Monday, 30 November 2015
Today I'm delighted to welcome Sunday Times best-selling author Freda Lightfoot to "Fall in Love with History".
Freda has written a thought-provoking post about how people change during wartime, and how a reunion did not always mean a happy ending.
WOMEN'S POST WAR PROBLEMS
Most women had endured six years of war work and being entirely responsible for their children. Sometimes children were sent away as evacuees, so there would have been no family life. Women became much tougher as a result of doing men’s jobs, which didn’t always go down well. When their husbands returned they did not expect their wives to have gained so much freedom and independence. They had dreamed of the young and beautiful girl they’d married. Now she’d aged somewhat and that didn’t always appeal either. She could find herself dismissed from her job when the fighting men returned, even though she might be a war widow with no home or pension, or even a deserted wife. The government insisted she return to her wifely duties, keeping house and producing and caring for children, which felt to some like going back to prison.
She also might have to deal with a shell-shocked or disfigured husband, who suffered from sleepwalking or nightmares, outbursts of violence or depression. He could have turned into a bit of a bully if he was accustomed to giving orders. He might also struggle to find work, or resent having to return to his boring desk job, finding it difficult to settle back into Civvy Street. Children too would often react badly as they didn’t even know their father, having rarely seen him.
But women too had suffered traumas. Perhaps remembered being buried alive for hours in a bombed-out house. The after effects might mean they couldn’t bear to go in lifts, sit in dark places such as a cinema, or experienced fainting fits or even heart attacks. She was most likely to be exhausted after the years of hard work, something their men folk didn’t always comprehend.
The effect of war upon a marriage or relationship was not always good either. Some couples were happy to be back together again and their love blossomed. Others were less fortunate, particularly if they’d suffered traumatic situations, or long periods of separation. It was often considered acceptable for men to satisfy their needs while fighting overseas and befriend girls, but complete fidelity was expected from wives. Why would a woman feel happy about that? And once back together, their personalities having changed somewhat, they could feel like strangers. This was particularly true of hasty war marriages.
When World War II ended there was a strange sense of anti-climax, as if the bright blue, sun-filled sky had clouded over leaving a feeling of uncertainty about the future. But then the country was in a mess, still enduring shortages and rationing, a lack of homes and jobs, and near bankruptcy. There were bombed areas and rubble everywhere, homes lost or wrecked, many empty shops, huge bomb craters everywhere, and loved ones lost. This was the brave new world that women had fought for, but not at all what they’d expected. They needed infinite patience, tact and strength to rebuild their lives.
Thank you, Freda! It hadn't struck me before, how peoples differing experiences of war could push them apart. It sounds a great idea for a novel. Oh wait....
'Home is Where the Heart Is' Blurb
1945: Christmas is approaching and Cathie Morgan is awaiting the return of her beloved fiancé, Alexander Ramsay. But she has a secret that she’s anxious to share with him. One that could change everything between them. Her sister has died and she wants to adopt her son. When the truth is finally revealed, Alex immediately calls off the wedding, claiming that the baby is actually Cathie’s, causing all of Cathie’s fears to be realised. As Cathie battles to reassure Alex of her fidelity, she must also juggle the care of the baby and their home.
But then Alex crosses the line with a deceit that is unforgivable, leaving Cathie to muster the courage to forge a life for her and her nephew alone.
Will Cathie ever be able to trust another man again and as peace begins to settle will she ever be able to call a house a home…
Born in Lancashire, Freda Lightfoot has been a teacher, bookseller and in a mad moment even tried her hand at the 'good life' as a smallholder in the English Lake District. Inspired by this tough life on the fells, memories of her Lancashire childhood, and her passion for history she has published over forty sagas and historical novels. Freda has lived in the Lake District and Cornwall but now lives in Spain in the winter but still likes to spend rainy summers in the UK.
For more information visit her website
Find Freda on Facebook
Or on Twitter
And at Goodreads
Sunday, 29 November 2015
Recently, in a Victorian book of cat miscellany (*) I came upon a passing reference to Gottfried Mind, as the “Cat Raphael”. This of course, whetted my appetite to find out more because anyone who can capture the character of cats is all right by me.
Gottfried Mind (1768 – 1814) was born in Switzerland, the son of a carpenter. But Mind was a sickly child with a weak constitution, and he was also autistic. At an early age Gottfried showed a talent for drawing, but his father believed the only medium worth working with was wood. He would give his son pieces of wood and indeed the young Gottfried became a talented carver. His miniature sheep and cows were popular with the locals, who displayed them on their mantelpieces. However, Gottfried’s real passion was drawing.
Gottfried was sent away to school, but lasted only a year. As explained by the head teacher, his pupil was:
“Incapable of any demanding work, but full of talent for drawing, especially God’s creatures, which he renders full of artistic caprices and with some wit.”
Gottfried returned home to become an apprentice to a printer called Sigmund Hendenberger. Gottfried’s job was to hand color the prints created by his master. The story goes that Gottfried’s talent for drawing felines was discovered by accident.
