Year of Wonders • A Journal of the Plague Year
Year of Wonders • Genre: history, mystery, romance, allegory (3-5) • Structure: title, circular, chapter titles, narrative voice (6-8) • Language: authenticity (9-10) • Anna Frithand her family (11-18) • ElinorMompellion(19-20) • Michael Mompellion(21-35) • Anys Gowdie (36) • Key Themes : Marriage and motherhood, Social hierarchy, Responses to adversity, Competing World Views (37-46)
Genre (1) • Historical fiction • Inspired by the true story of the ‘plague village’ in the 17th century. • Some characters are based on real characters • Detail vividly recreates rural England of the 1660s • Mystery • What is the fate of characters like Joss and AphraBont; Anys Gowdie? • Secrets are exposed as novel unfolds
Genre (2) • Romance • The relationship between Anna, Elinor and Michael Mompellion • Brooks provides an unconventional ending • Allegory • How a community can be destroyed from within • Plague a metaphor for infection that destroys the mind, spirit and body • Bacteria can infect the body; fear infects the people.
Eyam 1665-6 • Restoration England • After the Civil War - uncertain times • Derbyshire District - Village of fewer than 500 • Plague arrived in 1665 • In fiction we can see how the plague tested ordinary and not so ordinary people
Structure (1) • Title: ‘Wonder’ – something terrible and powerful + heroism, new friendships, religion. • Circular – Autumn 1666 bookends main events • Plague is finished • Engages readers attention: the calamity that has hit Eyam; the despair of Mompellion (why?); the manner of the ‘servant Anna’ (what has happened to give her the confidence she now shows?) • Epilogue – 3 years forward: allows Anna to reflect on events of 1665.
Structure (2) • Chapter titles • Summarise events of that chapter. • Record passage of time • Narrative voice is that of Anna • Fair and objective (told three years later); intelligent, reflective, open minded and honest in her short comings (even critical of herself) • Story is not only the events of Eyam but also Anna’s growth • Anna is at the centre of main events and so is positioned to tell the story: plague starts in her cottage
Structure (3) • Narrative voice (cont) • She serves Mompellion but also has links to Bradford Hall and other key characters (Anys, Joss and Aphra, etc) and so hears crucial conversations • Elinor’s friend and confidante and Michael’s lover and so hears their secrets. • This also a limitation as it is the only perspective we have; to what extent is her perspective driven by her loyalty to Elinor (perhaps she judges Michael too harshly at the end)? • Can one person fully comprehend the scale and depth of what transpired in 1665: ‘How little we know, I thought, of the people we live among (P.156)
Language (1) • Captures rhythm of formal speech • Authentic flavour of 1660s • Metaphor • ‘rotting apples’ = death and waste • P.11 • Lyrical • Pastoral serenity of countryside contrasts devastation of village • Description of delivery of new life (tenacity of existence) cfMompellion’s belief in the resurrection
Language (2) • Direct speech is often written in dialect: • Joss Bont is seen to be uncouth and rough (P.107) • Merry Wickford is seen to be gentle and biblical (P.176) • Biblical references are invariably significant • Mompellion’s collapse from exhaustion in church (171); psalm talks of God’s ‘wrath’ and ‘dread assaults’. • Rich descriptions of nature • ‘those autumn weeks were flooded with an unaccustomed surfeit of light’ (P.65) • Colours: • Anna’s dress is green (nature) cfAnys’s dress which is scarlet (promiscuity).
