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Alice Hopkins is the sister to Matthew Hopkins, who lives in the small Essex village of Manningtree. When her husband dies, pregnant and penniless she returns to live with Matthew, but he has changed and there are rumours of witchcraft abroad. He is amassing the names of suspected women in a book that he is diligently keeping…
This is a beautifully written story which sheds light on the many different faces of human nature, particularly where the superstition of witchcraft is involved. Matthew is certain that what he is doing – exposing the evilness of witches – is the right thing to do, yet there is also the horror of innocent women being victimised through his manic obsession.
The novel includes the unsavoury side of exposing witches, their interrogation and torture, the terror that lonely old women were forced to endure.
I admit that I found the novel unsettling, but this is because it is so well, and vividly, written. The gloom of the era, Matthew’s obsession and the horror these poor women suffered is so completely believably written that I felt like a fly on the wall witnessing their suffering.
England was still in the grip of Civil War, suspicion and superstition was rife, distrust and hostility ruled, with blame for things that went wrong all too easily laid at the feet of others. A sad, sorry period of our past, the novel expertly portrays the fear, the anxiety, the malice and the downright cruelty – but it all happened, even if it was, to our eyes now, shameful and abhorrent. But for all that, read the novel; we owe it to those women to remember them as it was, not as the modern hook-nosed broomstick-riding women cackling beneath a black pointy hat and a spider dangling from her chin.
© Helen Hollick
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