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The Black Death: A Personal History [Englisch] [Gebundene Ausgabe]

John Hatcher


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Kurzbeschreibung

2. Juni 2008
This text is from a leading expert, a unique, character-driven and compellingly written narrative of the devastation wreaked on a small English village during the fourteenth century when the Black Death ravaged the countryside.In this new and fresh historical approach to the history of the Black Death, Professor John Hatcher recreates everyday life in a mid-fourteenth century parish in rural England. By focusing on the experiences of ordinary villagers as they lived, and died during the Black Death (1345-50), Hatcher vividly places the reader into the tumultuous fourteenth century and describes in fascinating detail everyday life amidst the tragic effects of the plague. The story is peopled with characters developed from the villagers named in the records. And a series of dramatic scenes are created which portray how contemporaries must have experienced the momentous events- what they knew and what they believed, from the horrors of disease, pestilence and death to the desperate rumors, frightening tales, and fearful sermons they heard as they tried to make sense of all that was visited upon them.In this unique style and innovative approach, the hindsight, judgments and perspectives of the twenty-first century historian have been banished from the text, and the reader is given a view of the Black Death entirely from within the fourteenth century-and one that is unlike any other book on the Black Death.

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"New York Post" "Required Reading" column, 6/15/08 "For those whose only knowledge of the plague comes from Monty Python, but are willing to learn more, Cambridge Professor Hatcher takes a serious, but very readable look at the epidemic." "Rutland Herald" 6/18/08"This is a hard-hitting and thought-provoking book which stands out....The story is compelling and emotional and the plot is fast-paced, with well-drawn characters...This is a book that readers will remember for a long time to come." Simon Winchester, "New York Sun," 6/25/08"Totally absorbing...Presents the best account ever written about the worst event to have ever befallen the British Isles. In the hands of John Hatcher...the extraordinary tragedy of the great plague...has been brought to life in a manner rarely attempted, and with a level of success even more rarely achieved...A history book like very few others, and a triumph at that...A book--half fact, half highly informed speculation--t

Synopsis

This text is from a leading expert, a unique, character-driven and compellingly written narrative of the devastation wreaked on a small English village during the fourteenth century when the Black Death ravaged the countryside.In this new and fresh historical approach to the history of the Black Death, Professor John Hatcher recreates everyday life in a mid-fourteenth century parish in rural England. By focusing on the experiences of ordinary villagers as they lived, and died during the Black Death (1345-50), Hatcher vividly places the reader into the tumultuous fourteenth century and describes in fascinating detail everyday life amidst the tragic effects of the plague. The story is peopled with characters developed from the villagers named in the records. And a series of dramatic scenes are created which portray how contemporaries must have experienced the momentous events- what they knew and what they believed, from the horrors of disease, pestilence and death to the desperate rumors, frightening tales, and fearful sermons they heard as they tried to make sense of all that was visited upon them.In this unique style and innovative approach, the hindsight, judgments and perspectives of the twenty-first century historian have been banished from the text, and the reader is given a view of the Black Death entirely from within the fourteenth century-and one that is unlike any other book on the Black Death.

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5.0 von 5 Sternen As If a Reporter Were on the Scene 18. Juni 2008
Von R. Hardy - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
The Black Death continues to fascinate us, even though it took its great toll on Europe in the fourteenth century. There have been scores of books about it. One of the world's experts on the plague, John Hatcher, is a professor at the University of Cambridge. He has written a great deal about medieval history and about the Black Death in particular, but has taken a completely new method in _The Black Death: A Personal History_ (Da Capo Press). There are first person accounts of the plague in Boccaccio and Petrarch, and there are plenty of records about how the plague raged through Britain, but there isn't a comparable story-telling description for Britain. Until now, for Hatcher has written one. He has chosen the locale of Walsham le Willows, a Suffolk town that has many good records for the years of the plague, but he explains, "Even in the best documented of places, the sources surviving from the fourteenth century are silent, or severely deficient, on most of the issues that were central to the lives of the villagers. There are no diaries, reminiscences, or correspondence, and no accounts of what people believed or how they spent their days." He feels, however, that "... this does not mean that historians should give up and leave the telling of it to novelists, dramatists, and filmmakers."

