“The month of May was come, when every lusty heart beginneth to blossom, and to bring forth fruit; for like as herbs and trees bring forth fruit and flourish in May, in likewise every lusty heart that is in any manner a lover, springeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds. For it giveth unto all lovers courage, that lusty month of May.” – Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte D’Arthur
It’s my birthday today! I’m now 23. I thought I’d kick off this TBR post with a passage from a medieval book first published by William Caxton in 1485. It’s also one of the books on my TBR this month.
Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory
Le Morte D’Arthur is Sir Thomas Malory’s richly evocative and enthralling version of the Arthurian legend. Recounting Arthur’s birth, his ascendancy to the throne after claiming Excalibur, his ill-fated marriage to Guenever, the treachery of Morgan le Fay and the exploits of the Knights of the Round Table, it magically weaves together adventure, battle, love and enchantment. Le Morte D’Arthur looks back to an idealized Medieval world and is full of wistful, elegiac regret for a vanished age of chivalry. Edited and published by William Caxton in 1485, Malory’s prose romance drew on French and English verse sources to give an epic unity to the Arthur myth, and remains the most magnificent re-telling of the story in English.
I chose the Norton edition (even though I’m not usually a fan of them) because it uses the original spelling. Editions with modernised spelling are readily available.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890’s, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.
They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners’ agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.
Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take.
The Blazing World and Other Writings by Margaret Cavendish
Flamboyant, theatrical and ambitious, Margaret Cavendish was one of the seventeenth century’s most striking figures: a woman who ventured into the male spheres of politics, science, philosophy and literature. The Blazing World is a highly original work: part Utopian fiction, part feminist text, it tells of a lady shipwrecked on the Blazing World where she is made Empress and uses her power to ensure that it is free of war, religious division and unfair sexual discrimination. This volume also includes The Contract, a romance in which love and law work harmoniously together, and Assaulted and Pursued Chastity, which explores the power and freedom a woman can achieve in the disguise of a man.