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.