An Art, A Craft, A Mystery

a novel in poetry

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Pub Date 02 Mar 2001 | Archive Date Not set

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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. 

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...

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Review copies, Kirkus, author readings.

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ISBN 9781604893038
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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 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.

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I devoured this historical fiction piece. One of the ways I discovered this was a brief mention in my women's lit class and I was super curious. I loved this. I want a physical copy now.

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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.

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