Anna Frith • ‘not a child to quail at shadows after all’ p. 233 • young woman already widowed by the harsh life of the lead mining society • Independent and resourceful, she has ‘faced more terrors than many warriors’ p. 15 • Rises to the challenge of her ordeal, she has ‘been tempered and made strong’ p. 274
Her role in the text Protagonist and narrator recounts the story of the village and her struggle to not only cope, but shows real determination and care for others throughout the ordeal Her relationship with her employers, Elinor and Michael Mompellion are integral to her story Her family background, Joss Bont, her father and her Stepmother Aphra affect her reactions to events
Modern concerns • Brooks has created a ‘modern woman’ who shares many of the author’s concerns; how women cope in times of stress, how women live in restricted societies, how women can defy social norms. • This is also evident in Anys and Mem who are unconventional and in Elinor who is deeply intelligent and compassionate • Links to Middle East are also concerns of Brooks. Mentions of Avicenna and Musalman (Muslims); the ‘marriage’ to Ahmed Bey in Oran.
Educated Woman • Anna is also an educated woman - highly intelligent - learns to read and write from looking at gravestones, learns Latin and Arabic ‘I had always loved high language’ p. 36 • Elinor kindles her love of books ‘bade me borrow any book I chose.’ p. 9 • She translates the Latin Michael uses ‘Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus’ correctly as ‘untrue in one thing, untrue in everything’ which shocks Mompellion
‘a worthy life’s work’ • Anna openly shows her flaws: ‘my loose tongue had helped betray her (Anys)’ p. 91 • Her mission in life is to heal: ‘I had seen so much death that I would try to save a life if I could’ p. 285 • She helps even those she dislikes. • She begins her new life after the birth of the child Ahmed Bey names Aisha - meaning both ‘life’ and ‘bread’
When the child was born to Mrs Bradford Anna tells us ‘’I looked into her deep blue eyes and saw reflected there the dawn of my own new life’ p. 287 • ‘let’s go and live since we have no choice in it’ p. 273 • ‘I wondered if fate had marked me to be the next in the long line of women that Anys had once spoken of...’ p. 268 • she loses her faith in God, but not her hope p. 301
Anna’s Family • Joss Bont is an unsympathetic character who we are invited to have strong feelings of distaste for ‘My father’s croft had ever been a joyless place’ p. 7 • He put the branks on his first wife and threatens to do it to Anna (see page 133) • His background is revealed as abusive, however, we can see that Anna has also suffered and has allowed this to make her more compassionate and perceptive • His greed and weakness are his undoing and the village and his own family leave him to die
Anna’s Stepmother • Aphra was married to Joss as a last resort when she was 26 (p. 40) • ‘she was a shrewd woman my stepmother in spite of all her superstitious fancies’ p. 107 • She knows how to handle him ‘I have my own ways of bridling that mule’ p. 198 and is as avaricious and mean spirited as he is, although somewhat more pragmatic • She only values Anna for what she can get from her
Elinor • Elinor is Anna’s hero, she is intelligent and patient, kind and hard working ‘The frail body was paired with a sinewy mind...possessed with a driving energy to make and do’ p. 35 • ‘because of her I had known the warmth of a motherly concern’ ‘I had had a teacher’ ‘she was my friend and I loved her’ p. 234 • Encourages her learning and helps her to develop as a person ‘you know a very great deal more than you think you do’ p. 121
Anna is jealous of the closeness shared between Elinor and Michael ‘‘for the sin of my presumption and my jealousy’ p. 235 • ‘I was jealous of both of them at once. Of him, because Elinor loved him, and I hungered for a greater share of her love’ p. 229 • Elinor shares her secrets with Anna about her pregnancy to a young man out of wedlock and how Michael made a ‘sacrifice’ in marrying her. p. 155
Michael • Anna is tending a broken Michael at the beginning of the novel. She stays longer than a servant should to try and help him: ‘A servant has no right to stay once she’s dismissed’. p 4 • We find out his loss on page 9: ‘I tell myself I do it for her. Why else would I do it after all?’ Anna’s lack of certainty here hints at her feelings for Michael. • He arrived in the village on Anteros, young, powerful and passionate: ‘I’d forgotten what his eyes could do’ p. 4
Anna sleeps with Michael ‘‘taking him in my arms as Elinor surely would’ p. 175 • He reveals his arrogance and hypocrisy in the way he treated Elinor:‘ I deemed that she should atone by living some part of her life with her lusts unrequited. The more I could make her love me, the more her penance might weigh in the balance to equal her sin.’ p. 281 • Anna sees then his ‘unnatural coldness’ and ‘perversion’ p. 284
Six Propositions about Mompellion • However, it is easy to lose sight of the significant role of Michael Mompellion in the events that took place in Eyam in 1666.
