In 1692, 14 women, 5 men and 2 dogs were executed for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. It started in January of that year when two girls experienced strange symptoms, twitching and contorting with pain. In the course of 9 months, dozens of people were affected by this strange epidemic, and hundreds were accused of witchcraft. Daughters pointed fingers at mothers, neighbors implicated each other. A minister was accused of being a great wizard, the leader of the Salem witches. In all this commotion, the afflicted girls became visionaries and were consulted during the trials.
This non-fiction account is told in chronological order and is extremely well researched. The Witches is rich in historical and political details about life in New England at the end of the 17th century. Fending off attacks from Native Americans and the French, and dealing with an unforgiving climate and a new charter for their young country, the settlers didn’t have an easy life. A deeply religious people, they lived in fear of the devil. All the accounts of the period come from ministers or high-ranking officials, and it is a shame we don’t have the afflicted girls’ point of view, as Puritan women did not write diaries.
The book dispels misconceptions about Salem: witches were hanged, not burned, and women and men were accused, not just women. However, I found that The Witches is a little dry at times and that the author sometimes goes into too much detail. In addition, there is a huge cast of characters, and it can be daunting for the reader. Thankfully, the author provides a very helpful list of characters at the beginning of the book. On the whole though, The Witches is a fascinating account of an interesting period of Massachusetts history.
About the author and her work: Stacy Schiff’s Website.
Fun facts about the author and the book:
- Stacy Schiff won the Pulitzer Prize for her book Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov).
- In 2011, the author was named a Library Lion by the New York Public Library.
- It took her four and a half years to write The Witches.
- Her husband is a Canadian businessman, so she spends the summer and holidays in Canada.
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