TILL YEAR'S GOOD END: A Calendar of Medieval Labors by W. Nikola-Lisa

TILL YEAR'S GOOD END: A Calendar of Medieval Labors

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Nikola-Lisa (Tangletalk, p. 646, etc.) takes readers through an exhausting, contradictory year of peasant labor, ostensibly covering discrepancies in an author's note but creating instead a medieval muddle. Rhyming couplets ride on banners across each spread--""February/Hunting nets/knot till tight./Wooden bowls/I carve just right""--while paragraphs of explanatory text detail the labors of medieval peasants month by month. Manson's heavily outlined figures labor in relative good humor through the woodcut-like scenes, but don't compensate for the inaccuracies of the project. Before shifting the calendar of the ""medieval agricultural year"" from late September to January, the author introduces readers to the Books of Hours, which had ""the 365 feast days of the Church,"" a number that might have surprised medieval people and which will leave the picture-book set wondering; most scholars report fasting days to number fully half the days of the year. A preoccupation with feasting leads to oversimplification: Nikola-Lisa defines January as ""generally a time of feasting"" and rewards those cutting ripe hay in June with a daily feast, with no mention of autumn harvest celebrations. March finds the farmers engaged in what looks like premature spring planting, and mentions how a cereal crop ""was planted in autumn to be harvested in summer,"" which either belies all sensibility or needs follow-up explication. This is an ill-advised survey, floating blithely over the whole of medieval peasantry and never taking root in a specific geographic area.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
Page count: 32pp
Publisher: Atheneum