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Lady at the Window: The Lost Journal of Julian of Norwich.  Robert Waldron. 

April 5, 2020

Lady at the Window
Lady at the Window: The Lost Journal of Julian of Norwich : A Novella.  Robert Waldron.  Paraclete Fiction, 2020.

Forthcoming: April 2020.

3 stars

An imaginary journal kept by medieval anchoress during the last Holy Week of her life expressing her longing for a sense of the presence of God and her belief that “All will be well.”

Robert Waldron is a Roman Catholic author who has published about the life and writing of Thomas Merton and Henri Nouman, several novels, and articles on modern spirituality.  He has received awards from the National Endowment of the Humanities, the National Press Association, and the Catholic Press Association.  He was born and raised in Boston where he still lives and continues to teach at the Boston Latin School.

Lady Julian of Norwich (1342-c.1416) was an English mystic and anchoress.  In her later years she lived in a tiny cell attached to the church of Saint Julian in Norwich England.  One of her small windows looked out on the church itself, from which she observed the rituals that sustained her, and the other allowed her to see and nurture individuals in need of her nurture and guidance.  She is known from her book The Revelations of Divine Love, or her Shewings, which she wrote in the 1370s and which was probably the first book written in England by a woman.

Robert Waldon’s book is an imaginary account of Julian’s thoughts and feelings in a fictional journal of hers, which had allegedly been kept secret and recently found and shared.  It is intended to follow her through the last Holy Week of her life and includes themes and images from her earlier life.  She mulls over the problems that others bring to her and the absence of the intense feeling of God’s presence that had been present in other periods of her life.  Yet the belief she holds most closely and shares with others is that, despite human sinfulness and pain, God is nurturing, not wrathful.    At times she uses female imagery of “Mother Jesus” to convey this idea.  In his “Afterword,” Waldron discusses the importance of such ideas in our world today.

I am no expert on Julian or her ideas.  I cannot judge the accuracy of Waldron’s depiction.  I do know something of general outlines of Julian’s beliefs. Some of her distinctive phrases and images came back to me as I read.  I suspect that these originated in her earlier Shewing, but his depiction of her marriage and motherhood before she became an anchorite is totally imaginary.  At times I wondered if the ideas that Waldron ascribed to Julian were hers and what they shaded into the writings of current theologians that Waldron admires.  I suspect that Julian suggested and foreshadowed current discussions, for example of nurturing, female images of God, but perhaps she didn’t development them as much as Waldron does.  I was also bothered by the occasional use of medieval spellings of common words like sinne, sunn, and lyking which simply interrupted my focus on Julian.

But my complaints are minor.  I am glad to have Julian available to additional readers, and I suspect this book will fulfill that goal.  Those readers most likely to appreciate Lady at the Window will be those reading it as a devotional book or one that simply expands their ways of thinking about their faith.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 5, 2020 10:19 pm

    Isn’t it strange that no woman author has chosen to write about her? I mean, first woman to publish a book and all that!
    Robyn Cadwallader wrote a novel called The Anchoress, but that wasn’t based on Lady Julian…

    • April 8, 2020 10:29 am

      I agree. Perhaps it is because Julian left little writing or other evidence for anyone to use. And I am no expert, but wonder how different her ideas were from other Medieval figures who used nurturing images of God. I suspect that Waldron may be exaggerating how novel she was. Hildegard of Bingen is much more explicit in her use of female imagery–and more widely written about today.

      I liked The Anchoress better this book, partly because it was a better novel and partly because it was honestly fictional. But then I often complain when authors are as unclear about what can be known and what is imaginary as Waldron does here.

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