Tuesday 30 May 2023

Victoria MacKenzie, "For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy On My Little Pain"

Victoria MacKenzie is a fiction writer and poet based in Scotland. Her debut novel, For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy On My Little Pain (Bloomsbury, 2023), explores the lives of the medieval mystics Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe. She has won a number of writing prizes including a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award and the Emerging Writer Award from Moniack Mhor, and has held writing residencies in Scotland, Finland and Australia. Her second novel, Brantwood, about the Victorian art critic John Ruskin, will be published by Bloomsbury in 2025. Her website is here

About For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy On My Little Pain

For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy On My Little Pain is a novel based on the lives of two real women, Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe. Both women have visions of Christ, but to claim direct communication with God is heresy – and the punishment for heresy is to be burnt alive. Using intertwined first-person narratives, Julian and Margery tell the stories of their lives. Margery is a traumatised mother of fourteen, full of shame about sex and childbirth, and hounded by the church for talking about her visions. Julian is an anchoress – haunted by grief, she has lived for twenty-three years in a single room. She has told no one of her visions, but she has written them down in secret. Her book, now known as Revelations of Divine Love, is the first book in English by a woman.

The novel culminates in a meeting between the two women at the window of Julian’s anchoress cell, where they confide their deepest fears. Margery is inspired to return home and dictate the story of her own life: The Book of Margery Kempe is the first known autobiography in English. For Thy Great Pain is a novel about grief, motherhood and grace, and it’s also the story of the beginning of women’s writing.

You can read a review of For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy On My Little Pain on Everybody's Reviewing here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the novel. 

From For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy On My Little Pain, by Victoria MacKenzie


Those early days, weeks, months, years of being in my cell – I am glad I will not live through them again. Though I knew that God would send me trials and tribulations, I did not predict the form that these would take. 

I had thought I was ready for the life of an anchoress. I had wanted to prolong each moment of my life, to get closer to experiencing time as God experiences it: not the instantly dissolving moment, but something larger and more encompassing. A stillness that doesn’t pass as soon as you think yourself into it.

I’d thought I would live as slowly as moss in my stone cell. I’d thought I would step out of my life as soon as I stepped into the cell. But I was still me. Nothing had changed. I was myself, with all my usual racing thoughts and yearnings and memories and foolishness.

Nothing can prepare you for spending the rest of your life in a single room. Never to be touched by another human being. Never to run. Never to feel the rain on your face. Never to walk in the garden and see flowers unfolding their colours and scents. 

I had died to the world, died to my old life, but I was not dead. 

Sara brought me food and firewood, but in those early days we did not know each other. She was careful to follow Master Thomas’ orders not to distract me with what he called ‘women’s chatter’. She treated me like a holy saint, whispering ‘Mother Julian, I have your supper.’ I could almost hear her curtseying on the other side of the curtain. 

How I yearned for women’s chatter.

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