This article is from 2009.
The cultural history of quiet contemplation
‘We generally tend to be very romantic about silence. People say, “wouldn’t it be lovely to be silent”, but then they don’t do anything to make it happen.’ Having hitherto led a noisy family-filled life as both a prize-winning novelist and outspoken feminist, it’s with reason that accomplished author Sara Maitland now bemoans our general tardiness towards hush: her last ten years have been spent researching it.
Occupying a small hermitage on an isolated moor in Galloway, she currently spends three hours a day in prayer and two days a week in total quiet. A Book of Silence chronicles the author’s long periods of reclusion spent on the Isle of Skye and in the Sinai desert, and concurrently charts the cultural history of silence, its significance to hermits, sailors and poets alike.
‘I tried to tie my own experiences into a wider silence, so it’s not a memoir in the simple sense of the word’, Maitland explains. ‘People, without understanding why, want to know more about their endless need for noise. I’m aware that people are curious of my research, both nicely and nastily’. Knowingly, Maitland broaches contemporary fears of reclusion and its negative associations, challenging the idea ‘that anyone who is alone, must also be lonely, and that anyone who is lonely, is a bit weird.’
29 Aug, 11am, £9 (£7); 30 Aug (with Susie Orbach), 7pm, £9 (£7).