Proposition 1 Mompellion is the instigator of the key actions in the novel, which includes the final decision of Anna to leave Eyam. This makes him central to the action and the unfolding of events during 1666.
Elaboration 1 • Preaches to quarantine Eyam • Had consulted Thomas Stanley • Thus a carefully considered decision • Had agonised over it: ‘had been thin lipped and taut as a bowstring as if struggling to control a terrible rage.” • The great burning when all villagers had to shed their possessions: villagers were ‘frowning’ and ‘shaking heads’ • Decision based on the death of Urith Gordon • Decides and announces end of quarantine • 2nd Sunday in August 1666 • The tragic moment
Proposition 2 Michael Mompellion is a complex character – perhaps more so than Anna and Elinor (??). He is a man of contradictions. This makes him as interesting as Anna and Elinor. He is at once a loving husband (despite not consummating the marriage), a caring priest, charismatic, physically strong, courageous, articulate and persuasive; but he is also ‘blind’, arrogant, proud and, at the end, cynical. But then all the characters are ‘flawed people’.
Elaboration 2 • Caring : takes in Elinor; stays with George Viccars and others throughout sickness; calms Anna when children are ill; forgives Brand his theft; helps Maggie Cantwell • Charismatic: his voice focused attention on what he said; ‘silken whispers’/’comforting’; gallant knight on Anteros. • Physically strong: lifts Viccars corpse ‘as if it were nothing’. • Courageous: confronts Col Bradford; confronts lynch mob; confronts Josiah Bont after Christopher Unwin’s grave is dug before he dies. • Intelligent and intellectual: his sermons are carefully thought through. • BUT:
Elaboration 2 (cont) • ‘Blind’ to some things: fails to fully understand the developing relationship between Anna and Elinor. • Arrogant and proud: his treatment of Elinor throughout their marriage (despite loving her); ‘I thought I spoke for God. Fool. My whole life … based on a lie.’ • Capable of profound anger: Jane Martin
Proposition 3 Mompellion’s suffering is magnified because of the tragic and perhaps ironic fate of losing his wife, not to the plague, but to AphraBont who goes mad because of what the imprisonment during the plague does to her and her husband.
Elaboration 3 • Ironically, it is Mompellion’s unwitting act in separating the skull of Faith Bont from her corpse that sends Aphra into the frenzy that kills Elinor. • When the plague is over, there being no deaths in two weeks, Elinor is murdered. • Is he responsible for her death? Is he naïve?
Proposition 4 There is something tragic about how his life unfolds. He is a victim of his own arrogance and pride: he watches the villagers he came to serve suffer because of the demands he makes on them
Elaboration 4 • He watches villagers die knowing some may have survived had they been allowed to leave Eyam • Sees villagers turn in on themselves: Jane Martin, Kate Talbot, John Gordon, Martin Miller, Randoll Daniel, AphraBont, Josiah Bont. • ‘Wavers between rage and self-reproach … (becomes) more difficult to gather up words for sermons.’ • This becomes more articulate after the death of Elinor.
Proposition 5 Mompellion’s rise and fall is one of the interesting aspects of the novel. • His faith in God and his love for his people led him to argue that the villagers of Eyam self-impose a quarantine; • he is betrayed by his faith and the people he chose to serve. • His ‘fall’ runs counter to the ‘rise’ of Anna.
