Monday, November 5, 2007

CATHERINE CALLED BIRDY (Genre: Historical Fiction)

Bibliographic Data:
Title: Catherine Called Birdy
Author: Karen Cushman
Publisher: HarperTrophy
Publication Date: May 1995
ISBN: 9780064405843

Plot Summary:
Catherine, or Birdy, is a young woman living in the Middle Ages. Having come upon marriageable age, her father decides to act. Through many attempts to foil her would be suitors, Catherine shows the reader the realities and some of the fantasies of life in the Middle Ages for a young woman of means.

Critical Analysis:
Birdy is an unusual character who by expressing her personal distaste of her suitors would not react the way that a normal female in her position during the Middle Ages would. While I find the book amusing, the presentation of women's roles in the Middle Ages is inaccurate in regard to Birdy as a character. Other characters, such as Birdy's friend Aelis, are truer to the spirit of young women in the Middle Ages.

This book would have to, in my opinion, be used for comparison and contrast purposes as it does not at all accurately reflect Birdy's position in life nor does it reflect the manner in which a young woman in her position would react. While other characters behave in a traditional fashion, the author takes great liberties to give Birdy freedoms that would have resulted in punishments more severe than those that she endured in the text. Additionally the freedoms to run away (without an escort of any variety) and to associate with the local goatherder probably also would not have been allowed.

I will credit the author with remaining true to history. Jacobs & Tunnell (1996) note that historical accuracy is paramount and that historical occurances must not be ignored or white washed. Certainly Cushman recognized that young women in the Middle Ages, such as Birdy's friend Aelis, would be married to even younger men and that death could befall the spouse before the marriage was even consummated. Additionally Cushman often remained true to the physical environment (such as the fleas upon Birdy and the condition of the rushes in the main dining area), the patterns of daily living (Birdy's embroidery in the solar), and the spirit of the times (the daily events and happenings within the village and with the villagers.)
What saddened me most in reading this book was that while Cushman seemed to take great pains to be historically accurate, even to the recounting of Queen Eleanor's death, she took great liberties with the main character and painted an unreasonable portrait of life for a young lady in the Middle Age period.

Editorial Reviews:
Publishers Weekly
``You can run, but you can't hide'' is the rather belated conclusion reached by Catherine, called ``Birdy'' for her caged pets, in this fictive diary of a medieval young woman's coming-of-age and struggle for self-determination. Escaping regularly into a fantasy life of daring escapades and righteous battles, Birdy manages to postpone the inevitable sale of herself as a wife to a very unwelcome suitor. Just as she resigns herself to her fate with the comforting knowledge that ``I am who I am wherever I am,'' word comes that she will not have to marry the oaf after all. Birdy's journal, begun as an assignment, first wells up in the reluctant and aggressive prose of hated homework, and then eases into the lighthearted flow of descriptive adventures and true confessions; the narrative device reveals Birdy's passage from rebellious child to responsible adult. Despite the too-convenient ending, this first novel introduces an admirable heroine and pungently evokes a largely unfamiliar setting. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)

Compare Aelis' reaction to her marriage with Catherine's.

Contrast Catherine's foibles with the realities of life in the Middle Ages for a young woman her age.

Compare and contrast Catherine's behavior and choices with a young adult's choices in contemporary society. Are there societies that exist in the "modern" world that would favor Catherine's parents' position?

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