Hendenberger visited a village (to create “Peasant Clearing Wood”) showing a man chopping wood, whilst his wife sits spooning food into a child, with a cat winding round her ankles. When Gottfried saw his master’s rendition of the cat, he said: “That’s no cat.” Hendenberger took this as a challenge and suggested if his apprentice could do better, go ahead.
The sketch that Gottfried produced so enchanted Hendenberger that he copied his pupil’s work. The pair worked on together for years, but it wasn’t until after his master’s death and his widow encouraged Gottfried to produce original works to bring in more money, that Gottfried gave free rein to his talent.
His poor health meant he spent a lot of time indoors, usually accompanied by a cat. It seems he had a near photographic memory, as he only had to visit a scene and stare for a while, to return home and render it faithfully in paint. And when Gottfried wanted to relax, his party piece was to carve miniature models of cats out of chestnuts.
Sadly, Gottfried Mind suffered from an “increasing disorder in his breast” which brought about his death in 1914, at the tragically young age of 46.
(*) The Book of Cats: A Chit-Chat Chronicle of Feline Facts and Fancies, Legendary, Lyrical, Medical, Mirthful and Miscellaneous (1868) Charles Henry Ross.
Sunday, 15 November 2015
Last week’s post posed the question: Who is the patron saint of cats? One visitor to the blog, Susan Lester, left an intriguing comment that needed further investigation. Susan mentioned Saint Julian of Norwich as being a contender for the official protector of felines. I’d never heard of Saint Julian, so I decided to find out more.
|A depiction of Saint Julian and her cat|
(although it seems likely she wasn't a nun)
Indeed, Saint Julian is strongly linked to cats (although not named as their patron saint), most especially because her sole companion was feline. But I jump ahead, let’s start at the beginning and find out who Julian was, along with where and when she lived.
Julian lived in the 14th century, at a time when the Black Death was ravaging England. Harvests failed, the people were poor and starving, whilst taxes were high. The climax of this was a young King Richard II was on the throne, and the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. A poll tax was levied to pay for the Hundred Years War with France, and when officials tried to enforce payment, the peasants fought back.
This was a time of great unrest, with Wat Tyler raising a group of fighting men to try and storm the Tower of London. In the midst of the social distress, lack of food, and risk of the plague they were dark times indeed. But Julian felt a calling to ‘anchor the light of God’ on earth.
Little is known about Julian’s earlier life, and our main clue is Julian’s own words where she refers to herself as a “Simple, uneducated woman.”
Julian’s mission was to represent a quiet oasis of calm, in the midst of all the strife. To do this she became an anchoress in a cell, in a church in Norfolk. Indeed, it seems likely she took her name from that of the church, Julian, Bishop of Le Mans, where she lived.
|The church from which Julian took her saintly name.|
Her purpose was to live a life of solitude and prayer, and provide counsel via a small curtained window to those that needed it. She lived entirely with a small cell and a small enclosed yard with a high wall. That one room had three small windows: One so she could hear Mass and take the Sacrament, a second where a servant placed her food, and the third through which she gave counsel.
However, she did have a companion, in the shape of a cat. This was for entirely practical reasons, in order to keep the rat population down. But it seems likely that Julian and that cat struck up a very close relationship, and that feline certainly must have been a bright light to Saint Julian in those dark times.
Sunday, 8 November 2015
Who is the patron saint of cats?
You might think a likely candidate was Saint Francis of Assisi, but you’d be wrong. St Francis is the patron saint of animals (including cats) but apart from being an all-round good egg when it came to animals he had not extra special affinity for cats.
|Saint Francis of Assisi|
Another possibility is Saint Mary Bartholomew Bagnesi. She lived in the 16th century and was a Dominican nun who suffered poor health. It seems cats liked Mary, and stayed with her in her sick room. Indeed, cats seem to be a sort of guardian angel for Mary.
“At least once when the cats knew Maria was hungry and hadn’t been looked after they went and fetched cheese for her to eat.” The Catholic Herald.
|Mary Bartholomew Bagnesi|
But no, Mary is not the saint we are looking for: Her area of patronage falls on the abused, the sick, and as a protector of parents.
|Gertrude of Nivelles|
Patron saint of cats
Rather confusingly with some rats
In truth this is a trick question because there is no ‘official’ patron saint of cats, although St. Gertrude of Nivelles unofficially holds the honor. Gertrude is the patron saint of travelers, gardeners, and protects against mental illness…and rats. The latter is possibly where her associated with cats began.
Many pictures of Saint Gertrude show her with a mouse on her staff, which is where it all gets a little confusing.
Whilst she was said to protect against rats and mice, the mice shown with her in pictures are said to represent the souls of the recently deceased in purgatory (whom she is also patron saint of). Whichever way round things are (mice good or mice bad) it seems Gertrude was kind to all the cats in the convent gardens, and cats were encouraged there in order to keep the vermin population under control.
Gertrude was born in Belgium, in 626, and died aged 33, in 659. However, it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that she popularly became linked to cats, so perhaps it was more wishful thinking than fact, to put right a wrong that cats should have their own saint.
Oh, and Gertrude's saint's day is March 17.