An Art, A Craft, A Mystery
a novel in poetry
by Laura Secord
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Pub Date 02 Mar 2001 | Archive Date 28 Jul 2023
This novel in verse tells the stories of two historical women, Lydea Gilbert and Katherine (Kate) Harrison, who lived along the frontier of the Connecticut River in the mid 1600s. They were healers, midwives, farmers and ordinary women who faced the struggles and joys of life in a wild new land. They were women in a puritan culture, women of intuitive genius and healing powers, who lived through times where feminine power and the value of women’s lives was suspect and condemned.
Review copies, Kirkus, author readings.
Review copies, Kirkus, author readings.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 8 members
London, early 1600's. Women must know their place: Keep the coals ablaze and the hearth warm, attend to the young'uns and make the bread. Men, in endless discourse in the meetinghouse, discussed sin and redemption. Narrow minds wielded all the power.
Lydea Gilbert lost her husband and three young children to the plague. "To glorify their tender souls, I strive to nurse those suffering and work to tend the living...". Lydea and her niece Kate walk, "through scourge infested alleys, cradle child after child, try to sustain lives."
Lydea and Kate have chosen temporary bondage, selling themselves for passage to the colonies. "Self sold and adrift to unknown lands." In Connecticut, "the air smells evergreen and trees outnumber men." "Sabbaths, we sit for hours in the meetinghouse...so much concern for thoughts of evil, blind to the good in everything." This blindness fueled the witchcraft hysteria in 1600's Connecticut.
Kate's travails were for Captain Cullick of Hartford. "I hear the cows call for milking, the pigs for slop. Just a low girl...After dark, I become another girl who pretends among her peers to have a skill with fortune telling...Let them believe my skill. Let them think I am more than what mistress call me...I elevate myself with storied talk." Lydea is sent to the farm of Henry Stiles, a grief stricken widower. His unattended fields will now bear crops. She dwells in his cellar house in Windsor. Women must just "stock the larders...for long I've known a women can't ask much but a dry cot and small beer come the dusk." It's all about power. One must align oneself with those on the right side. Accuse a neighbor of being a witch. Will this earn a person protection against being accused? Scapegoats are always needed. Others must be blamed for hard times, poor crop yields, unexpected death.
"An Art, A Craft, A Mystery: A Novel-in Verse" by Laura Secord is the story of two lesser known competent women, Lydea Gilbert and Kate Harrison who were accused of witchcraft. During the witch trials in 1600's Connecticut, "the magistrates and ministers are dressed in solemnity, yet the throng outside is noisy as a carnival." Written in verse, this masterfully written historical novel, based upon extensive research including trial transcripts and witness testimony, paints a grim picture of colonial life in the towns of Windsor and Wethersfield. Kudos to Laura Secord for highlighting the lives of two remarkable women. Highly recommended.
Thank you Livingston Press at the University of West Alabama and Net Galley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This story of two historical women who were accused of witchcraft in the 1600s in Connecticut is told in free verse. While the trials and the fear of being accused of being a witch was a presence in the novel it was not the focus. Instead, it was the joy, struggle and sorrow of living in wild, new land. These women were wives, mothers and daughter. Also, healers, midwives and farmers. They had knowledge of plants and an appreciation of nature which comes out in lyrical passages that I won’t forget any time soon.
The lives of women in the 1600s in Colonial America have often been overlooked by history texts, except for a special few, and the sources were scarce. However, because these two women were brought to trial accused of being witches there were quite extensive court records which reveal details about them which was unusual. The author, through extensive research and effort to recreate the inner lives of these women, created a wonderful and beautiful testimony of the richness and tragedy of colonial times for women.
It is a quick read but one that can be read multiple times with a new appreciation each time. I enjoyed it a great deal. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest opinion.
I adore this historical fiction but the cover and the font leaves much less to desire. I wish they put more effort into making it prettier. Historical fictions are not the norm and a good cover would have been able to led more people to this beautiful piece of art.
This novel-in-verse is unlike anything I've read before. Although poetry is not my strong suit, I found these quite accessible, and the narrative going through them was easy to follow. It was quite a fast read as well, but I'm sure would be good to re-read.
