Paperback
by John Hatcher
How the people of a typical English village lived and died in the worst epidemic in history. The Black Death remains the greatest disaster to befall humanity, killing about half the population of the planet in the 14th century.
John Hatcher recreates everyday medieval life in a parish in Suffolk, from which an exceptional number of documents survive.
This enables us to view events through the eyes of its residents, revealing in unique detail what it was like to live and die in these terrifying times.
With scrupulous attention to historical accuracy, John Hatcher describes what the parishioners experienced, what they knew and what they believed.
His narrative is peopled with characters developed from the villagers named in the actual town records and a series of dramatic scenes portray how contemporaries must have experienced the momentous events.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 400 pages
- Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
- Publication Date: 01/07/2009
- Category: British & Irish history
- ISBN: 9780753823071
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Review by Opinionated
As others have mentioned the author seemed torn between 2 ideas. Does he recount the life of a village going through the Black Death, based only on the scanty records? Or does he fictionalise the characters, to try to bring a sense of what it was like to go through the plague? He goes for the latter, but can't quite seem to drag himself away from the first. Its fine to explain in the introduction that the characters are fictional, and on what basis he has created them. But by introducing each chapter with "the facts" he destroys any suspension of disbelief the reader has managed. Not only does Hatcher sometimes take further opportunities to remind us that the characters are fictional, just when we've built up some empathy with them, but the merging of fact and fiction is clumsily handled. A "factual" introduction tells of a letter from the King sent to all churches - and lo, 2 pages later here is Master John the fictional priest receiving and taking comfort from it. The "facts" tell us of decrees against "idling" (how little things have changed) and 2 pages later we have the local peasants down the pub, complaining about it. The book is also repetitive - the last 40 pages, which contain what would have been quite an interesting description of how the plague changed the rural social fabric through the increased bargaining power of labourers, were ruined for me by labouring ad nauseam of the same point. We get it. The workers discovered that shortage provided opportunity for them. The landowners didn't like it. This doesnt need 2 chaptersA shame because I really wanted to like this book, but it didn't really work