World Without End (Follett novel)

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World Without End
World Without End-Ken Follet Cover World Wide Edition 2007.jpg
Cover art of World Without End, UK edition (2007)
AuthorKen Follett
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
GenreHistorical fiction
Published2007 (Penguin) (US edition)
Media typePrint (Hardback)
Pages1024 (Paperback, US edition)
ISBNISBN 0-525-95007-9 (Hardback, US edition)
Preceded byThe Pillars of the Earth
 
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World Without End
World Without End-Ken Follet Cover World Wide Edition 2007.jpg
Cover art of World Without End, UK edition (2007)
AuthorKen Follett
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
GenreHistorical fiction
Published2007 (Penguin) (US edition)
Media typePrint (Hardback)
Pages1024 (Paperback, US edition)
ISBNISBN 0-525-95007-9 (Hardback, US edition)
Preceded byThe Pillars of the Earth

World Without End is a best-selling 2007 novel by Ken Follett and the sequel to 1989's The Pillars of the Earth.

World Without End takes place in the same fictional town as Pillars of the Earth—Kingsbridge—and features the descendants of some Pillars characters 157 years later.[1] The plot incorporates two major historical events, the start of the Hundred Years' War and the Black Death.[2] The author was inspired by real historical events relating to the Cathedral of Santa María in Vitoria-Gasteiz.

A television miniseries based on the novel aired worldwide in 2012. It premiered on Showcase in Canada on 4 September 2012; in the United States on Reelz Channel on 17 October 2012; on Channel 4 in the UK on 22 December, and on Star Movies in the Philippines in January 2013. The eight-part television event miniseries stars Cynthia Nixon, Miranda Richardson, Peter Firth, Ben Chaplin, Charlotte Riley, Sarah Gadon and Tom Weston-Jones. It was directed by Michael Caton-Jones who also directed the historical epic Rob Roy.

Plot summary[edit]

The novel begins in the fictional city of Kingsbridge, England in the year 1327. Four children - Merthin, Caris, Gwenda, and Merthin's brother Ralph - head into the woods on All Hallows Day. Together the children witness two men-at-arms killed in self-defence by Sir Thomas Langley, aided by Ralph. The children then flee, with the exception of Merthin, who helps the wounded Sir Thomas bury a letter with instructions to dig up and deliver it if and when Sir Thomas should die. After this Sir Thomas flees to Kingsbridge and seeks refuge in the monastery and becomes a Benedictine monk, while the four children swear never to speak of what they saw.

Ten years later Caris and Merthin are in love. When a section of the vault of the Kingsbridge Cathedral collapses Merthin, now an apprentice carpenter, shows his genius by developing a cheaper means of repair than his master.

Ralph, now a squire to Earl Roland of Shiring, provokes a fight and has his nose broken by a handsome peasant from Gwenda's village named Wulfric, for whom Gwenda has a hopeless infatuation. Gwenda is sold for a cow by her father to be prostituted at an outlaws' camp. She kills one of the outlaws while he is raping her, and escapes. She is followed by her buyer, but is able to drown him when the Kingsbridge bridge collapses, a tragedy that kills many, including all of Wulfric's immediate family and Prior Anthony of Kingsbridge. In the midst of the disaster Ralph saves Earl Roland's life and is rewarded with the lordship of Gwenda's village of Wigleigh.

Gwenda and Wulfric return to Wigleigh and attempt to gain Wulfric the inheritance of his father's land. The inheritance is eventually denied by Ralph because of the grudge he bears against Wulfric. Due to his poor prospects, Wulfric's beautiful wife-to-be, Annet, leaves him allowing Gwenda to marry him instead. Gwenda then tries to win Wulfric back his lands by having sex with Ralph, but Ralph does not uphold his end of the deal. Gwenda's first son, Sam, is conceived through this liaison.

