I, Julian: The fictional autobiography of Julian of Norwich

The fictional autobiography of Julian of Norwich

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Pub Date 13 Apr 2023 | Archive Date 01 Sep 2023
John Murray, Hodder & Stoughton

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'I was completely hooked and considerably moved by the life and thoughts of this exceptional woman'

'It is as if we have finally found the lost autobiography of one of the medieval world's most important women.'


'A beautiful, intensely moving achievement'


In 1347, the first pestilence rages across the land. The young Julian of Norwich encounters the strangeness of death: first her father, then later her husband and her child. When she falls ill herself, she encounters mystical visions that bring comfort and concern. But in the midst of suspicion and menace, when the Church is actively condemning heretics, Julian is not safe.

I, Julian is the account of a medieval woman who dares to tell her own story.

Battling grief, plague, the church and societal expectations, and compelled by her powerful visions, Julian finds a way to live a life of freedom - as an anchoress, bricked up in a small room on the side of a church. Helped by Thomas, a Benedictine monk from Norwich Cathedral, she writers of what she has seen and offers word of counsel to others. Julian's manuscripts are protected by trusted sisters and are passed from hand to hand, become the first book to be written by a woman in English.

Tender, luminous, meditative and powerful, this is a powerful fictional retelling of the life of Julian of Norwich - the mother, mystic and radical.

'I was completely hooked and considerably moved by the life and thoughts of this exceptional woman'

'It is as if we have finally found the lost autobiography of one of the medieval...

Advance Praise

‘Julian of Norwich was a woman for her turbulent times, whose hard-won insight into the mystery of God’s love for humanity brought pilgrims of all kinds to seek her wise and compassionate counsel, and whose writings about that love have sustained many more down the centuries. Through Claire Foster-Gilbert’s powerful telling of her story, the reader in our own turbulent times can encounter Julian personally and also gain re-assurance that all will indeed ultimately “be well”.’

Sister Jane Livesey CJ, former General Superior of the Congregation of Jesus.

‘I was completely hooked and considerably moved by the life and thoughts of this exceptional woman, who seemed in many instances to be writing about what seems to be happening around us today.  So much so that Julian’s life and revelations have strong reverberations for the reader, and seem completely relevant.  This is a book which shows how your research meshed with your own spiritual understanding can speak clear as a bell to the world we live in today.’

Jeremy Irons

'I enjoyed and admired I, Julian very much.  It is extraordinarily deft and sensitive. This book is going to introduce many new readers to Julian and inspire others who know her slightly to go back with fresh eyes and a reinvigorated sense of how her writing developed and in what sort of historical setting.  It really is a striking book, and an impressive achievement.’

Nicholas Watson, Harvard University

‘Claire Foster-Gilbert inhabits Julian of Norwich in the way that Hilary Mantel immersed herself in Cromwell. This is living fiction.’  

Sarah Sands

‘What a wonderful book! It is as if we have finally found the lost autobiography of one of the medieval world's most important women. Julian’s voice rings out true on every page and a deep understanding of her world and her work underpins each line. It is a joy to read.'

Janina Ramirez, historian, author and broadcaster, Oxford University

‘There have been a few other writers who have tried to fill out the human hinterland of Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love?, but I can't think of any who have done so quite as persuasively and richly as this. Written with profound insight, spiritual and psychological, and a rare sensitivity to the everyday world of the fourteenth century, it is a brilliantly illuminating companion to one of the greatest works of spiritual writing in English.’

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, Magdalene College, University of Cambridge

‘I, Julian, is a tour de force, a rich reimagining of the life of Julian of Norwich and a disturbing evocation of the life of the merchant class in Norwich in the fourteenth century, bedevilled by plague, loss, fear and religious bullying. Julian emerges as her own woman, with control over her own destiny, with passion and love and fear and loss all intertwined, and a determination to tell her secret story.’