The result is a book for which, Hatcher says, "I have had to invent situations and dialogue and employ techniques reminiscent of docudrama." He has had also to invent characters, such as Master John, the parish priest of Walsham. The result is not really a historical novel; there is little character development or plot. As befits the work of a historian, this is more of a history, as if there were a reporter there at the time to interview characters and describe what was going on. Much centers on the idea that God was punishing those other villages, but Master John taught that he would spare those in Walsham who showed that they deserved mercy by acts of confession and public and private abasement. There was no way to understand the disease except as a message and punishment from God, but as the illness worked its way into the land, there were many who questioned how God could be treating them in this way. Sinless infants fell to it, as did the devout, as did many a sincere priest. Also mystifying was that the great pestilence God had wrought for the sins of the people led to no improvement of their behavior or their lot in any social stratum. In Walsham, as in other areas, the death toll was around 50%, and the loss of population created economic and social chaos. Hatcher vividly describes the frustrations of the likes of the lordly master of Walsham's High Hall, who found that those who had toiled for the manor for centuries now discovered themselves a scarce resource so that they could demand high wages. The plague also raised the ire of the lords and the clergy when the survivors, widows, and widowers quickly took up new partners, often cohabiting without benefit of marriage. Such behavior was not only sinful, it robbed officials of marriage fees due to the manor.

Hatcher's experiment in telling a social history using fiction based on a historical foundation is a success. He has not only told about what the villagers were going through during the terror, but has cleverly called upon other sources to come in and give background information. For instance, Master John rides to the town of Bury St. Edmunds to speak at the abbey there with his friend the infirmarer, the medical authority for the monks. He thus gets an earful of how physicians at the time explained the disease, although they had no more effect against it than religious authorities. In another section, a carter regales the crowd at Alice Pye's alehouse with a description of the appearance and behavior of a procession of flagellants he has seen, come to London from across the channel to whip themselves bloody so that the plague would be cast out of the land. The details provided here give an unforgettable picture of a society thrown into chaos by microbes, and it is not too far a stretch to think that we might in our own way go through the same sorts of responses to the chaos when the new SARS or Ebola comes for us.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen When God thunders, "I'll show YOU!" 23. Oktober 2009
Von Joseph Haschka - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
"Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence ... He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy sword and buckler ... Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day ... Nor for the pestilence that walketh in the darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday ... A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come on nigh thee." - From Psalm 91, the comfort of Master John, as quoted in THE BLACK DEATH

With THE BLACK DEATH, author John Hatcher has made an intelligent and clever approach at describing what it was perhaps like for the Average John Q Citizen to experience the pandemic outbreak of the Black Death, the "plague" caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which came out of Central Asia and peaked in Europe in 1348-50, wiping out 30-60% of the population.

In the Preface, Hatcher explains the conundrum he faced. While he didn't want to compose yet another historical survey of the plague's progress across Europe - so many of such already exist - he also didn't want to create a completely fictional historical novel. Rather, to pen a narrative of the common man's personal experience with the disease - about which encounter there's virtually no contemporary description - John went to the public records as a starting point. In this case, they were the manorial court and accounts roles of the village of Walsham le Willows in west Suffolk, England, which are notably complete for the years in question. From these documents, the author populates the Walsham of his "docudrama" with people that really lived and engaged in the routine (and faithfully recorded) activities of life - marriages, births, deaths, petty crimes, personal legal squabbles, local elections, manorial court sessions, crop harvest yields, goods' prices, etc. - to thus paint a picture of the community's environment from 1345 to 1350, i.e. before, during, and after the Black Death struck in the Spring of 1349. Fictional dialogue between the characters, otherwise kept to a minimum, is inserted to flesh out the narrative and is based on reasonable supposition and what is known of the customs of the time.

Walsham's records have one glaring omission; there is nowhere recorded the name of the village priest. Out of necessity, then, Hatcher introduces his only completely fictional character, John Bradfield ("Master John"), God's shepherd for the parish of St. Mary's Church. As envisioned by the author, John is a learned, compassionate, honest, unworldly, wise, and pious cleric who assiduously cares for the spiritual well-being of his flock to the point, during the worst of the plague, of exhaustion; he becomes the hero of the piece. In that respect, the Walsham of THE BLACK DEATH was lucky indeed.

