Victoria Mackenzie ~ For Thy Great Pain, Have Mercy On My Little Pain
In the year of 1413, two women meet for the first time in the city of Norwich.
Margery has left her fourteen children and husband behind to make her journey. Her visions of Christ – which have long alienated her from her family and neighbours, and incurred her husband’s abuse – have placed her in danger with the men of the Church, who have begun to hound her as a heretic.
Julian, an anchoress, has not left Norwich, nor the cell to which she has been confined, for twenty-three years. She has told no one of her own visions – and knows that time is running out for her to do so.
The two women have stories to tell one another. Stories about girlhood, motherhood, sickness, loss, doubt and belief; revelations more the powerful than the world is ready to hear. Their meeting will change everything.
Having studied and enjoyed the works of both Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich during my Masters, I was excited to hear that there was a novella imagining a situation whereby the two women meet.
Unfortunately, For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy On My Little Pain was a huge disappointment. Despite being a novella, the book dragged on and was effectively little more than a description of the hardships the two women had faced. We all know that life was extremely hard during the Medieval times, and this was written realistically, but the premise spoke of a meeting; this did not occur until right at the end of the book and was fleeting to say the least.
The book does provide a good insight into how female mystics were treated – reviled, rather than revered as their male counterparts were – and it also provides a good insight into religion at the time. It also acknowledges the women’s awareness of their flaws and vulnerabilities; despite their faith, they do not feel that they have been chosen. That said, neither woman comes across as likeable, and at times they both seem extremely selfish.
For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy On My Little Pain is a brilliant concept, but sadly this little book does not deliver on its premise and was actually quite dull. If you are interested in this topic, I recommend reading the women’s original works, of which translations are available.
Thanks to Bloomsbury Books for my proof copy. Opinions my own.