Sunday, January 22, 2006
The Minister's Daughter
Hearn, Julie. 2005. THE MINISTER’S DAUGHTER. New York: Atheneum. ISBN 9780689876905 [Suggested Grade Levels 7-12]
“She cursed me, sir in the Devil’s name. She caused me to burn.” When Grace, the Puritan minister’s daughter becomes pregnant in 1645, she convincingly blames her condition on witchcraft. Nell, the Cunning Woman’s daughter provides an easy target as she continues in the old ways: serving as midwife, healing using charms, spells, and herbs, and consorting with fairies and piskies. The village goes first after the Cunning Woman herself who is becoming senile, dunking her in the pond until the last fragments of her mind are gone. Then they turn on Nell intending to hang her. Rescued from the gallows by the Prince of England who has been notified of the plot by the fairies and piskies, Nell lives. Patience, the minister’s younger daughter “confesses” the truth about the events in 1692, when she is herself accused of witchcraft. The outcome of these events is surprising and satisfying.
The novel alternates between Patience’s “confession” in 1692 written in first person and the events in 1645 described in third person. The magical, fantasy elements of spells, fairies, and piskies are representative of the beliefs of many in early Christian England. The characters of Nell and Grace are written as extremes: Nell, though pagan, is a likeable good girl while Grace is manipulative and evil. The narrator Patience stands in for the rest of humanity and is silent until she herself is affected.
After reading THE MINISTER’S DAUGHTER and viewing a documentary (e.g., The History Channel’s IN SEARCH OF HISTORY: THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS) have readers create a play in which Nell is put on trial for her “witchcraft.”
Nonfiction books about witch hunts in America:
Aronson, Marc. WITCH-HUNT : MYSTERIES OF THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS. ISBN 1416903151
MacBain, Jenny. THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS: A PRIMARY SOURCE HISTORY OF THE WITCHCRAFT TRIALS IN SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS. ISBN 082393683X
By Terri Moore