For those readers living in a western society where the various levels of government refrain from sponsorship of any organized religion, the importance of the Catholic Church to the everyday lives of the English commoners, as depicted in THE BLACK DEATH, may be a revelation. The central government, at this time the monarchy headed by Edward III, played virtually no role in attempts, beyond exhortations to the realm's various bishops to urge the faithful to increased prayer and penance against a background of more sermons, Masses, and powerful indulgences, to explain or protect its subjects from the pestilence as it marched inexorably across mainland Europe towards their island bastion. Master John, then, found himself at the pointy end of the only defense then believed able to potentially deflect God's wrath. The fact that the Church failed - indeed, could not but fail - does not detract from the fact that it tried. For those front-line clerics of the same honesty, competency, and dedication as Master John - and many such certainly existed (and died with the disease) - posthumous honor is due.

From an amateur historian's perspective, the second substantial lesson of the book is the change in the foundation of medieval society, i.e. the relationship of the villeins to their manorial masters, which the depopulation by disease precipitated. The surviving rustics got uppity in their demands for better wages and benefits - something they could pull off because of the resultant labor shortage - and their world was never the same again (much to the distress of the affluent Church and the landed nobility).

The volume includes a 27-page section of bibliography-based Notes and a 16-page collection of photographs of elements of paintings and illustrated manuscripts, all which support the nature of the society and environment which the author means to re-create.

Any casual or serious student of psychology, English history, and/or the effects of a universally devastating disease on societal structure should find THE BLACK DEATH convincing and absolutely fascinating. John Hatcher admirably achieved what he set out to do, and I think his book one of the best I've read all year.
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2.0 von 5 Sternen Dreary, Tedious 26. September 2008
Von J. Aubrey - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Again I pay the price of failing to adequately preview a book before ordering it. I knew I was in trouble halfway through the preface, when the author explained the need to mix fact and fiction to add a "more vivid dimension" to the Black Death. He even describes the book as a "docudrama."

I couldn't take anymore after 150 pages. The writing is mediocre, the pacing is ponderous, repetition is rampant, and the "fiction" insipid and spiritless without a hint of "drama."

You learn some interesting things about the stifling predominance of Christianity and other aspects of everyday life in rural, medieval England, but that is little consolation for the sheer effort of forcing yourself to turn the page.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen The 14th Century comes to life 10. April 2009
Von Wayne Engle - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
John Hatcher has taken us back to the horrendous bubonic plague of 1348-49 as if he possessed his own personal time machine. Working carefully with existing parish and town records for Walsham, in a rural area northeast of London, Hatcher brings the people of the English countryside of the 14th Century vividly to life.

Fictionalizing where necessary, but also utilizing the unusually detailed historic records for Walsham, Hatcher uses the selfless parish priest Master John as a human pivot around which his story turns. Master John works tirelessly day and night at his pastoral duties of hearing final confessions and conducting last rites as lords and ladies of the manor, merchants, townspeople, and peasants alike fall victim to the horrible Black Death which killed half the people of Walsham in a period of about two months in the spring of 1349, during its relentless march across most of Europe.

In the days after the plague has subsided in Walsham, Hatcher relates how the peasants who survived the Black Death begin to take advantage of their scarcity by demanding much higher wages to work in the landlords' fields. He also tells how the surviving lords and ladies, or their surviving heirs, struggle to force the peasants to work for the lower wages they had accepted before -- to return things to the way they used to be. But the Black Death caused societal changes that were never reversed.

Hatcher turns dead names from the 14th Century into real people in this unique history-cum-historic fiction work. It's well worth the read.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen Bringing a Desperate Time in the History of Western Civilization to Life 14. Februar 2009
Von Roger D. Launius - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Between 1457 and 1451 something over a third of the population of Europe succumbed to the Black Death, a plague carried by rats from the Middle East to the heart of Western Civilization. The estimated 75 million people who died in the plague was the largest mass death in recorded human history, and an object lesson in what might happen in future pandemics.

We have known about the history of the plague for centuries, but records are sparse on how it affected ordinary people. The value of "The Black Death: A Personal History" is that a renowned medieval historian, John Hatcher, has used the exceptionally detailed records of Walsham, England, to recreate the story of the plague at the local level, and from there to extrapolate how it affected the rest of Europe. He focuses his attention through the eyes and feelings of Master John, a fictional character, but one that might have well existed, who was concerned not just with the spiritual people of the town--his principal concern--but also with their physical well-being. He takes the reader through a death in the town, and the concern for the local inhabitants' salvation to the care for the dying during the Black Death. His literary license in creating characters and scenes is troubling to me, but it helps to bring the reality of the plague to life. The work is especially strong on how medieval society viewed death, the eternal soul, and life after death.

"The Back Death: A Personal History" is a very effective recreation of the experience of the plague in England and an interesting reading experience.
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