Author: Mary Webb (Website)
Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press
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Precious Bane is the story told by Prudence Sarn. Afflicted with a "hare-shotten lip," feared and scorned as a witch, Prue Sarn nonetheless possesses heart and a clarity of sight. She loves and sees the remote countryside that is her home with a discerning mystical vision; and she also, hopelessly it seems, loves Kester Woodseaves, the weaver.
Yet Prue is bound to her brother, Gideon Sarn, the sin-eater. A distraught and driven man, Gideon is cut off from human contact and from the beauty of the natural world by his love of profit, by his hunger to make his farm produce. And he has made Prue promise to work with him toward an end she does not want--an end that may destroy them both.
Thus Prue is torn between loyalty to her brother and love for the weaver. In turn, Kester Woodseaves' steady love for all created things leads him to resist people's destructive cruelty toward nature and each other; and his love for Prue Sarn enables him to discern, beneath her blighted appearance, the natural loveliness of his "dear acquaintance."
Precious Bane tells the story of these several loves, of their conflict and consummation. Summary from Back Cover
This was our book club read for May. I’m a little behind, but I wanted to finish it.
It took me a very long time to get into the story for two reasons. First, the book is written in the Shropshire (England) dialect of the early 1800s and it was a little hard to understand it at first. Second, the story is kind of boring and slow. And, without being invested in the characters, which I wasn’t until about page 120, I just didn’t care what happened to them. But, once I did care what happened to them, I could overlook the slowness of the story.
There are a lot of very interesting concepts in Precious Bane. The most interesting to me was that of the sin-eater. A sin-eater is usually a poor person, because they needed the free food and supposedly didn’t care enough about their own soul because of their circumstances, that eats the sins of someone who just recently passed away. Basically, the book explains that everyone dies in their sins and that they can’t be saved without a sin-eater. I thought it was so interesting because it’s such a contrast to my own beliefs. While I believe that everyone does die in their sins and that they can’t be saved without a “sin-eater,” I believe that the sin-eater is Christ and through His Atonement, all men can be saved by taking His name upon them. To me, the idea of a sin-eater seems like a slap in Christ’s face, saying that His Atonement isn’t enough. I’m not stating my own beliefs to belittle anyone else’s nor to put down Precious Bane. I’m stating them to explain why a sin-eater was such a foreign concept and why I found it so interesting.
Mary Webb did a great job of showing the good with the bad, what happens when all you are is greedy and the contrast of what happens when all you are is love for others. She also does a great job of showing that a person is worth more than their outwardly appearance, that their true nature/self is on the inside. And, that anyone, even a woman with a “hare-shotten lip” can be loved.
Like my review of East of Eden, if I were to give Precious Bane a letter rating, I’d give it an A-. With the way I give star ratings, I’m only giving it three stars because I didn’t love the story. I thought it was very well-written and I’m glad I decided to finish it. I’m normally not one for symbolism, but I did enjoy it for its richly symbolic story, which has only ever happened with East of Eden.