Two Book Versions of Julian of Norwich’s Revelation

Julian at Norwich Cathedral

Middle English is not so Difficult…

I thought I had found a treasure today whilst browsing in my local bookshop and coming upon a ‘modernish’ version of the Revelations (shewings of ) Julian of Norwich.  Not so!! The book is a 1987 imprint which seeks (or sought) to bring the writings of the Anchoress at Norwich Cathedral to a wider audience, whilst sacrificing the beauty of her poetry to a clunky co-option of her unique expression. I am not opposed to the book per se, but would question the use of an editor (or set thereof) rather than working from the beautiful editing of the definitive book on Julian which captures her voice in all its sublimity,

Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Love. University of Exeter Press, Ed Marian Glasscoe.

I thought for a while about how I would present what is my opinion on the matter of loss in translation, and in how wide dissemination of literature can sacrifice so much in what is an attempt to frame a book and reach an audience that may be unused to the language of Julian. It is highly beneficial for the reader to attempt to read some work in the original.

 The Glasscoe version has an excellent introduction and glossary , which aids in one’s ability to work through this highly original work of a woman from the Middle Ages. The clunky and appalling book which I actually bought and will not name here had somehow managed to take the light right out of this seminal work of literature, so I am not going to name the version, editors or imprint. There are two pieces on Poethead about Julian already, both of which I will attach as link at the end of this piece. One is a discussion on the use of the word Shewings, which is how Julian of Norwich described her visions (in the language of the mid-wife), the other is an excerpt from the Glasscoe. To demonstrate the cause of the headache the book caused in me, I am excerpting two short pieces here. The first are from the UEP (Glasscoe Edition, 1976), the second is a modernist version of Julian which fills out her words to accomodate a modern audience who may not want to bothering themselves with attempting to read in the original adapted version.

And when I was thirty yers old and halfe God sent me a bodely sekeness in which I lay iii days and iii nights ; and on the fourth night I tooke all my rites and wened not a levyed till day. And after this Iangorid forth ii days and ii nights. And on the iii night I wened oftentimes to passyd and so wened they that were with me. And in youngith yet, I thought great sweemeto dye; but for nothing [that] earth that me lekid to levin for .”

Revelation 3, Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Love. University of Exeter Press, Ed Glasscoe,

Then when I was 31 years old God sent me a physical illness and I lay in its grip three days and three nights. On the fourth night I received all the rites of the holy church and did not expect to see the next day. I Lingered on for two more days and nights and on the third night I was convinced that I would die and so were all those around me.”

The example is not the best because it is not her visions but the structuring of the editing of the second version is pretty obvious. The first link attached herein gives a longer excerpt of Julian’s writing :