Below the Surface

Posted: October 21, 2013 in Education, Literature

berengaria                   Eleanor_of_castile

Berengaria of Navarre (left)                         Eleanor of Castile (right)

In teaching my students to read for information “below the surface,” the story of Berengaria of Navarre and Eleanor of Castile comes to mind. In Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Simon tells Jack (who has been wounded by a boar) to suck on his wound “Like Berengaria.” (Golding, 124). Most readers would continue to read on realizing they have no idea who she is while academic students are taught to do the research in order to get “below the surface.” In other words, not understanding the reference is no reason to ignore it…

Upon further research, readers will find that Berengaria (b. 1165 approx) has nothing to do with the sucking of a wound at all. In fact, Simon confuses this historical woman with Eleanor of Castile…

Eleanor of Castile (b. 1241) was the wife of Edward I of England (“Longshanks”) and she is widely known for the story of how she saved her husband’s life. During the Crusades, Edward I is wounded in battle by a dagger thought to have a poisoned tip. Eleanor is said to have sucked on his wound, effectively saving his life at the risk of her own… She can be compared to the character of Ralph (Lord of the Flies) – doing whatever he can to ensure the safety and well-being of the boys.

So, who is Berengaria of Navarre? She was the wife of Richard I of England who is thought, by many historians, to be homosexual. This is illustrated by how he treated Berengaria: i.e. Their separate travels, his focus on his kingdom rather than on her, and the fact that their marriage may never have even been consummated. Despite the fact that he may have been a homosexual, Berengaria married him anyway. This led historians to believe that Berengaria may have married Richard I for more political reasons than romantic. She is comparable to Jack (Lord of the Flies) – who will do anything just to have more power.

So, why did Golding purposely make Simon confuse these two women? He did so for us to research BOTH women and see how they can relate to his novel. Clever.

Those that continue to read on will miss these types of “below the surface” information from the classics and the specific literary decisions made by the authors. This is how we turn regular readers into academic readers.

  1. GPH says:

    Some historians also suggest that Richard I may have been bisexual. He is thought to have had more than one illegitimate child (the great De Burgh family, for example, claim to be descended from a natural daughter).

    Loved the attention to history in the literature! The relationship between Edward I and his wife, Eleanor, is considered one of the great love relationships of the English Monarchy.

  2. William Thompson says:

    The steamship liner SS Berengaria was taken from the Germans at the end of the First World War as part of the reparations imposed on Germany by the treaty of Versailles. It was owned by Cunard and later by White Star Lines. Her original German name was Imperator. In the Roman republic I believe that an imperator was a commander but in the empire he was the emperor (dictator).

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