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The Book of the Maidservant Hardcover – October 27, 2009


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 800L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (October 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375858563
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375858567
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,583,125 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Rebecca Barnhouse teaches and writes about medieval topics and children’s literature set in the Middle Ages. She lives in Youngstown, Ohio.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

1


My mistress says you mustn't stare into the fire lest the devil look out at you from the flames. "He'll see into your soul," she says.

My mistress says a great many things about the devil.

But before cockcrow, when my mistress is still abed and I'm sitting on my heels coaxing the embers into life with my breath, I stare into the fire with no fear of the devil. The devil, I think, wakes up when my mistress does.

Before then, the house is quiet and my face is warm with the fire I'm making. I stare into the coals and the new little flames licking blue and yellow around the kindling, and I don't see the devil or the mouth of hell. I see summer and yellow sun, and in the smooth flames curling around the wood, I see clear water flowing through rushes the way it did in the stream when I was a little girl.

I've just long enough for a memory of splashing in the stream with my big sister, Rose, before the rafters tremble with the sound of my mistress stirring above.

Cook limps heavily into the kitchen and casts a baleful eye at the upstairs room. "There'll be weeping today, you mark me," she says, and busies herself with the pots.

It's a big house, this, for my mistress's father was five times Lord Mayor of Lynn and an alderman of the Holy Trinity Guildhall, too. The mistress doesn't let it be forgotten, not by the servants nor by the goodwives of the town, for all that she's a religious woman.

"She'll be wanting you," Cook says.

I lean forward to give the fire one last breath, although it doesn't need it. For one more instant, it's summer and I'm with Rose and the sun is warming my face.

Then I rock back on my heels and stand, letting the cold air settle around me. I heave the bucket of water I've brought in and start up the stairs.

I'm halfway up when the weeping begins.

"Ah, sweet Jesu," my mistress calls out, and then she is crying in earnest, great heaving sobs. "My sweet Lord," she cries.

I hover on the stairs. Up or down?

"Johanna!" My mistress shrieks my name from her room and up I scurry. I've been here long enough to know the consequences if I don't.

I open her door with my foot, swinging the heaving bucket into the room. She's sitting on her bed, her face in her hands, the tears coming fast. The water from my bucket goes into the hand basin with only a river or so spilled out, and then her foul-smelling night bucket is in my hands and I'm on the stairs again.

"Come back, you stupid girl."

I stop. Even when she's full of the passion that Our Lady Mary suffered for her poor son, my mistress notices things. You'd think she'd be blinded by her tears.

"The fire, Johanna."

I set the buckets down and creep into the room again. I had thought to come back for the fire later, when I brush her hair and pin up her headdress--after the weeping has abated. But my mistress likes to be warm and toasty while she shares Our Lady's pain.

The bellows crouch beside the fireplace. I mend the coals with the tongs, then blow them into flames with the bellows. Already, while my mistress was sleeping, I've brought up the coal. Also, I've scoured the bottles and pots left from yesterday. And brought in the water for Cook and for me, lots of water, fetched from the Common Ditch, a long walk through the ooze and muck of the streets in the chill damp of the morning.

My mistress feels such compassion for Our Lord, she cries and cries at the thought of him on his rood. You'd think she could spare some compassion for me. Almost June and still the mornings are cold as midwinter.

She interrupts her weeping to say, "Don't dally before the fire, you wicked girl. The devil creeps into the souls of those who dally."

She should know.

I escape down the stairs to haul the iron pots of water to the fire for washing. Linens today.

When I lived by the river, off in the Fens, after my mother died giving birth to a baby who didn't live to see the sunrise, my sister Rose did the washing. Back then, I really did dally, kicking my heels in the stream, weaving sedges together to make birdcages, trying to catch silvery minnows with my bare hands, fashioning pipes of reeds. I thought I was working, but Rose was doing it all. Now that she's married to a farmer, she knows even more about work.

Dame Margery thinks she's overburdened, what with the Lord's suffering on her shoulders, but she knows nothing of burdens. Cook and I and poor little Cicilly know about burdens. Cicilly has a cough, so Cook and I have conspired to let her sleep longer. Just so she's visible by the time the mistress sweeps downstairs.