Julia Neuberger

‘One of the great values of storytelling is that it allows us to ask a whole range of questions that otherwise would remain unasked and unanswered.  This story told from the perspective of the medieval mystic, Julian, brings to life not just Julian herself but the world in which she lived, her family and other relationships.  It also reflects on her inner life and what fed her spiritually.  This is a rich and intriguing book, which is profoundly thought-provoking and helps the reader to get to know Julian in an entirely new way.’

Paula Gooder

‘Steeped in Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love, and based on careful historical research, this fictional recreation of Julian’s life is both gripping and profoundly believable.’

Santha Bhattacharji, Fellow Emeritus, St Benet’s Hall, University of Oxford 

‘This is a wondrous, touching work of imagination. Claire Gilbert has miraculously stepped inside the body, and soul, of Julian of Norwich, through her extraordinary life. Its method strongly reminded me of Maggie O’Farrell’s ‘Hamnet’.

Rt Hon Jack Straw

‘Little is known about the particular life of Julian of Norwich but much is known of her times. On the basis of these Claire Gilbert has given us a beautiful imagining of what the young Julian would have known and faced in 15th England, woven around the author’s deep understanding of Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love. With this ‘imagined autobiography’ Claire Foster-Gilbert gives all those who love the writings of Julian of Norwich a delightful way into Julian’s life and times.

Janet Soskice

‘I hadn’t known anything about Julian of Norwich before I read Claire Gilbert’s book I, Julian.  I was on holiday and I couldn’t put it down.  Her life really moved me and uplifted me.  God’s love came through so clearly in the book and it felt so relevant for today.’

Georgina Howard (former Duchess of Norfolk)

‘A life and a time so convincingly summoned that it’s hard to believe this is a work of fiction, proof that the imagination can be just as true as the truth.’

Frances Stonor Saunders 

‘Julian of Norwich was a woman for her turbulent times, whose hard-won insight into the mystery of God’s love for humanity brought pilgrims of all kinds to seek her wise and compassionate counsel...

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ISBN 9781399807531
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Featured Reviews

I, Julian by Claire Gilbert is a great historical fiction that is the fictional autobiography of Julian of Norwich. Just fascinating.

This is such a creative and well-crafted novel, and even though it is fiction, the author has created something so real, that it feels truly authentic and genuine, as if the woman herself actually penned it.

Julian of Norwich lived in England during the Middle Ages and was the first known woman’s writings that have been discovered and still exist today, Revelations of Divine Love. She was an anchoress, mystic, a theologian, amongst many other things. Reading this novel has already peaked my curiosity and I have been researching so as to learn more about this fascinating historical figure.

I am so glad that I read this book so that I can find out and learn more about her.

4.5/5 stars

Thank you NG and Hodder Faith/ John Murray for this wonderful arc and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.

I am posting this review to my GR and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon, Instagram, and B&N accounts upon publication on 8/15/23.

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Beautiful book! If you are interested in Christianity of the Middle Ages or the Christian Mystics, I highly recommend this book for you! Filled with well-researched-details about daily life for women in the 1300 in England, “I, Julian,” brings mystic Julian of Norwich to life. While I was expecting a “Catherine, Called Birdy,” type text and thus struggled to engage with the beginning, by the time I hit about 15% (read on my tablet), I was throughly engrossed. Julian faces trials and tragedies with relatable questions and doubts, developing the forbearance to take on an anchorite. She is lively and down to earth, and her spiritual journey inspired me in my own walk in faith. A fantastic blend of religious, historical, and personal, “I, Julian” was one of my favorite books so far this year!

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What a beautiful book this is. The author has cleverly crafted an account of the life of Julian of Norwich that reads as though Julian had written it herself. It’s a totally believable combination of truth and fiction centred around Julian’s book Revelations of Divine Love. It depicts her life as an anchoress coupled with the known history of the period. I truly couldn’t put it down!

