Hey everyone! I’m back with my June read, Dearer Than Life: A Story of the Times of Wycliffe by Emma Leslie. As always, I will first be doing my content review of it, and then my personal review will be below!
The Synopsis: (Taken From Goodreads)
Arriving home in A.D. 1366 from a meeting of Parliament in London, Sir Hugh Middleton is shocked to learn from his daughter that a neighboring monastery has laid claim to one of his fields. When Sir Hugh drives the monks from his property, his brother, a monk at the monastery, tells him that he has committed a mortal sin, however Sir Hugh steadfastly refuses to yield. He further offends the monastery by sending his younger son, Stephen, to study under Dr. John Wycliffe, who has begun to publicly question the authority of the Church to grant pardon for sin. At the same time, Sir Hugh sends his elder son, Harry, to serve as an attendant to the powerful Duke of Lancaster, who is well-known for his desire to limit the power of the Church and increase the power of the nobility. These are times of great political and religious upheaval as the desire for freedom spreads throughout England and Europe. As Wycliffe’s “poor priests” begin to share the Word of God with the common people, Stephen and Harry and their sisters, Maud and Madge, all find that they have parts to play for the kingdom of God in the turbulent day in which they live.
Positive Messages: The story is predominantly about the four children of Sir Hugh Middleton, Harry, Stephen, Maud and Madge. As the synopsis shows, all four children grow up in wildly different circumstances, Harry in the lavish court of a duke, and Stephen among the poor scholars learning from Dr. Wycliffe. Maud marries a knight and moves to the city, where Madge remains at home with her father and takes care of her elderly grandmother. All four children show good character qualities and care for each other, their elders, and the poor.
Harry, for example, though slightly embarrassed at his younger brother’s humble station, doesn’t tolerate anyone bullying him, and sticks up for him. He tries to keep his brother from hearing the ridicule and never tells him about the reason why he joins a particular tournament in order to humiliate a boy who refused to apologize for calling Stephen a name.
When he’s older and married, the peasants revolt. Because he has been kind to them, they offer to let him escape unscathed, but refuse to allow his wife, who had been cold and cruel to them, to go with him. Rather than save his own skin, he refuses to leave her despite her selfishness and whining.
Stephen, for his part, is very considerate of others, often giving away his own meager meals to starving women and children. He’s also concerned for his sisters, going to them when they’re ill and doing what he can to cheer them up and soothe their worries. He doesn’t care what people think about his decision to leave a life of wealth behind to become a traveling minister, and loyally takes care of Dr. Wycliffe as the man grows older and weaker. He even makes sure two orphaned boys get good roofs over their heads instead of leaving them to be raised by outlaws or starve.
Maud gets her defining moment early on when she selflessly sacrifices her new dress to make her brother Harry a presentable shirt for traveling to meet the duke he was to serve under. This causes a friend of her brother Stephen to admire her, and later on he marries her. After that, she does what she can to help people, taking in a little orphan boy and helping to write some of Wycliffe’s books for others. When she has her daughter, she seems to be very concerned for her, and seems to truly love her husband and family very deeply, worrying for them when there is turmoil in the land.
Madge gets the least time of the four children in the book, but even then, it is said she is always helping the poor in her town, reading Wycliffe’s works to them, and also helping her brother Stephen write some of them to distribute to others to read. She also comforts her anxious sister, and helps soften her old grandmother’s heart towards Wycliffe’s teachings.
A knight loses his temper and acts rashly, but then repents the next day. Another knight befriends a Jew and leaves him responsible for his son’s money so that the boy doesn’t squander the money. The Jew gladly helps the sick friends of his friend.
A priest encourages some ladies to do good to others. A knight attempts to make peace between a king and his uncle. A bunch of peasants determine to protect their overlord’s family even in the midst of a peasant uprising. A little boy is loyal to the man who rescued him and determines to keep him safe in a dangerous area.
Spiritual Content: There is a lot of Spiritual content in this book, especially as I would consider it a church-history fiction book. It talks a lot about Wycliffe disagreeing with confessing to a priest, the church’s power to forgive sins, and the transubstantiation, as well as people learning to read the Bible and the reactions of devout Catholics to the attempts at reforming.
A woman goes on a pilgrimage. Girls go to a confessor and pray to the Virgin Mary. Once married, Maud seems unsure about not going to a confessor, and wishes her husband would employ one. People cross themselves and listen to the Bible being read aloud. “Poor priests” go about preaching the Gospel. People ask the saints to bless people. People write and give out tracts of Dr. Wycliffe’s writings.
