Down The Common

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Overview

Ann Baer has produced a sensitive, knowledgeable month-by-month account of the hardships suffered by Marion and Peter Carpenter, set from March through the following February of one year of their struggle for existence in Medieval England.... Ann Baer has given the world an immeasurable gift with the writing of Down the Common. Her attention to detail paints a crystal clear picture of the pain, the beauty of nature, and the steadfastness of people to whom each day was unceasing ...

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Overview

Ann Baer has produced a sensitive, knowledgeable month-by-month account of the hardships suffered by Marion and Peter Carpenter, set from March through the following February of one year of their struggle for existence in Medieval England.... Ann Baer has given the world an immeasurable gift with the writing of Down the Common. Her attention to detail paints a crystal clear picture of the pain, the beauty of nature, and the steadfastness of people to whom each day was unceasing toil. —The Midwest Book Review.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Quietly contemplative and informative, Baer's understated narrative records one day in each month of a year in the life of Marion, an ordinary peasant woman in medieval England. It's a life of unceasing labor and multiple childbirths, a day-to-day drudgery in which endurance is all that she can hope for. Married for 14 years to Peter, the village carpenter, Marion has two surviving children, eight-year-old Peterkin, whose left hand and foot are twisted and useless due to burns suffered in an accident, and healthy two-year-old toddler Alice. The family lives in a one-room thatch-roofed cottage, one of fewer than a dozen that make up the village. It's cold and dark. Cleanliness is impossible, the battle against mice and rats constant. All the villagers are obligated to their feudal lord, owing not only their labor but also a certain portion of their food and livestock. Self-awareness and self-determination are concepts foreign to the villagers, though Marion, who isn't terribly introspective, does question the meaning and quality of her arduous life. In her first novel, Baer, who's 82, admirably conjures up the conditions of medieval existence, Marion's backbreaking work, her ill health and constant exhaustion. Unfortunately, the characters' earthy stoicism informs the prose and the narrative, neither of which is lively enough to enable readers to take much pleasure in the author's evident diligence. Illustrations by the author; not seen by PW. (May) FYI: Baer was for many years a director of Ganymed Press.
Kirkus Reviews
More a feat of historical imagination than a conventional novel, this 82-year-old author's first fiction presents a year in the life of a rural peasant in medieval England.

Marion, wife of Peter Carpenter, has had a life marked by tragedy—most importantly, the deaths of several children, one of whom she still most especially mourns. She has also enjoyed some relative good fortune, with a generally reliable husband and, as the miller's daughter, automatic respect in the community. As the year passes, Marion is principally occupied with preparing for the winter ahead and tending to her children. She worries about the future of her lame son Peterkin, who will never be able to do an adult man's work, and she is pleased, if bemused, by the rapid development of her gifted young daughter Alice. Marion's year is filled with chores—baking, spinning, gardening—and with routine hardships—dealing with cold, hunger, illness, and pain. Meanwhile, some change occurs: Marion's sickly daughter Margery dies; a friend's husband, whom Marion once loved herself, falls victim to an infection; M'Dame, wife of the feudal lord, becomes pregnant; Peter acquires new authority after participating in a successful expedition to get salt; and a neighboring family descends into squalor. But as Marion goes about her day-to-day activities—figuring out how to put out a fire when her only pails are full of milk, wondering what she really looks like when she has seen her reflection only in pools, mediating Peter's anger at his son's carelessness, or enjoying a rare good night's sleep—her greatest concerns are immediate, practical, and intimately related to the circumstances of time and place.

The need to turn Marion into Everywoman sometimes puts an undue burden on the novel, but, still, Baer has crafted a persuasive and scrupulously detailed account, locating the universal in the specifics of one modest life.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871318749
  • Publisher: M. Evans & Company
  • Publication date: 10/25/1998
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.66 (w) x 8.94 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2006

    it's a keeper!

    I have been looking for this book since I first read it about 7 years ago! The only bad thing about it is that it comes to an end. I absolutely loved every page. I have been interested in village medieval life since then and I've read some other books, but now that I've finally found it, I'll definitely buy it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2005

    An absolute gem

    I found this a fascinating read, one I have repeated several times. As a researcher with a particular interest in the ordinary person as opposed to notable figures in history, I thoroughly enjoyed the detailed descriptions and as a mother I found a great deal of empathy with Marion. The author admirably illustrated not only those features of a woman's life that remain constant in any era, but also the unimaginable hardships that were endured without a second thought. Highly recommended

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2002

    I loved Down The Common!

    So little has been written about the daily lives of ordinary villagers, especially women, in medieval times. This wonderful fictionalised account is packed with information and beauty. It is most carefully researched. Because they left few permanent artifacts, and because they were illiterate and historically unimportant, ordinary women before the industrial age have been neglected in literature. This book remedies that. It depicts a year in the life of a village wife and mother. Water must be fetched, usually uphill. Women's work. Fuel must be gathered, fires must be tended, food prepared, and children reared. Women's work. In spite of the drudgery and discomfort, Marion, wife of Peter, a carpenter, finds beauty and joy in this month-by-month celebration of village life in a time before glass windows, running water, and all the comforts we have come to regard as necessary. No detail of women's lives, however intimate, has been neglected. The interdependence of the villagers, through good times and crises, such as a house fire, and a lack of salt are depicted. This book stands alone, and should be required reading for anyone who wants to know the real details of medieval life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2002

    It was ok

    I had to read this for a class in college and although I might have read it on my own its not a real page turner. If you want or need to know about the life of a woman in medieval times then its great. Marion is a true hero in all she had to deal with in her life. One only has to look up from the pages and be grateful no matter what your own circumstances are. It was an ok read.

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