The Cloister and the Hearth: A Tale of the Middle Ages



Book: The Cloister and the Hearth: A Tale of the Middle Ages

Author: Charles Reade

Publisher: Kessinger Publishing LLC, republished in 2005

ISBN-13: 978-1432626723 (Hardcover)

ISBN-10: 1432626728 (Hardcover)

ISBN-13: 978-1490437699 (Paperback)

ISBN-10: 149043769X (Paperback)

Related website: (publisher)

Language level: 1

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 12 and up

Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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Reade, Charles.  The Cloister and the Hearth: A Tale of the Middle Ages (originally published in 1861; republished in 2002 by A Beka Book, a division of Pensacola Christian College, Pensacola, FL).  It is the latter half of the fifteenth century, and twenty-two year old Gerard Eliassoen is the eldest of nine children of Elias, a cloth merchant, and his wife Catherine of Tergou, Holland.  His next two younger brothers, Richart and Jacob, have left for work in Amsterdam.  Another brother became a tailor, and his oldest sister a robe maker.  That left four others at home, the dwarf Giles, the crippled Kate, and the two youngest, Cornelis and Sybrant, both ne’er-do-wells.  Gerard has been taught by the monks, became a scribe and illuminator, and is destined for service in the Church.  However, on the way to a contest in Rotterdam, where some of his work has been entered, he meets Peter Brandt, a physician from the nearby village of Sevenbergen, and immediately falls in love with the doctor’s daughter Margaret.  They also run across Ghysbrecht van Swieten, Burgomaster of Tergou, who years before had secretly cheated Peter’s father out of a huge sum of money.

Gerard decides that he will not become a priest, and he and Margaret privately elope.  Gerard’s father opposes their relationship, and Ghysbrecht is afraid that Gerard may find out how he had cheated the Brandts, so Gerard is arrested.  With the help of Margaret and an old friend of the Brandt’s named Martin, Gerard escapes and goes to Italy, hoping to gain information that will clear him.  Meanwhile, Cornelis and Sybrant are jealous of their brother and conspire with Ghysbrecht to steal a letter being sent by a messenger from Margaret to Gerard and substitute a message stating that she has died, so he goes ahead and becomes a monk.  Soon, Margaret gives birth to her and Gerard’s child, little Gerard.  How can all this mess be resolved?  Will Gerard and Margaret ever be able to get back together?  And what will happen to the child?   A fictional account of the birth of Desiderius Erasmus who is thought to have been born Gerard Gerardson, The Cloister and the Hearth is a typical Victorian novel with all kinds of story twists and subplots, having as its main theme the struggle between man’s obligations to family and to Church.

From an educational standpoint, the book contains a meticulous recreation of fifteenth-century European life with mention of various historical persons, often describing the events, people, and practices in minute detail.  From an ethical standpoint, there are many references to drinking wine, but there also incidents which show the dangers of alcohol abuse.  Also, it shows how important religion was to the lives of people at that time.  At his lowest ebb, Gerard contemplates suicide but prays and turns away from his plan.  Of course, the religion portrayed is Roman Catholic, and many practices with which non-Catholics will disagree, such as praying to saints  and the demands of priestly celibacy, which even Reade admits is a “not quite reasonable” only a couple of pages from the end, are mentioned, but this is simply part of the historical background.   It is not an easy read, with dialogue is written in a deliberately archaic style intended to evoke the Middle Ages, but it well illustrates how proper attitudes “could raise two truelovers’ hearts to the loving heart of their Father in Heaven.”

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