Meanwhile, the monastery's Sacrist, Godwyn, a nephew of Prior Anthony, outwits his opponents and wins the priory election in an overwhelming victory. Godwyn claims to be a reformer, but turns out to be even more conservative and quickly begins to clash with the townsmen on a number of issues, including the funding and building of a fabulous new bridge designed by Merthin and allowing the townspeople to full wool for a growing fabric industry. Caris, who becomes the de facto alderman, is a particular problem. Despite being her cousin, Godwyn charges Caris with witchcraft hoping to have her executed to get her out of the way. To escape execution, Caris agrees to join the Kingsbridge nunnery. With his impending marriage to Caris made impossible, Merthin leaves Kingsbridge for Florence, Italy to pursue his building career.

Eight years later, when Godwyn steals money from the substantially more profitable nuns, Caris travels to France to petition the bishop, who is fighting with King Edward III in France. Along the way she witnesses the ravages of the war and acts as a field nurse during the Battle of Crecy, during which Ralph, having fled charges of rape and murder in England, saves the life of the Prince of Wales and is rewarded with his lifelong dream of knighthood. Caris's errand is fruitless, however, as the bishop of Kingsbridge as well as Earl Roland have been killed in the battle.

In Florence, the city is ravaged by the Black Death, having arrived in Messina in 1347. After recovering from the plague, a newly widowed Merthin experiences an epiphany of his love for Caris and returns to Kingsbridge with his daughter Laura (Lolla). There he finds Caris unwilling to renounce her vows and the two go through a sporadic liaison. At the same time, Merthin re-establishes himself in the community by solving flaws left in the new bridge during its completion after his departure.

Thousands of residents of Kingsbridge die in the outbreak of plague, and the city quickly descends into anarchy. Godwyn loses his nerve and flees with the monks to an isolated chapel where he and all the monks die except for Gwenda's brother Philemon, who fled, and Thomas Langley. After the prioress of the nunnery dies Caris is elected Prioress and promoted acting Prior in the absence of Godwin, and she institutes the use of masks and cleanliness which help to protect the nuns from the plague.

After William, the new Earl of Shiring, dies from the plague along with all his male heirs, Ralph sees a chance to become Earl. After murdering his young wife Matilda (Tilly) he arranges his marriage to William's widow Lady Phillipa, whom he has long desired, and makes himself Earl. However Philippa spurns him and leaves for the Kingsbridge nunnery, where she has a rendezvous with Merthin and conceives his child. Afraid of Ralph's wrath, Philippa seduces Ralph to make him believe the child is his. As a result Merthin and Phillipa cannot continue their liaison.

After two years, the plague dissipates and Caris renounces her vows, after finally being able to run her own independent hospital, and marries Merthin. After ten years of hardship, the people of Kingsbridge are granted a borough charter, freeing them from the lordship of the priory, and Merthin becomes alderman. Merthin also solves the long troublesome problem of why the vault of the cathedral collapsed by dismantling and rebuilding one of the towers which he redesigns to be the tallest building in England.

Labour shortages resulting from the plague allow Wulfric to regain his father's land. When Sam, the secret son of Ralph, kills the local bailiff's son, Gwenda reveals his true parentage to Ralph to gain Sam's release. Armed with this knowledge, Ralph blackmails Gwenda into having sex with him again. When Sam walks in on this, there is struggle in which Sam and Gwenda kill Ralph. Davey, Gwenda's second son, negotiates a free tenancy and marries Amabel, the daughter of Wulfric's former wife-to-be, proving to Gwenda that her life has had some worth.

Gwenda's conniving brother Philemon becomes Prior of Kingsbridge and even tries to become Bishop, but his ambition is ruined after Sir Thomas Langley dies of old age. Merthin keeps his promise and digs up the letter which reveals that the deposed King Edward II had secretly survived and had taken the identity of one of his attackers. Merthin trades the letter to a member of the king's court in exchange for Philemon's departure from Kingsbridge forever.

As the plague comes back, Caris's intelligence, practical sense and determination allow the townspeople to subdue this second outbreak, making her the most popular and revered figure in Kingsbridge. Merthin completes his spire and succeeds in making Kingsbridge cathedral the tallest building in England.

Characters[edit]

Major characters[edit]

Minor characters[edit]

Historical references[edit]

Television adaptation[edit]

A television adaptation, produced by Scott Free and Tandem Communications, adapted by John Pielmeier, and directed by Michael Caton-Jones was broadcast in the United Kingdom in 2013.[3]

References[edit]