On Ruth Goodman’s ‘How to Be a Tudor’

1631491393.01.LZZZZZZZEd Simon at The Millions:

There is something uncanny about staying in another person’s house — the stark differences and the small convergences of sameness. We all like to snoop a bit. Now, public historian Ruth Goodmangives us the chance to snoop on the lives of people who died 500 years ago. When you’re watchingThe Tudors or Wolf Hall, Goodman is the woman behind the scenes ensuring that the clothes look right, the home interiors are accurate, and the sumptuous feasts are as true to life as possible. InHow to Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Tudor Life, she makes her almost preternatural knowledge about life during the 16th century available to the reading public.

You wouldn’t expect the intricacies of Tudor baking, brewing, ploughing, cooking, needlework, painting, dancing, and card-playing to hold an audience rapt, and yet Goodman makes the minutia of everyday life a half-millennia ago tremendously interesting. Indeed, her voluminous knowledge makes Goodman seem not so much a specialist on period authenticity as an actual time traveler. Ingeniously structuring the book around the hourly rhythms of daily life (with chapters going from “At Cock’s Crow” to “And so to bed”), Goodman transmits information about food, work, medicine, education, leisure, lodging, sleep, and even sexuality. How to Be a Tudor, with its grounding in physical detail and avoidance of theoretical analysis, is true to the guide book genre, but one featuring recipes for veal meatballs (exceedingly expensive at the time) and Galenic medical advice.

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