Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The World is Not Enough

Whew! I just got back from a week in 12th century France, courtesy of my friend Zoe Olderbourg. (slaps a flea biting her arm) I bought this book, The World is Not Enough, a while back, and have tried to read it several times, but couldn’t get into it. This time, man, I got into it and couldn’t put it down!

We enter at the wedding of Alis to Ansiau, she (slapping the flea on my neck) the 14 year old daughter of Joceran of Puiseaux, Ansiau the son of Ansiau the Elder, castellan of Linnieres, who knows he is dying and wants to see his line continue before he goes.

“The two of them, standing there, were moved, as two children must be who have just been washed, dressed, lectured and left at teh altar by their parents in front of all the guests, their brothers, their sisters, their uncles, their playmates. They were so little alike. He was a boy and she a girl.”

Alis and Ansiau marry and fall quickly in love. (checking the bedding for fleas) They hunt, they go to tournements, Ansiau goes off on Crusade to the Holy Land – twice. Alis runs the daily life of the castle, has twenty pregnancies, 12 children who live. Ansiau has a mid-life crisis. In their late 50’s, we leave them, scratching one another’s flea bites and looking off into the sunset.

Reading this book, you are totally immersed in the daily life of the nobility. The nobility, as it turns out, are the original credit-crazy spenders – they borrowed against their inheiritance, they borrowed against their lands, they borrowed against their doweries. They were constantly short funds, and constantly mortgaging their future for a few baubles today.

The “castle” had a great hall downstairs, where most of the men slept and where cows and horses and chickens and sheep were brought if it got too cold in the stables in the winter, and up a laddar, one great room where there was one big bed for the king and queen and whoever else they invited to sleep there, and a couple other beds, mostly shared by four or five people. This was where ladies slept, and hung out, and embroidered, and (scratching at a fleabite on the ankle) exchanged gossip.

It was a fascinating visit into a world with no running water, no heat, no air conditioning, where babies died at birth as often as not. It was a world where people caught smallpox, and the lucky ones, those who survived, lived the rest of their lives with pock marks like craters on their faces. It was a world where the nobility didn’t read, and there were no books except in the monasteries. Only priests were authorized to read and explain scripture. It was a world where wolves and bear still roamed the forests of France.

The book is set near Troyes and Langres, in the Champagne area of France. Zoe Oldenburg captures the poverty and brutality suffered by the majority of people, rich and poor alike, without sacrificing the human joys and kindnesses which brightened the world, and made life worth living. The book is so realistic and richly detailed that you will be looking for flea bites when you finish!

September 27, 2006 - Posted by | Books, Family Issues, Fiction, France, Uncategorized, Women's Issues


  1. I read this book 45 years ago and every now and then it pops into my mind so great was the impression it made on me.If I ever run across it again I will certainly read it again. If i Might be so bold as to suggest you read “The Reason Why” by Cecil Woodham Smith. In my opinion it is the definitive book on the charge of the light brigade. The first part of the book delves into the Two principle characters responsible for the debacle that ensues at Balaclava.The author did extensive research and had access to many of the personal papers of the main characters,she even shows a copy of the original order that led to the disaterous charge.

    Comment by bill | February 14, 2009 | Reply

  2. Hmm. Thanks, Bill for the recommendation. I will take a look and add it to the stack of “books I want to read before I die!” 😉

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 14, 2009 | Reply

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