Elaboration 5 • His fall is the greatest: “I thought I spoke for God … all I have done, all I have said, all I have felt, has been based upon a lie.” (282) • Loss of his parish; loss of his wife; loss of faith – ‘And now it seems there is no God and I was wrong.’ • Because of ‘me’, many are dead and faith is lost. • Sadly, at the end, the man who had worked tirelessly to help his villagers, will not rise to attend to Mrs Bradford - that is left to Anna.
Proposition 6 We empathise with Mompellion and want to overlook his faults because it is his lot as a preacher to tend to the dying, which he does with stamina and unflinching determination, while Anna and Elinor tend to the living. He realises his flaws and while he fails to help Mrs Bradford, he does offer help to Anna at the end.
Anys Gowdie • ‘the kind of power a woman like Anys might yield’ p. 40 • ‘Why would I marry? I’ll not be made any man’s chattel’ p. 54 • People thought in terms of ‘dark and light’ and ‘Anys Gowdie confounded such thinking’ p. 55 • Anys becomes a scapegoat ‘fought you with the only weapon she had to hand - your own ugly thoughts and evil doubting of one another!’ p. 95
Key Themes • Marriage and motherhood • social hierarchy - class and control • responses to adversity - testing of society and individuals • competing world views - sacred, secular, superstitious
Marriage and Motherhood • the perils women face just because of their sex • unhappy marriages across all social classes (Bradfords, Mompellions, Bonts, Gordons) • Urith Gordon must obey her husband in all things • Anys rejects marriage • Lib Hancock and her mother ‘shackled to their menfolk as surely as the plough to the shares’ p. 55
Elinor, childless, ‘mothered those who weren’t mothered enough in their own crowded crofts’ p. 38 • Anna is defined by her role as mother ‘Umm Ja-mee’ p. 303 • Aisha and Elinor give her reason to live • Anys predicts Anna’s ‘arms will not be empty forever’ p. 84
Social Hierarchy • Bradfords at the top of the social scale but morally repugnant • society is undergoing profound change - ‘wealth and connection are no shield against plague’ p. 60 • Anna is a servant - she is, at times, in a precarious position - avoids the Bradford’s son because of the possibility of rape • Elizabeth asserts her incredulity that ‘the housemaid knows more than a London surgeon’ p. 285
Anna challenges Mompellion at the end ‘have you taken leave of yours? (senses)’ • She is not a typical servant - educated, intelligent and as such defies the usual social norms for a woman of her class. Her learning and the way she reacts to the times mark her as different.
Responses to Adversity • Bradfords flee the village • Villagers accept self-imposed quarantine • some people are used as scapegoats (Gowdies) • Isolation - Merrick • Opportunism - ‘nick’ Merry Wickford’s stow • exploitation - Joss Bont and Aphra
Superstition - Kate Talbot, buying charms from ‘Anys’ Ghost’ • Repentance - Jakob Merrill’s provision for his daughter and his saving of Brand • Social cohesion- increased attendance at church services by the non-conformists • Promiscuity - Jane Martin • Flagellation - John Gordon and those who later followed him
Madness - Aphra • Bravery - Elinor and Anna in the Wickford mine • Despair - Michael and (briefly) Anna - p. 268 • Loss of faith - Michael and Anna • Strength - Anna
Competing World Views • miners are ‘superstitious men’ p. 175 • Gowdies - herbal lore and spells p. 84 this becomes their undoing when people are looking for someone to blame • people question their beliefs - how can God be so ‘prodigal’? p. 135 • Anna has a ‘revelation’ p. 214-15 ‘perhaps each was false equally’
Michael questions God when he recites the prayer ‘Your wife will be like a fruitful vine....’ p. 19 • Michael believes God a ‘poor listener’ p. 17 and finds that he has ‘given himself up to his own darkness’ 271 • ‘My whole life, all I have done, all I have said, all I have felt, has been based upon a lie’ p. 282 • Anna finds that the cross, upon which she used to find comfort no longer ‘had anything to say’ p. 283