The Maids of Biddenden

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Based on the true-life story of two remarkable women, Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst, in the Kent township of Biddenden, in and around the early twelfth-century, this book takes the tale of what may be the first documented case of conjoined twins. In this case, joined at the hip, with two minds and one shared body, Mary and Eliza’s lives are forever entwined by a physical link and a single flow of blood, emotions, sensations, and even thoughts.

A thoughtfully-detailed and absorbing story, the author does a wonderful job of evoking a time period past – one that is grim in its offerings for the common folk, suffocating in its treatment of women, and so tightly embedded with myths, religious dogma, superstitions, subrogation based on class, and barely-suppressed patriarchal violence that it comes as no surprise to see citizens of the day initially frightened, appalled and terrified at the sight of the “abomination” they see in the strange and unexpected birth of the maiden twins.

Physically similar, Mary (the larger, yet more frail of the two) is a quiet, studious girl, who eagerly absorbs any information she can find on the healing nature of plants and their use in treating human illness. Eliza, the more outgoing, social and opinionated of the two, is a talented musician and singer, with a deep-rooted need to perform and celebrate life and its pleasures.

It’s impossible not to be fascinated by this insightful look at another era, and its treatment of the unexpected. Although Mary and Eliza have the good fortune to be born into a well-to-do family, the very existence of their unusual lives will clearly open the door to danger, abuse, and of course, superstitious censure. Without giving the plot away (no spoilers here), Mary and Eliza are in fact, destined to have a colorful life, – one which provides perhaps more opportunities, crises, learnings, exposures and successes than could be expected based on their early experiences.

An enjoyable glimpse into medieval life, this interesting read challenges the reader to explore another dimension of diversity, as we journey into a world and a time where unusual differences, physical in nature, may turn out to be, perhaps, the least compelling facet of these remarkable and inspiring women, and what we will learn about their lives, loves, and yearnings.

My stop today on the #randomttours #blogtour for #MaidsofBiddenden by @GDHarperAuthor

A great big thank you to the author, and the publisher for an ARC of this book. All thoughts presented are my own.


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