25 June, 2006

The Paston Letters - radio dramatisation

The Paston Letters form the oldest known collection of private correspondence in Britain. Written in the 15th century and preserved by a combination of happy accident and enlightened archivists, they present a picture of a medieval family clawing its way up from the peasantry to the landed gentry in medieval Norfolk. Some of the letters are available full-text online, and a quick search on Amazon will turn up several modern editions. Now BBC Radio 4 has dramatised the Pastons' story for the Woman's Hour Drama, broadcast Monday-Friday at 10.45 am and 7.45 pm (UK time) from 19-30 June. Each 15-minute programme is also available on Listen Again for 7 days after broadcast - so if you're quick, you can listen to the first one in the series (Monday 19 June) today or tomorrow.

This came to my attention because of a comment made by Ali, observing that when studying formal history, "the impression you get is that either a) women didn't exist, or b) they spent all their time being victims." Well, the Paston Letters go a long way towards reversing that impression. The Paston women most definitely exist and are very far from being victims - particularly the formidable matriarch Agnes, portrayed in the drama by Rosemary Leach and guaranteed to have you shaking in your shoes.

Entertaining and educational. Click over to Listen Again and enjoy an opportunity to meet some remarkable historical women.

If you listen, or are already listening, or indeed if you've read the originals and/or the modern editions, what did you think?


Susan Higginbotham said...

Does the radio program have anything to do with Helen Castor's recent book about the Paston letters?

Kathryn Warner said...

I read the Paston letters (or some of them) at university. I found them really fascinating. There's one bit that always sticks in my mind, at the end of a letter from Margaret to her husband John Paston, not long after they were married (in modern spelling): You have left me such a remembrance that maketh me to think upon you both day and night when I would sleep. Lovely.

Carla said...

Susan - it doesn't say so explicitly, but a producer may well have come across it, thought it would make a good subject, and commissioned the drama.

Alianore - that's a lovely line. No wonder it stuck in your mind.

Bernita said...

And Katherine, on whose monument her "sad Consort" had written:
"That furture ages might from it collect
Her matchless merit, and his true respect."
- pinched from Antonia Frazer's The Weaker Vessel.
I always have a giggle fit at that expression.

Carla said...

Okay, I've thought about it and I confess I'm still baffled. No doubt I'm being dim here, but what expression is giggle-worthy and why?

Bernita said...

Sorry, wasn't clear.
"The weaker vessel..."