Sunday, May 8, 2016

Book Review: Pilgrim Kate

Title: Pilgrim Kate

Author: Helen Fern Daringer

Date: 1949

Publisher: Harcourt Brace & World

ISBN: none

Length: 250 pages

Illustrations: drawings by Kate Seredy

Quote: “My conscience bids me worship freely, not after the fashion of the law the King lays down.”

Today's "Sunday book" is another novel, not especially religious or moralistic, except that it's about Christian characters who take their religion very seriously. Life-and-death seriously.

Teenaged sisters Meg and Kate Endicott have always been close...until Meg persists in growing up first. Long before Kate is willing to think about living anywhere except their parents’ home in Scrooby, England, Meg has a male friend. Not a boy friend—a dreadfully dignified and grown-up young man friend. Under his influence Meg becomes so quiet and serious that she’s hardly any fun any more. First she just wants to work all the time; then she doesn’t want to go to church with their parents. She wants to go to a different church, although, or perhaps because, this is the sixteenth century, and being anywhere other than the authorized church—even in a more conservative church—at meeting time is illegal. Sober and responsible though they are, Meg and her lover Gerry will pay for this crime. So will their sympathetic family. 

By the end of the book their parents, Kate, and Kate’s new boy friend are all preparing to become Pilgrims. They’re headed for Holland; American readers should know that their next stop will be Plymouth Rock.

How accurate is this charming historical romance? We may never know. One thing is definitely supported by  facts: while some of our Pilgrims, like Gerry, were very serious religious people, others, like Kate, came along just to be close to friends and family, and some came just for novelty and adventure. Details of the young people’s clothes, meals, chores, home remedies, and schooling (if any) have been researched at length, and are skillfully used to keep the plot moving during the months when all they’re doing is reflecting on this new idea called freedom of conscience.

One detail that sounds right to me is that the girls don’t seem to be terribly burdened by being female. England was still feudal; everyone had some rights, but no person was altogether “free.” Everyone was above some people and below others in a rigid social hierarchy, and there was seldom much point in doing anything except making yourself as comfortable in your position as possible. Meg and Kate are free to prefer  harvesting to cooking and cooking to spinning, and are responsible enough to spin anyway. They respect their elders and are respected by their juniors. Their clothes are showy enough not to embarrass them, but sensible enough that they can do a day’s work. They have some education, which has not consisted entirely of “Be quiet.” Being “commoners” with a comfortable home but no great degree of wealth, they’re allowed to choose their own mates (as rich girls, or even boys, would probably not have been). By sixteenth-to-seventeenth-century standards they’re lucky—this seems to have been a relatively benign period for young women, anyway—and they know it. No fretting because they can’t run off and be Strolling Players, or join the King’s army and fight with broadswords, for these sisters. If that puts them on the passive side by modern standards, it makes them plausible as Renaissance characters. Within their cultural frame, they can be described as sensible, independent, satisfactory fictional teenagers.

Helen Fern Daringer no longer needs a dollar, so this is not a Fair Trade Book. It's becoming hard to find, so the price is $10 per copy plus $5 per package, payable to either of the addresses at the bottom of the screen.