More than that, this story was powerful and gripping. I was audibly gasping at times and it was really heart-wrenching. Kate is a fantastic character, but both women were really fleshed out and compelling. This book shows the reality of the cruelty towards women living in this period. It's clearly well-researched, but it didn't feel like a history book. The writing craft is executed very well. It was so sad, but ended on a really great note with a fantastic last line.
I did at times find it a bit hard to keep track of some of the secondary characters. Due to the nature of the structure of the book, it's not easy to remind the reader who everyone is. Also in the author's note, she mentions wondering if the women were actual witches. I know that's a take on the witch trials that a lot of people take, but I wasn't clear if that's what she was suggesting in this particular book? If it was, that was totally lost on me. I thought it was more about how interacting with the Native population and/or owning property meant the patriarchal society saw them as a threat, but then when I read that in the notes I wondered if I misread the entire book.
Regardless of that, this book was a great read and I'd highly recommend it!
This novel in verse tells the stories of two historical women, Lydea Gilbert and Katherine (Kate) Harrison, who lived along the frontier of the Connecticut River in the mid-1600s. Like their mentor Anne Hutchinson, these women were healers, midwives, farmers, and ordinary humans who faced the struggles and joys of life in a wild new land. Unfortunately, they lived in a puritan culture where women with intuitive genius and healing powers were suspected and condemned for showing their feminine power.
This book shows how characters with steadfast endurance were betrayed by patriarchal power. According to this quote at the beginning of the book, "We kept the small alive from day to day, kept households warm, kept bread made. While men sat in the meetinghouse in ceaseless debate on sin, redemption, destiny, their grace came through women’s works— watching fires and keeping coals ablaze. Their salvation came through women’s hands, gathering each day’s yeasted scraps for tomorrow’s meal, a sacred pact. Don’t think these skills were simple, they were an art, a craft, a mystery, yet when the men took notice, they doubted diligence and named it witchery."
I enjoyed this book. It's packed with history and is a pleasure to read. Also, I connected with the women. In an age where they faced death for helping others, they stood tall as examples for women today.
Some of my favorite quotes:
"About the trial of Anne Hutchinson in 1637 - they plan to break her, reduce her, force her to let go of her ideals, and lay herself open."
"I drift from the preacher’s doom, doubting his message. So much concern for thoughts of evil, blind to the good in everything."
"This assertion of personal communion with God is rebellion, the free gift of God’s grace, needs strict discipline."
"The contest, true— to learn endurance through the harshest things."
"The only salve to cure these bitter sorrows is the juice of wild memory."
A Unique Exploration through Poetry - 4 Stars
"An Art, A Craft, A Mystery," a novel in poetry by Laura Secord, offers a distinctive approach to storytelling through poetic expression. This creative and imaginative format adds depth and nuance to the narrative, though it may present challenges in terms of accessibility for all readers.
The novel's structure as a series of poems lends a unique rhythm and pacing to the story. The use of poetry allows for a more focused exploration of emotions, sensations, and moments. This can create an immersive and introspective reading experience, providing insights into the characters' thoughts and feelings.
The interplay between art, craft, and mystery, as hinted by the title, is a promising foundation for a rich and engaging narrative. The poetic medium has the potential to enhance the sense of mystery and atmosphere, drawing readers into the story in an unconventional way.
However, the accessibility of poetry can be a factor to consider. Poetry often demands more attention and engagement from readers compared to prose. While some readers may find the poetic form enriching and rewarding, others might find it challenging to fully grasp the nuances of the narrative through this medium.
Furthermore, the success of a novel in poetry relies heavily on the effectiveness of the language and imagery. The ability of the poems to evoke emotions, create vivid mental pictures, and carry the story forward is crucial. The novel's impact might vary depending on the reader's familiarity with poetry and their personal preferences.
In conclusion, "An Art, A Craft, A Mystery" by Laura Secord offers a unique and creative approach to storytelling through poetry. The novel's potential to explore themes of art, craft, and mystery in an unconventional manner is commendable. However, the accessibility of the poetic form and the effectiveness of the language and imagery may influence the reader's engagement and connection with the narrative. With its potential for depth and distinctiveness, the novel deserves a four-star rating, acknowledging its ambition and creativity while taking into consideration the potential challenges posed by its chosen medium.