April 20, 2016

Medieval Poisoning a doorway on the past

I haven't yet finished Stephen Bednarski's book on Margarida du Portu, accused of poisoning in her medieval town in the fourteenth century. Du Portu was accused of poisoning her husband by her brother in law, Raymon, and for the moment I'll leave it there. Bednarski's book is interesting because its a reflexive book. He goes inside his own choices and shows you the different books he might have written. His interest is in family history so the first story he shows you is the story of Margarita and Raymon. Then he shows you how you could tell the same story but focus on the gender aspects or the way that it reveals how Roman law was practiced in a medieval French town. The story becomes illuminated from different points with the different angles of light illuminating different features of the tale.

It is a really interesting way of writing history and one I've not seen much of before. It takes you inside the box with the historian. I found it quite disorientating. I was quite gripped by the story of Du Portu's family and to be suddenly transported back into the confines of Roman legal procedure and how it worked in this case- I found quite disturbing. I also found it spoiled the book for me in some ways- the neat flowing story that my mind wanted was broken up. That's possibly a good thing- but its an interesting thing because it shows to me how much I am dependent on that narrative flow to understand the world. As soon as you present the way that the light shifts depending on how the historian shines the torch, my mind struggles and gets upset.