A Medieval Home Companion
THE MEDIEVAL HOME COMPANION certainly succeeds as a charming curiosity of domestic advice from fourteenth century France. The author, an elderly husband eager to instruct his much younger wife in all the niceties of deportment and housekeeping, offers kindly advice on subjects ranging from respectable dress to ridding the bedroom of fleas to managing servants to the proper season for planting various edibles. He even includes some of his favorite recipes for compote (using five hundred new walnuts), hippocras, four kinds of wafers, and candied orange peel. Illustrating the text are reproductions of forty medieval woodcuts depicting such daily tasks as grinding spices, caring for the sick, and bargaining with a merchant.
A reader unfamiliar with the Middle Ages will certainly gain a feel for the daily lies and responsibilities of householders. The author, a prosperous citizen with a wide-ranging knowledge, obviously dotes on his young wife, and desires to teach her how to please not only him but also a second husband, a likely possibility given the gap in their ages.
Beyond the charm of the book, however, lies little of value to more informed readers. Bayard has only chosen to include less than one-fourth of the original text, admittedly omitting lengthy discussions about chastity, worship, and honor. While this decision was made to make the book more approachable to twentieth century readers, it undermines not only the scholarly usefulness of the text but also the broad picture of medieval life it purports to convey.