Friday, May 7, 2021


An American author living on the Silver Coast of Portugal, Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write women back into history. She is the author of Revelations and seven previous critically acclaimed novels, including Daughters of the Witching Hill, the Nautilus Award–winning Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen, The Dark Lady’s Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Muse, and Ecstasy, about the life, loves, and music of Alma Mahler.

Sharratt applied the Page 69 Test to Revelations and reported the following:
From page 69:
Though still numb from Anna’s lukewarm reception, I set off the next morning in search of Dame Julian. The portress summoned a local boy to show me the way. I followed him while Nell trudged in my wake and muttered about her sore feet.

We entered the walls of Norwich through Ber Street Gate. A prosperous city, Norwich was the fifth biggest in the land, its cathedral even more magnificent than York Minster. Norwich boasted fifty parish churches and four large friaries. Its castle keep shone like a mighty cliff face in the morning sun. The market stalls glittered with silver cups and cloth of gold. Wealthy merchants’ houses faced the broad streets and squares while behind them lay warehouses and workshops full of weavers at their looms manufacturing the worsted wool that had made Norwich so rich.

We passed through a cobbled square with a great elm tree and a parish well. Through the open windows of one timber-framed house, I saw many women working together. Some were spinning at their distaffs while others dyed yarn in great vats. There was not a man nor any children in sight. Not a single cradle. But what made me stop in my tracks was that one woman stood at a lectern and read aloud for them all. In English, not Latin. The beauty of her words left me spellbound.
Of all that God has shown me
I can speak just the smallest word,
Not more than a honeybee takes on her foot
From an overspilling jar.
Over the house’s front door, I saw the painted image of Saint Martha, almost as though this was a religious order, yet none of the women wore nuns’ habits. This house with its wide-open windows was certainly not cloistered. “Who are these women?” I asked my young guide. “Beguines,” the boy said. I’d never before heard that word. But I’d no chance to question the boy further, for it was all I could do to keep up with him as he led me deep into a warren of alleys and passageways.
Does Page 69 give a browser a good idea of the rest of the book? I’d say yes. I hope the browser would feel plunged into medieval Norfolk, seeing the city through Margery Kempe’s eyes as she sets off in search of the famed anchoress Julian of Norwich. This particular scene finds Margery at a crossroads in her life. She has taken the radical step of walking away from a soul-destroying marriage and her brood of children (she gave birth to a total of 14 children!) and she wishes to set off on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. And this in an era when very few women travel, even in the company of their husbands. Margery has broken all the rules and is filled with self-doubt. For twenty years she has been haunted by searingly visceral images of the divine but she doesn’t know if she can trust them. She desperately needs spiritual counsel from another woman who understands her travails. So she comes to Norwich and sets off in search of Dame Julian.

The encounter between these two women mystics who changed history really took place. It is a pivotal scene in The Book of Margery Kempe, the first autobiography written in English, and it is also one of the key scenes in my novel Revelations. But already on Page 69, we are introduced to the beguines, a medieval women’s spirituality movement, that plays a key role in Revelations. They were groups of independent women who chose to live in all female communities and not under the auspices of a religious order. They weren’t nuns, didn’t take permanent vows, and could leave their community at any time. The exquisite poem quoted in this excerpt was written by the 13th century German beguine Mechthild of Magdeburg, one of the most evocative descriptions of mystical experience I’ve ever read.
Visit Mary Sharratt's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Vanishing Point.

--Marshal Zeringue