Listen, beloved…

My main research for writing at the moment is the 18th century, particularly English landscape gardening and one gardener in particular (no surprise there) so it’s a treat to get the chance to travel even further back in time.

To the 11th century in fact!

As part of the writers’ collective, 26, I’m working on a project to mark Norwich being named a UNESCO City of Literature. Twenty six of us have been paired with 26 famous writers from Norwich’s history, and I’ve been given Herbert de Losinga, Bishop and founder of Norwich Cathedral to write about.

At the moment, I’m in a reading phrase, and going through his own writings (although it’s not a particularly portable book as you can see above!) I’ve got a research trip ahead to Norwich and the cathedral in particular, although bizarrely they recommend I visit Canterbury to see a more accurate representation of a library of that time. I’m not sure what angle I’m taking yet, but this particular section about St Etheldreda gave me a shiver down the spine.

When I was a boarder in Etheldreda House, part of Kings School, Ely, we had to wear a blue cornflower on St Etheldreda’s day as a sign of respect for her (and our) purity. Can you even begin to imagine the ‘friendly teasing’ we got all day? A particularly fine torture for self-conscious teenage girls, especially given that it was a mostly boys school at that time!

But there’s something else in this book too. How beautiful is it that in the letters he wrote to his students he addressed them as ‘well beloved’?

It’s an expression that feels so curiously old-fashioned and yet never fails to warm me every time I see it. Particularly that third syllable it gets in pronounciation which distinguishes itself from the plain (but still nothing to be sniffed at) ‘Loved’.

And it gave me another shiver because just yesterday I was looking out that Vonnegut clip from You Tube about the shape of stories and I came across this article about the class-letters he used to write to his students, referring to them as ‘beloveds’.

I am so tempted to put them together in my piece. What if Vonnegut had been reading Herbert de Losanga too? Maybe wearing a cornflower…

There will be an exhibition of this work from the 26 Collective and the 26 writers we have been paired with from UEA’s MA in Writing programme this summer at the Writers’ Centre in Norwich.

13 Responses to Listen, beloved…

  1. Have you had a chance to see any of the original C12 manuscripts? Or any of the letters he wrote in the original (though they were probably written by a scribe at his dictartion – nothing changes!). I find that contemporary MSS are quite illuminating in all sorts of ways. Scratchings-out and corrections. Interlineations, etc

  2. Sadly not. There was a fire at the cathedral which means that the originals don’t exist, but I’m hoping to see papers from that period in Canterbury. Even the reproductions seem very alive though, there’s something about a letter that always feels so, I think. Probably because someone is being addressed, rather than just the page.

  3. What a wonderful project. Sounds like you are/will have a great time followng your writer’s nose on tis one.

    I heard my headmistress’s voice echoing down the years at me – she used to read to the whole school on Sunday nights –

    “In the High and Far-Off Times the Elephant, O Best Beloved, had no trunk…”


  4. I think those unexpected collisions are where the true magic of imagination and writing happens.

    Have you listened to any music by The Beloved (the Happiness album is a great place to start)? I’m sure one of the main reasons I first got into them was their name!

  5. I do love a good cornflower. And Vonnegut, for that matter. Any research which allows you to bring up the words ‘beloved’ and ‘Etheldreda’ more than once is good.
    Sounds like your new project writing project will be marked by excellent capability ;-)

  6. I haven’t, but I will search it out right now. It fits in nicely with my resolution (given to me) to listen to one piece of new music every week!

  7. I love the cathedral.I sued to spend time there sketching as a child and the best view is from Mousehold Heath. ‘Doo’ check the grave to one of our most ‘beloved’ war heroines Edith Cavell in the catherdal grounds. Wonderful

  8. Brave..its just the ‘To Do Different’ mentality of Norfolk folk. Cavell, Nelson and Cotman among them. I wait with anticipation to see how you marry the Norwich of today with yesterday and the voices you hear to inform your own uniqueness.

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Listen, beloved…