Saturday, May 5, 2012

H.F.M. Prescott's Novel of the Pilgrimage of Grace

Here a masterful review of H.F.M. Prescott's The Man on a Donkey, which I think I should re-read soon. To quote:

At Aughton church, near Selby in Yorkshire, there is a curious feature on one of the external walls: a carved newt, or ‘asker,’ and near it a text which is usually translated as ‘Christopher, son of Sir Robert, ought not to forget the year AD 1536.’ This obscure brother of Robert Aske, the leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace, was apparently busy rebuilding his parish church at the time of the rebellion. No doubt he never did forget 1536, the year of the greatest of all Tudor uprisings, a popular and widespread rebellion by the gentry and the people of the north against the King’s new-fangled religious reforms.
Hilda Prescott’s magnum opus, The Man on a Donkey (1952), ensures that we may never forget that year either. This is one of the most significant and yet most neglected historical novels of the twentieth century, as Diane Wallace has recently argued. Although it totals over a thousand pages, you can now read it comfortably in bed, in the bath, on the bus, on the beach: Loyola Classics has republished it in two substantial volumes. And it is well worth reading, rewarding your effort with a rich, sad, beautiful tapestry depicting the lives of a range of characters living through the early years of the sixteenth century. It’s War and Peace of the English Protestant Reformation.
The Man on a Donkey was not Prescott’s first foray into Tudor history nor into historical fiction. The daughter of an Anglican clergyman, Hilda Frances Margaret Prescott was born at Latchford in Cheshire in 1896. She studied history at Oxford and Manchester Universities, and taught in private schools and at Oxford before becoming a full-time writer in the early 1920s. A trilogy of historical novels set in medieval France laid the foundations for her reputation, but the book which first brought Prescott to the notice of the reading public was a biography of Mary Tudor, which was published in 1940, winning the James Tait Black Prize in the following year.

The reason that Rosemary Mitchell, the author of this great piece mentions Diana Wallace is that the latter has written a study of The Woman’s Historical Novel: British Women Writers, 1900-2000 which is available at a very nice price from! If you don't have The Man on a Donkey in your library, Loyola Classics has it on sale (both volumes).

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