The problem with owning an e-reader is that you don’t get that closure of money changing hands. You just click through Amazon, pressing the One Click Buy button with impunity while your credit card quietly sobs in your wallet. In an attempt to limit the damage on my bank account, I went through Amazon’s free Kindle books and picked up Eileen Edna Power’s Medieval People.
Power’s book follows six medieval lives based entirely on literature (in this case, wills, poems, and contemporary observations) beginning at the fall of the Roman Empire. Most, if not all, of her information is culled from primary sources, which she cites copiously throughout the book. Based on this information, Power constructs the real life conditions and actions of peasants, housewives, abbesses, merchants, and explorers.
The individual sketches are interesting, but suffer from language that borders of the painfully purple. Power has a tendency to gush, especially over her male subjects. One man, Thomas Betson, is described as perhaps the epitome of romantic manhood based almost entirely on the love letters he wrote to his preteen fiancé. I’m not making a comment on May-December arranged marriages in the Middle Ages, but of Power’s starry-eyed conclusions that surely a man who wrote letters such as these could do no wrong. I don’t want to cast aspersions at Power’s scholarship—she obviously scoured crumbling documents that most regular people have never seen. Instead, I might say that her language and outlook might have something to do with the era in which the book was written. Originally published in 1924, the book may have been trying to evoke a feeling of simpler times, something that people must have longed for in the years between the two World Wars. If this is so, it probably served its purpose.
If you’re still interested in this book, I would suggest finding a hard copy. While the free Kindle version is certainly readable, it’s missing all of the images that probably make the book truly come alive. Though I found parts eye-rollingly painful to read, I will keep this book in my Kindle if only to refer to the primary sources contained within.