Year of Wonders


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Questions and Topics for Discussion

Some people decided to send their children away into the care of relatives: It was only as the epidemic really took hold that Mompesson saw the fearful virulence of the disease and became concerned about the consequences of its spread. However, in trying to imagine him — a young man, not long out of school, not long in a village where most of the Puritan-leaning population did not share his religious views, yet still persuasive enough to bring people to such a momentous choice — I envisioned a man of powerful conviction and charisma.

They can be dangerous, even deadly.

Year of Wonders

Do you believe Anna is an unlikely heroine, given the rigid class structures of her time and her sex? I wanted a narrator who was part of the ordinary life of the village, but also had access to the gentry, the decision-makers.

Year of Wonders

Since I knew that the real rector had a maid who survived the plague, she seemed the obvious choice. These women would suddenly find themselves having to step out of their old roles and assume vastly challenging responsibilities. If those women could change and grow so remarkably, I reasoned that Anna could, too. And remember that the Restoration was a very fluid time. They had lived through regicide, revolution, civil war. Change was their norm. In the s, women were appearing on the stage for the first time, were assuming influential roles in the Restoration court.

Also, life in the villages was much less rigid and restrictive than we often imagine. What was happening in London, for example, at the same time? I was able to find no other examples of such communal self-sacrifice. In London, Samuel Pepys writes in his journal of the terrible treatment meted out to plague victims: In a piece published in The Washington Post after the September 11, , attacks, you wrote: Eyam is a story of ordinary people willing to make an extraordinary sacrifice on behalf of others.

September 11, , revealed heroism in ordinary people who might have gone through their lives never called upon to demonstrate the extent of their courage.

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Sadly, it also revealed a blind thirst for revenge that led to the murders of a Muslim, a Sikh, and an Egyptian Copt. The desire to live and to see your children live. Are these things different on a beautiful autumn morning in a twenty-first-century city than they were in an isolated seventeenth-century village?

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One thing I believe completely is that the human heart remains the human heart, no matter how our material circumstances change as we move together through time. Literary Fiction Historical Fiction print. Are you surprised by the secrets Elinor and Michael Mompellion each reveal to Anna about their marriage? How do they change your feelings about each character?

by Geraldine Brooks

Do they make either seem weaker in a way? Setting aside the events near the end of the novel which make it clear that one would be hard-pressed to find a redeeming quality in any of them , can you really blame the Bradfords for running? Keeping in mind that this story takes place a good twenty-five years before the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts, what is the role of the Gowdie women in the novel? What is it about these women that drives their neighbors to murderous rage?

How does their nonconformity lead to their becoming scapegoats? What are the pivotal experiences leading up to her breakdown and her eventual rebirth? Discuss the feminist undertones of the story. In a story where the outcome is already known from the very beginning — most of the villagers will die — discuss the ways in which the author manages to create suspense.

The author creates an incredible sense of time and place with richly textured language and thoughtful details — of both the ordinary everyday life in Eyam and the extraordinary the gruesome deaths of the villagers. Discuss some of the most vivid images and their importance to the story and to your own experience reading it. Is it unrealistic to expect a village facing a similar threat to make the same decision nowadays?

What lessons might we learn from the villagers of Eyam?

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

It is based on the history of the small Derbyshire village of Eyam [3] that, when beset upon by the plague in , quarantines itself in order to prevent the disease from spreading further. The novel opens in the spring of when a young widow Anna Frith, takes on a tailor, George Remington Viccars as a boarder. Shortly after the arrival of a box of fabrics from London, Mr. Viccars develops a high fever, and starts exhibiting symptoms of the bubonic plague.


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He begs her to burn all he brought with him to stop the spread of disease , but after his death, Mr. Viccars' clients come to claim their work and disregard the warning. Viccars' employer , her two young sons, and a few other villagers fall ill with the plague and die. The spate of deaths is blamed on a widow, Mem Gowdie and her niece, Anys Gowdie, the village's herbalists and midwives , who are accused of being witches. Both Mem and Anys are murdered by villagers. With the exception of the Bradfords, the local landed gentry , the whole village agrees.

Over the following months, Anna and the rector's wife Elinor attempt to learn the uses of the contents of the Gowdies' physick garden , and take up the roles of village midwives. Anna and Elinor develop a strong bond through their trials, the relationship becoming one of friends and equals instead of a servant and her mistress. They support each other through their struggles, and Elinor confesses as to why a high-born woman such as herself married a humble rector and devoted her life to helping the less fortunate.

Meanwhile, as Elinor and Anna take care of the needs of the living, Mompellion struggles to keep up with the spiritual needs of the dying. After the sexton dies of heart failure from digging so many graves, Anna persuades her father, Josiah Bont, to take up the work of gravedigging, but her plan fails when he takes to robbing the estates of the dead. Finally, the villagers hold a Barmote Court , where he is left to die or be saved by his wife, Aphra.

But no one comes to save him. Aphra, already superstitious, quickly descends into complete madness upon the death of all of her children from plague and is discovered selling bogus charms and spells against the plague for extortionate prices. She does this by pretending to be the ghost of the deceased Anys Gowdie. The villagers punish her by casting her into a disused well that now serves as a manure pit, in which she nearly drowns. She is completely incoherent and in a catatonic state by the time she is brought out in the morning, and the rector postpones dealing with her crimes fully until the plague is over.


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  • As no more are stricken with the Plague, the remaining villagers become secure in the fact that the Plague is truly gone from their village. Mompellion chooses to hold a service of Thanksgiving for their deliverance. Mompellion succumbs wholly to grief and the total loss of his faith in God. Without their rector to guide them, the villagers also descends into ennui, too traumatized after so many months of death and suffering.

    As Anna discovers a will to live in spite of the ordeal, she seeks to comfort Mompellion, and they are drawn together in equal desire and desperation for each other.

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