Those of you who subscribe to my newsletter,* already got the word: Women Warriors is coming out in paperback and the paperback is available for pre-order. I’m delighted. Having a book come out in paperback isn’t a given in today’s publishing world.
To celebrate, I have a pre-order bonus for anyone who orders the book prior February 25, the day it releases: an ebook telling the story of a single woman warrior. Her story only got a couple of sentences in Women Warriors, even though it’s one of my favorites. (Sometimes a writer has to make hard choices, alas.)
It’s easy to claim your copy. Once you have pre-ordered the book from the retailer of your choice, forward your receipt to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (For that matter, if you buy Women Warriors in any format between now and February 25, you’re eligible for the ebook.)
If you know someone who might be interested, please share this post with them.
Thank you for all your support over the last year. Next week, more Nuremberg, unless I stumble across something fascinating that I can’t wait to share
*You didn’t know I have a newsletter in addition to this blog? You’re not alone. Apparently I do a lousy job of making this clear to people. Here at History on the Margins, I tell stories from history, review books, and share historical tidbits that catch my imagination. In my newsletter, I consider the process of writing and thinking about history. What does that look like in real life? Let me give you examples from our visit to Nuremberg over the Christmas holiday. Here on the blog I wrote about Nuremberg Castle and what I learned there. In future posts I’ll write about the Nazi parade grounds, the Nuremberg Trials, and Nuremberg as a medieval trade center. In a recent edition of the newsletter, I shared thoughts about local history and the big picture triggered by the historical places we visited, and a tidbit about Albrecht Dürer’shair. If you’d like to see the newsletter in your inbox twice a month, you can sign up here: http://eepurl.com/dIft-b
One thing you can count on if you travel to a city that important during the medieval period is that it will have a castle: a big hunk of masonry on a hill overlooking the city.** The condition will vary, depending largely on how badly the city fared in World War II.*** You can also count on said castle being a museum. Nuremberg is no exception.
The central exhibits at the castle dealt with Nuremberg’s role as an important center of the Holy Roman Empire, and consequently how the Holy Roman Empire worked. The castle also has small excellent exhibits on the development of arms and armory and on the excavation and restoration of the castle. Here are the bits that captured my imagination:
- I knew that the Holy Roman Empire was a shifting alliance of semi-independent feudal entities in what is now Germany, Austria, northern Italy and eastern France. I didn’t realize that it did not have a settled capital until the reign of Karl V in the sixteen century. Instead the imperial government traveled with the emperor from one strategically critical castle to another. This particularly caught my attention, because the fact that the Mongol horde did not have a fixed capital is always treated as being fundamentally different from European traditions. While it is true that the Mongols did not have permanent cities, the moveable nature of government does not seem to be as different as I previously thought. (Feel free to weigh-in, people. I am spit-balling here.)
- Nuremberg was one of three imperial cities given a defined imperial role in the Golden Bull of 1356—a decree issued by the Imperial Diet at Nuremberg under the leadership of Emperor Charles IV that set the constitutional structure of the empire for the next 400 years. The bull defined the college of seven electors responsible for choosing the emperor, known as the “pillars of the empire”. It outlined the principal of majority voting for the first time in the Empire, making it impossible for three electors to hold up the choice of the next emperor. (The drafters of the Golden Bull were serious about keeping things rolling. If the electors had not agreed on the new emperor within thirty days, they were to be put on a diet of bread and water until the choice was made.) The Golden Bull also detailed that the election should take place in Frankfort, the coronation should occur at Aachen, and the first imperial diet of the new reign should take place in Nuremberg.
- The invention of the crossbow around 1150 CE was the first step in the gradual decline in importance of armed knights on the battlefield. Contemporaries (by which I assume the curator means contemporaries from the knightly class) considered the crossbow “unchivalrous, ignoble and insidious” and at various times papal councils banned its use “against Christians.” Those bans were generally ignored because the crossbow could be used from a distance, it could penetrate mail shirts and steel plates, and, unlike its ancestor the longbow, it did not require great strength or serious training to use. From the perspective of a medieval commander, what’s not to love?
Next up in Nuremberg: Nazis.
*Or Nürnberg, if you prefer.
**Why on the hill, you ask? Defensive Architecture 101: It’s always easier to defend the high ground.
***In the case of Nuremberg, pretty badly. As you will see in a future blog post, Nuremberg was a symbolic center for the Nazis. Don’t touch that dial.
1. Unless you read German easily, take the audio tour. We decided not to use the audio tour for Nuremberg Castle and regretted it.
2. If you’re interested in traditional German food, try the Pilhoffer Museum on Konigstrasse near the train station. Definitely our favorite among the several traditional German restaurants that we ate at during our visit.
3. Try the gingerbread and the Nuremberg wurst, even if you don’t expect to like them.
I am a long-time fan of Dorothy Sayers’ mystery novels. With the exception of The Nine Tailors,* I’ve read all of them many times. I would go so far as to say that her picture of educated women’s lives helped shape my image of the life I wanted.
I was thrilled when I got a chance to review The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L Sayers and Her Oxford Circle Remade the World For Women by historian Mo Moulton. I hoped it would give me a behind-the-scenes picture of how some of my favorite books were written. I was not disappointed. Moulton’s insights into the relationship between Sayers’ life and the books enriched my understanding of both and inspired me to re-read those novels once again. ** (I may even give The Nine Tailors another shot.) But the Mutual Admiration Society is a book about more than Sayers and her times.
In 1912, four extraordinary women met as students at Somerville College, one of the first women’s colleges at Oxford: mystery novelist and theologian Dorothy Sayers, historian Muriel St. Clare Byrne, child-rearing expert and birth control advocate Charis Barnett Frankenburg, and Dorothy Rowe, who founded an important amateur theater company. Together they formed the heart of what Sayers dubbed the Mutual Admiration Society (MAS), a not entirely accurate description of a group devoted to honest criticism and high intellectual and artistic standards.
Moulton (who identifies with the pronoun they) examines the lives and the changing relationships of the members of MAS from their college years to the death of the last surviving member in 1988. They consider the nature of female friendships. They explore the women’s lives as both insiders and outsiders—who benefited from their position as members of the social elite and yet found their choices limited by legal and social barriers based on gender. (Even at Oxford Sayers and her comrades were second-class citizens: able to take classes and sit for examinations but not eligible to receive degrees.) More importantly, they look at the ways in which each of the four pushed against those boundaries and created new versions of women’s lives in a changing world.
The result is not only a picture of four complex lives across a diversity of experience, but a rich discussion of what it means to be both human and female.
*I know The Nine Tailors is often described as her masterpiece, but I found it unspeakably dull. As far as I’m concerned, Gaudy Night is her masterpiece. Hands down.
**The suggestion that Sayers created Lord Peter not as an idealized suitor for her alter-ego, Harriet Vane, but as an idealized vision of the life she wanted blew me away–and felt so very. right.
As you may have guessed, a version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.