Review: Julian of Norwich and the Voices in our Heads at Dragon Hall

Norfolk and Norwich Festival' N sculptures at The Forum. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY.

Norfolk and Norwich Festival' N sculptures at The Forum. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: SIMON FINLAY

Norfolk can claim two of the most important female literary figures in the country – but they are linked by more than just their gender.

Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe of King's Lynn are respectively credited as the first woman to write a book in English and the first English autobiographer.

Charles Fernyhough's talk, however, concentrated on the fact that they both also 'heard voices' and what their words tell us about a phenomenon once seen as a sign of madness and now recognised as a more complex topic, and an everyday occurrence for many people.

Fernyhough is an engaging speaker, easily marrying psychological concepts with pop culture as well as the medieval literature in focus here.

He touched intriguingly too on how many writers experience some form of inner or outer voice as part of their creative process.


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He deftly dodged questions on the divine or otherwise nature of his two subjects' experiences, preferring to deal with the brain chemistry than the cosmology, but one gets the idea he views them more as interesting early case studies than religious texts.

As the National Centre for Writing takes shape at Dragon Hall this was a timely reminder that Norfolk has a deep and radical literary heritage, and that science and art must be seen together to understand the human experience.

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James Goffin

• This event was part of the City of Literature Weekend at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

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