THE GOLDEN HAND by Edith Simon
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A rewarding experience -- the reading of this richly detailed period novel of life in medieval England. The times are those of Richard II, when the manorial system kept the peasantry in fief, virtual slaves of the local squire -- when the Black Death decimated the population and brought the seething unrest to a head in the peasant uprising of 1381, led by Wat Tyler -- when his violent death and the quick reprisals of authority brought failure and a revocation of the King's grants -- when the building of a great cathedral, such as the one that occupied all of a community in this tale, highlighted an age of faith in miracles and provoked jealousies, ambitions, crooked dealings among the religious orders seeking precedence. It is a teeming canvas she has given us, and deserves to rate a comparison with such memorable books as Hope Muntz' Golden Warrior. Specifically the story itself is built around the Widowson family, from Edwin, who committed a sin for which he performed lifelong penance, in selling the golden hand and substituting a miracle-working leprous hand which became the supreme relic around which a cathedral was to be erected -- to his sons, craftsmen all, with chief among them Alfred, who became Priest and Abbott, when his beloved, niece of the ruling squire, Sir Hugh, was forced by her mother to marry Luke, the Flemish business partner. It is the story, too, of Jane, whose black magic was used for good in the community until she became involved with the reluctant Gervase, heir to the manor. It is a strangely holding story, despite its great length and at times tedious meanderings. Books of this type have an uphill battle; this one deserves all the individual enthusiasm you can put behind it.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1952
Publisher: Putnam