There’s talk of Papal Bulls and the bishops and other church leader’s attempts to silence Wycliffe and his followers. There is talk of religious liberty and Wycliffe writes a tract on the fact that there are two popes at one time.
A woman has a priest come to give her the last rites and she gives all her property to the church in exchange for masses being said for her to get her out of purgatory.
There is more, but it is all along the same lines as these. Sometimes it can get a little boring with all the historical details, as well as confusing at what all the old terms mean, but for the most part, it’s a very interesting book, focusing more on the historical events rather than being “preachy”.
Romantic Content: Maud marries one of Stephen’s friends, and they have a daughter. Harry marries a spoiled girl with a lot of wealth. There is nothing inappropriate in the book, but the romance isn’t even developed between either character, and it’s just mentioned off the top that the couples are engaged. Because of that I rate this section four stars.
Violent Content: None of the content is extremely detailed, but there is some violent content in this story.
A girl is slapped by her grandmother. A knight goes and whips some monks for daring to seize a portion of his property while he is away at court. A Jew is fearful that, if his wealth and presence is known in a city, people will attack him and seize his possessions. A couple people become sick with the “ague”, and one man gets struck by paralysis.
A young man strikes another with the flat side of a dagger before demanding single combat in a tournament. During the tournament, they unhorse each other and one wounds the other in the side to where he is unable to get up again.
There is talk of war with France and being attacked by Scotland. Bishops and other church leaders want to imprison people who side with Wycliffe and do succeed with some. A woman grows so anxious for her loved ones’ safety, she makes herself sick. A man faints when he hears he may be excommunicated. A woman and her father suddenly die. Another woman dies of starvation.
The worst violence in the book occurs during the peasant uprising when a homestead is burned. A woman is hit in the head by a rock and loses much blood from it as the mob refuses to let her pass. The crowd kills tax collectors and uses whatever weapons they can find to enact revenge. A man binds the woman’s head with a cloth, but soon she grows ill and ends up dying.
Language Content: People calling others names such as “heretics”, “Lollards” and “knaves” as insults are the extent of the “language” in this book. An old Jew is called a miser.
Other Negative Content: A priest attempts to swindle a young nobleman with a fake charm. A man marries a woman who is very petulant and spoiled, whining all the time even when he saves her life. Most of the priests and monks are shown to try to swindle or con more money out of people over tiny disputes. One such dispute lasts for years and wastes a lot of money.
A nobleman only sides with Wycliffe for political gain, and also attempts to steal the throne before his nephew, the rightful heir, can be crowned. An older woman tries to thwart the attempts of her granddaughters to help their brothers prepare to leave home. She slaps one granddaughter, and basically steals much of the fine material they would need for clothes and gives it to the church.
Total Content Rating: 4.25/5 Stars
I picked up this book predominantly because of the time period in which it was set, the 1300s, and because I’ve read another of Emma Leslie’s books, Faithful But Not Famous, which has been my favorite of hers. Dearer Than Life, though good, did not hold my attention as much as the previously mentioned book.
The story focuses mostly on three siblings, Harry, Steven, and Maud, and the different ways their lives diverge as they grow up. It shows how each of them comes to accept the truth of the Bible and Wycliffe’s teachings, even from their own wildly different experiences. The characters were enjoyable, although I felt it was hard to really get to know them because of how many of them there were and the author constantly hopping back and forth between one to another (not to mention the time skips). My favorite was probably Harry, solely for the one scene where he sticks up for his brother and wins a joust to save his honor, all without Stephen even knowing about it.
The book was interesting, packed with historical details but not in a way where I felt overwhelmed or that I had to force myself to finish the book. A few times I skimmed some passages of history or theology, but besides those, it was interesting, but definitely told from a Protestant slant. I will also mention here, it’s written in an Old English style (with “thees” and “thous”,) but there are meanings of some of the more unusual words written in the footnotes of the page in which they appear.
In all, I did enjoy this book and the historical details, and most the characters were likable, even though I felt detached from them. I would recommend for anyone who likes history, church history, medieval stories, and Christian historical fiction.
Personal Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
I hope you enjoyed my review of this book and thanks for reading it! Have you read this book? Did you like it? If you haven’t, do you think you will? Let me know in the comments below! God bless! ~ Kay Leigh
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