Book of Colours is a historical fiction novel by Australian author Robyn Cadwallader.
It is set in the late Middle Ages. The story revolves around a book, a medieval manuscript of prayers. In fourteenth-century England, a book is a rare and treasured item, often a symbol of wealth and status.
The reputable Fitzjohn family has commissioned renowned limner John Dancaster of London to illustrate the pages of the prayer book. It is an important commission as work is scarce.
Robert Fitzjohn is caught up in the rebellion against Edward II and is often called away from the manor house. In his absence, his wife Lady Mathilda is left to manage the affairs of the estate. This is a difficult task, bearing in mind the widespread poverty and unemployment.
When her husband dies Lady Mathilda is forced to flee with her daughters.
It is during these difficult and dangerous times the illuminated prayer book becomes a source of comfort and consolation, providing inspiration and understanding.
There is much we can gain from Lady Mathilda’s experience of grief. Her feelings of loss were overtaken by the immediate concerns for her family’s safety. We read,
“But Robert’s death is so different. It is two months since he died and she’s surprised at this grief that is more a shadow, or a haunting, than loss. She gropes for the pain in her heart, hopes for tears and sobbing, but they’re not there. Perhaps it was the running and fear, listening to every new noise, planning everyone’s safety, and not just her own. So much to think about that there was no room for crying.”
Lady Mathilda is able to connect with her husband through the objects she holds on to, simple reminders that speak of a life lived and a love shared. We read,
“It is objects she realises, things that she can hold and feel, that have marked her way through these past weeks (since her husband’s death)”
I have been thinking about the objects I value, objects that remind me of people now deceased, people who loved me and shaped my life.
My appreciation for the things my father wrote has grown of late. Perhaps it has to do with my own desire to express myself through the written word. His contributions include The Rickard Story, Vegetable Gardening At Home and his Book of Prayers. They all have something important to say.
My father’s Book of Prayers is made up of loose leaf pages arranged in a small ring binder. It features prayers he gave in the Tyabb Uniting Church during the latter years of his life. The prayers reflect his attitude to life, an overwhelming sense of gratitude for this land and its people. Here is a sample:
Father in heaven,
We bring You our gratitude for the diversity and wealth of this land and its people: for its weathered old mountains, fertile valleys and vast plains; for its riches of mine and agriculture, forest, and grazing lands; for our ‘indigenous’ people who know and love this continent with an intimate, profound sensitivity; for the courage, vision, and sacrifice of the early settlers; for the diverse races who now call Australia home.
My mother’s white bible resides in our bookcase. I recall seeing the Bible on her bedside table. I also have a memory of my mother sitting on her bed with the Bible in her lap. Mum read the Bible daily. It brought her near to her Maker and gave her ‘simple’ life dignity and purpose.
I was looking at the dedication page recently. The writing is in my mother’s hand. It says I gave the bible to her in 1972, 46 years ago. The bible speaks to me of my mother’s devotion and encourages me to find my life’s purpose and destiny.
Following our son Adam’s death in 2011 we were reluctant to get rid of his personal belongings. Suicide is the violent removal of a life from the family circle. We felt the need to retain every remembrance, to preserve what remained. It seemed sacrilegious to dispose of it.
In circumstances where the relationship is broken there may be a different motivation. There might be a desire to remove every remembrance of the person, to erase them from your life.
We have Adam’s work helmet, a toolbox, a backpack, a fishing rod, a selection of fly’s, a camera, a wallet, cricket trophies and various items of clothing.
The one item that has allowed me to connect with Adam is his jacket. We have photos of him wearing it to family gatherings. It represents happier times. I often wear his jacket when I go for walks. It’s not that I feel his presence. Rather, it’s a simple connection. It’s as though I’m granted permission to think about him.
This same idea is expressed in Michelle Magorian’s book Goodnight Mister Tom. Young Will receives help in the art of drawing by Geoffrey whose injuries preclude further active service in the First World War. Geoffrey has arranged a few objects on the mantelpiece for Will to study. Here is the conversation that ensues.
After they had drunk their tea Geoffrey put the teapot on the mantelpiece above the fire. Beside it, he placed a photograph of two young men with their arms around each other. They seemed to be laughing a great deal. In front of the teapot, he laid his pipe.
‘Those are your subjects for this afternoon.’
Will recognised one of the young men as Geoffrey. ‘Who’s the other man?’ he asked. ‘Is he your brother?’
‘Best friend,’ he replied. ‘Killed in action. Very talented. A brilliant sculpture.
‘Oh,’ said Will.
‘That’s his pipe actually.’
‘You use his pipe?’
‘Yes. I know he would have wanted me to have it. It makes him still a little alive for me whenever I smoke it. Do you understand?’
Objects of remembrance can be anything that allows a simple connection with those who are deceased. They can be a piece of furniture, an item of jewellery, a picture, a plant, a favourite song, or a portrait painting. They draw us in, allowing us to remember and give thanks.