Saturday, March 24, 2012

Great Reading lately



I've just discovered Lucy Worsley, brilliant historian, curator of all kinds of palaces and castles in England, and very funny woman, who traces the history of various political and noble movers and shakers in history through their buildings, including St. James Palace, and all the old familiar places.

She's a great researcher who doesn't throw all her info at you at once,and has a conversational style which is in fact very much the way she speaks. I heard her on public radio and followed up on that. Unusual for a good writer to be a good speaker too, so often you get one or t'other.

She actually tests her theories by living them too, such as when she went for about a week bathing or not bathing, washing, etc., as people did in Tudor times, when they believed that immersing the body in water would dangerously unbalance the humors of the bod and cause great weakness and susceptibility to disease.

And she has tried on the clothing of the period, laid in the beds, and so on. Beds were not meant to be laid quite flat in in Tudor times, and the way a feather bed kind of bowed when you lay on it made you sort of sleep sitting up, which accounts for all those portraits of people on their deathbeds where you wonder why they didn't spring for a longer bed.

"Cavalier" is the first book I've finished and I really recommend it as a Good Read. She hits on all kinds of interesting facts and factettes, which keep you going. Such as the information that newly dug sandstone, from the quarry, is a lot easier to work and carve into right away before the air gets at it and it hardens. It also changes color in the process, from a kind of cheese like appearance to a sort of pinker effect that we see in buildings. And she explains how various architectural ideas get passed around new buildings by the architects and the skilled masons who have their patterns to use.

And there's stuff like did you know a buttery, that room beloved of cosy detective fiction based in colleges, has nothing to do with butter? me neither. It used to be the place where beer was stored, in butts, i.e. big casks. And the early butler was just the humble disher out of the beer to the servants and others who drank it. The snooty attitude and uniform and prestige came much later.

Lucy is packed with info like this, and can describe the costumes of the day, how they were worn, who made them, how expensive they were, who wore what when and why, and altogether this is Good Stuff. I'm now deep into "The Courtiers" and am finally unraveling the facts around the period after the restoration of the monarchy, post Cromwell times, and the political shenanigans involved there, with the rise of the Whigs. And the wigs! she knows all about wigs, and Evelyn's opinion of them, and Pepys's too, for that matter.

So there you are, my latest happy discovery.

If you're interested in seeing a bit of drawing, go here

5 comments:

Minimiss said...

Well you learn something new every day!!! A few things by your description of that book. Definitely one for me to add to the must read list. I love that sort of historical stuff. Thank you.

Liane said...

I've been reading Mayflower, by Nathaniel Philbrick, about the Pilgrims as they prepare to go to North America, the trip, and the first 50 years in New England.

Fascinating, lots of good stuff. Lying and deception and grotesque violence from the English, various Indians and their internecine battles. And it all weaves in with Cromwell and post Cromwell, etc. I also highly recommend it.

Here's on thing I learned. Turkey was not new to the Pilgrims, since it had been popular in England for Xmas dinner for 50 years since the Spanish had already brought it over to Europe and everybody had them already.

dogonart said...

Definitely on my reading list. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

We watched a number of her documentaries through the winter. She is a great presenter, and I remember the episode where she didn't bathe. They were entertaining but educational, well worth the time spent watching them. - J in Cowtown

eepy said...

Sounds fascinating, Liz. And it's available at my local library just a block or two away!