Saturday 25 October 2008

Vignettes in History

Finished October 24
The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys
I got this book for Christmas last year and have been reading bits of it slowly since the spring. I finished it off as I was enroute to a readers' advisory seminar where Humphreys was the lunch speaker. It is a fascinating idea done extremely well. She researched all the times the Thames in London froze over between 1142 and 1895 and wrote vignettes for each of those instances. They are short, each 5 pages or less, and interspersed with illustrations. Each one is a engrossing look at a moment in time and the points of view are extremely varied. All of the stories are based on real events and give a strong sense of time and place.
I was also fascinated by the interesting information given in passing in the stories, things like the interesting taxes conceived of over time. In one story there is mention of the Hearth Tax, a tax based on the number of hearths in a building. It made me think of the more recent British tax on televisions, a modern day sort of hearth. There is another story that mentioned window taxes, the result of which is windows that were bricked up.
What all of the stories have, of course, is the frozen river and the nature of the ice for that particular time. The ice is varied, smooth and hard, thin and dangerous, bumpy or consisting of large pieces frozen together. The characters are influenced by this weather phenomenom and some make life changes because of it.
This is one of the most interesting and fascinating books that I've ever read, and I know I will go back to it often.

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