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This book was utterly beautiful. I had some knowledge of Julian of Norwich prior to reading the book, but this "fictional autobiography" really brought this historical character to life. A mystic of the 1300’s, Julian's teachings were often contrary to popular teachings of the church at the time. She rejects the idea of the plague being a sign of God's wrath, and begins to see God in his love, looking on her and all his creation with utmost compassion and love. She sees in God/Christ the love of a mother, the companionship of a brother, and finds love instead of condemnation. Her story is beautifully told, with a timeline at the end which the author uses to differentiate between what we KNOW of Julian, and what parts have been filled in to flesh out the story. What remains completely true is Julian's message!

I received an ARC from #netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

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This is a beautifully written book about the life of Julian of Norwich. The author states that it is fiction but it felt like I was reading Julian's own words. It is a wonderful look at an important, influential woman who lived so very long ago.

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Such a well written fictional book that comes across as a true non fiction story. It has ben so well written and the author has obviously done a lot of research into both this period of time as well as gathering information on Julian as well.

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I, Julian is a fictional autobiography of Julian of Norwich, the author of the first known work in English written by a woman, Revelations of Divine Love. Claire Gilbert's novel is beautifully written and draws the reader into Julian's life, the pain of the many losses she experiences, and also the joy of family and friendships, and her exchanges of views with her fellow religious, both male and female, and the solace, enlightenment, and challenges she experiences when she becomes an anchoress. Even once she retreats from the world, the turmoil of the fourteenth century rages outside the window of her cell and touches her life. I found this book unexpectedly compelling and wonderfully well written and would recommend it to anyone who has even a vague interest in medieval England and the lives of women at the time. I suspect, like me, you'll find yourself drawn in to Julian's world.

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The book Revelations of Divine Love speaks of holy visions seen by a woman in 1373, and attributed to Julian of Norwich, an anchoress living in the anchor cell of St. Julian’s church in Norwich between 1379 and 1416. This is the inspiration for Claire Gilbert’s fictional account of Julian’s life, in the early years of which are four periods of great pestilence. The third, in particular, targets young men and children, which impacts Julian’s life directly. She sees this as God wielding wrath and punishment on the population for human frailty and sin but is shown something different in her visions. The novel sheds new light on the story of creation, Adam’s fall and original sin, as God reveals to her that he is never wrath, but only pure love.
Gilbert’s novel is a deeply poignant account of Julian’s faith, her contrition, her doubts, and her struggles, many of which lead her to believe she is unworthy of God’s love. The diary-like story is accounted by her to her confessor, Thomas Edmund, and relates much about the life and times of the merchant-class, the Peasant’s Revolt, Wycliffe’s writings and the Lollards, and the rise of religious persecution. Even in the anchor cell Julian is never free from danger.
This extraordinary literary work gets deep inside Julian’s and the reader’s head, as though the author were able to speak to Julian herself, through the seven centuries separating our world from hers. Highly recommended.

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Anyone who has even a passing interest in fourteenth century medieval England or who has been moved by Julian’s profound belief that, ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.' should take a copy of ‘I, Julian’ and settle down to be educated, moved and perhaps even changed by this intelligent, sensitive portrayal of an extraordinary woman.
And if the subject matter would not normally appeal, I’d still urge you to read this fictional autobiography. Based on fastidious historical research, Claire Gilbert gives us the life of a woman struggling to find out who she is and what God is calling her to become. Over time, Julian learns that her God is not the harsh, vengeful power that she has grown up to fear but an all-loving, compassionate presence. Beautifully told, her voice comes through loud and clear.
My thanks to NetGalley and John Murray for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

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The role of women in Medieval England has often been overlooked. There were Queen consorts much more powerful than the Kings they had married. There were also many strong women who devoted their lives to the worship of God and helping the poor.
The story of Julian of Norwich is a tale of tragedy, loss, grief, endurance, accomplishment and epiphany. I ached with emotion as I read. The rich details of Julian's fight for survival and acceptance are hypnotic and astonishing. Through her eyes I was reminded of the Black Death, Henry le Despenser and the unfortunate Wat Tyler. Moments in history lived again but it was tender moments like her adoption of Gyb the cat that spoke loudest to me and when she questioned her faith I questioned my own.

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