This novel is a virtual time machine that takes the reader back to 11th century England—the time of Saxon domination before and after the disastrous Battle of Hastings in 1066. Step directly into the footsteps of Cuthwin of Alnwick. There are few “great men or women” in this historical novel, but instead the story of an ordinary man and his wife who work to survive. Cuthwin, who dictates his story around his 85th year of life, scrupulously avoided people of great power and standing. As he told his wife, the fiery Cwenburh, “such folk as we, are pebbles and dirt under heavy merciless wheels of great men and women.” So, follow the real medieval life, and not that of fantasy and privilege. Via the combination of conscientious research and robust storytelling, “Cuthwin” is a historical novel dealing respectfully with its period and people.
For a thoroughly researched, accurate history and understanding of these medieval times, to discover the motives behind plot development, engage in character analysis, or unmask reasons for religious commentary conveyed throughout the telling of this tale…or if you’re curious as to why Warner felt compelled to write this book, please visit: CuthwinandCwenburh.com
Irving Warner is the author of five other books from Pleasure Boat Studio, including In Memory of Hawks and Other Stories of Alaska and The War Journal of Lila Ann Smith. He has traveled extensively throughout his life. He lived in Hawaii for nine years and spent thirty-three years in Alaska. There he worked in fisheries, fisheries science, and wildlife biology and as a teacher at a community college in Kodiak. After that, he settled down in in Port Angeles, Washington, where he has spent the past six years writing THE LIFE & TRAVELS OF SAINT CUTHWIN, and where he has resided for the past fourteen years.
Review quotes from prior work:
About In Memory of Hawks: “Irving Warner is a rare find. His stories are filled with the subtlety and power of the great American masters…He has the touch.” –Jack Olsen, The Pitcher’s Kid / About The War Journal of Lila Ann Smith: “…an unusually well-crafted book. Thoroughly researched, richly detailed, and exceptionally well written.” –David James, Fairbanks News-Miner / “…this book is hard to put down…Warner writes with great depth and intensity of the honor and bravery required for Lila Ann to triumph against the odds.” –Beverly J. Rowe, Women’s Status in Texarkana / About Crossing the Water, The Alaska-Hawaii Trilogies: “The strength…is its realism…masterly woven…unusual and exceptional.” –Teri Davis
Other books by Irving Warner:
The wicked in his pride persecutes the poor; let them be caught in the plots which they have devised. For the wicked boasts his heart’s desire; he blesses the greedy and renounces the Lord. –Psalm 10, ii-iii.
I narrate my life and travels in this year 1097 to good Iswhl-of-Ilchester with modest aims. At onset I remind all that I am Cuthwin the Fencebuilder, who has striven to build and mend fences along the boisterous coast of Kernowec these past thirty-odd years. I am nothing more than most hard-working freedmen, and certainly not a holy man, never having taken tonsure. I am an honest keeper of our Savior’s words, like most Saxon folk. And I am indeed Saxon both in kind and tongue which these last nearly forty years diminishes at court, in market, and croft. Fence-building has ruined my hands for writing or much else; hence Iswhl takes my words spoken, and commits them to writing, but admonishes me to read them over carefully, and I do. Countrymen throughout the hills and shores come to my hermitage and, due to my travels and age, have sought advice on many topics. Since I have knowledge of letters and words, I do my best to share that God-given fortune. Hence, over the years good people have mistakenly attributed age, experience, perhaps wisdom—for holiness. Too often of late I have heard my name uttered in the context of religious gift. So I write this to impart to all, for I will soon be gone: That I began life as a poor man who lived honestly, and will be taken by God in the same humble circumstances. This is what I desire to pass on to those reading of my life and travels.
St. Cuthwin commences the telling of his early life, including his place of birth, and the circumstances of how he came to Peterborough Abby; his youthful education and subsequent departure from Peterborough to commence his early wanderings.
…At the beginning of King Cnut’s long reign, God keep his soul, I was born to a house scull belonging to the Manor of Pilson-of-Withernsea, then an under-tenant to a thane of a Great Lord. There is nothing known of my father, save he was one of many pitiless Danes who ravaged Withernsea. The woman violated was Sarah, keen for the joys of fellowship and good ale, and much less for the hard work of kitchen and hearth. For these trespasses, I was told later, she was oft punished. Because of her ill- balanced humors, I had many brothers and sisters, for I was the eleventh of fourteen. Most of my siblings were rescued in early infancy from this troubled world by merciful God. It was aired even in my person that my father, the Dane, violated territory oft yielded voluntarily or secured trespass in less-than-bad spirited circumstances. It was some weeks after being delivered of her fourteenth child that my mother departed this earth. I was told she died shriven, for her ways oft had been contrary to one of steady faith. I have only vague memory of this poor woman, my mother, but to this day pray for her soul as any true son would. I was raised at commonality in the Manor of Pilson-of-Withernsea until not yet a stripling. I do remember the Lord of the Manor as a largish Saxon with great strands of red hair. He often drank to excess, falling off his horse onto whatever earthly circumstances lay beneath. Working at livery, I would greet the animal as it arrived without its besotted rider. Joined by the Master of Horse’s boy and others, we would search in all directions until we found our Lord. The lad finding him was rewarded with a ha’pence, after which we struggled at litter returning Pilson-of-Withernsea to the Manor proper. This Manor was meager, unlike Norman manors current, though boards always were sufficient of necessity for keeping body and spirit served. At about the time a lad begins finding his staff, I and several serfs were transacted to Gilbert-of-Wharram Percy by our previous master to satisfy debt. Wharram Percy was several leagues from my birthplace and upon soks much different. The Manor House of Gilbert was larger, and I was put in service to one of his trusted housecarls named Alwystle, He was a harsh master for any lad, of loutish nature, quick with cruel hand and foot, a man of colic temper. Thankfully he was slow of wit and easily hooded even by young boys…
3 sample Book Club Questions from the website about The Life & Travels of Saint Cuthwin
2. Cuthwin’s prime motivation for dictating his life to the monks of Cornwall (modern region’s name), was to show contemporary and later people how he was not a saint. The standout example was his inability to forgive. This alone is heretical, but are there others as well?
6. As readers we see Cuthwin make an extraordinary transition from his youth in Peterborough Monastery, to the closing years of his life. First off, we have a transition from the work in the stable, to that of a commercial scribe, to the grueling (comparatively) unskilled labor building stone fences. How did these transitions enhance the fundamental moral compass Cuthwin had?
10. There were many places in the novel where Cuthwin and Cwenburh actions flew in the face of eleventh century (and modern!) Christianity’s basic tenets. In fact, their relationship and child are begotten prior to marriage; her youthful pregnancy didn’t seem to bother Cwenburh one bit. Isn’t this a form of “shopping cart” religion, i.e. that you select here and there bits and pieces of a religion that meet your approval, then ignore others that do not? Does this not limit the serious spiritual standing of Cwenburh and Cuthwin? (Reminder! Cuthwin even ‘forgives’ Cwenburh’s adultery—a most grievous sin both ways.)