Since our household broke up at Michaelmas--Rose going off with her farmer, my father going to harvest the bishop's fields, and me going into service for Dame Margery here in town--Cook has been all the family I have. Cook and Cicilly. Piers, who does the men's labor, treats me too ill to be family. He grabs my braids and sometimes my skirts in a way I don't like at all. Besides, he smells.

But Cook can laugh. She's a sly one, Cook is, when her joints aren't making her limp and groan.

"Come, Johanna," she says. "Here's her morning meal to be taken up. Enough for her and whatever saint is visiting today."

It's when I'm up the stairs, handing her the trencher, that my mistress changes my life again, for the second time in a year.

"God has told me to go on pilgrimage to Rome," Dame Margery says. "I'll need a maidservant. Cicilly's too young; Cook is too old. You'll go with me, Johanna."

My mouth drops open. A pilgrimage to Rome? With my mistress?

"The Lord doesn't hold with idleness. Get on about your duties," she says, her mouth full of bread.

I tear down the stairs as fast as I can.





 

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Customer Reviews

Her maidservant would have been there, every day, listening to all of this.
emkachan
The Book of the Maidservant is a wonderful example of making academic research accessible to any readers interested in medieval life.
Dolores V. Sisco
The characters are well-rounded and believable, and Barnhouse has a great eye for detail.
Carey Hagan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dolores V. Sisco on November 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Book of the Maidservant is a wonderful example of making academic research accessible to any readers interested in medieval life. Don't be put off by the "Young Adult" tag; this novel would be a perfect addition to undergraduate courses in medieval literature, and makes a perfect companion to the original work of Dame Margery. Funny and warm, this is an appealing rendition of the "voiceless" whose lives were too often short, sharp and brutish. Johanna is a wonderful creation.
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Format: Audio CD
Read by Rebecca Barnhouse (with an additional note read by the author), The Book of the Maidservant is the unabridged audiobook adaptation of the debut novel of medieval literature expert Rebecca Barnhouse. Inspired by the fifteenth-century text "The Book of Margery Kempe" (which happens to be the first known autobiography written in English), The Book of the Maidservant follows Johanna, a serving girl in attendance to medieval holy woman Dame Margery Kempe. Though Dame Margery Kempe feels the pain of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, she is all but blind to the suffering around her. When Dame Margery Kempe embarks on a pilgrimage to Rome, the difficulties truly begin, culminating in a bitter fight that causes Dame Margery Kempe to abandon her own servants. A stranger in the strange land of Rome, Johanna must find her own path. A saga of hardship, adaptation, survival, inspiration, and ultimately the journey to redemption, The Book of the Maidservant is enthusiastically recommended. 6 CDs, 6 hours 45 minutes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Carey Hagan on August 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I was impressed by the quality of writing in this and its readability. The characters are well-rounded and believable, and Barnhouse has a great eye for detail. This is a pretty versatile book: I think it could be read by middle schoolers, high schoolers, and even adults. It's not typical "YA" [teen] lit nor is it typical of some historical fiction for teens. I really enjoyed, and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the Middle Ages.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By emkachan on January 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Margery Kempe was a self-described holy woman in the 1400s, with the gift of tears, meaning that she would cry loudly for hours while contemplating the life of Christ. I forced myself to read her tedious autobiography before I read The Book of the Maidservant. Margery's book, written years after this pilgrimage (she actually went to the Holy Land), is a catalog of the people who annoyed her, insulted her, vexed her, bothered her, and didn't appreciate her constant sobbing during the trip. She spends several pages on a priest who she claims stole her sheet on the boat over to the Holy Land. Her maidservant would have been there, every day, listening to all of this. Rebecca Barnhouse pulls this girl out of the margins and writes the story of Joanna's epic journey in a century where most people would not have gone more than fifty miles from their home villages. Rebecca Barnhouse makes the travel fascinating (seasickness, fasting, bandits, haystacks, foreigners, dirt, frost, icy streams, uncooked peas) and describes everything in smashing detail without it feeling like a description. This is a great Catholic book. Joanna feels the saints have abandoned her after Dame Margery leaves her all alone in Venice, but she makes her own way to Rome in one of the best adventures of the book, and regains her faith while working in the English hospice in Rome, where as Margery Kempe tells us, she found her measuring the wine.
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