This is the tale of an English village beset by Plague in 1665-1666. The protagonist of the story is a young widow, Anna. Anna’s husband was an Iron miner, and died in a mining accident, leaving her to support and care for her two young children. In addition to working as a servant at the rectory, she takes in a border to supplement her income.
Her border is a tailor, and they get along very well. He enjoys her children, and brings laughter back into the home. There is the start of a romance, and it looks as though Anna and the tailor might consider getting married. All is well, until the tailor receives a bolt of cloth from London, which is infested with the Plague. He quickly falls ill, and on his deathbed, begs Anna to burn all of his wares, as he has seen the effects of Plague and how quickly it can spread. Unfortunately, the townspeople who had placed orders with the tailor, and who had already put down deposits on garments, refuse her advice to burn the fabric, and they take it into their homes. Thus the disease is loosed into the community, and many people suffer because of it.
Anna continues her work in the rectory, and the nature of her work changes dramatically. From cleaning and cooking for the rector and his young wife, Elinor, to comforting the ill and working to find a cure through herbs and medicines, and eventually even midwifery, she and Elinor become close friends. Elinor teaches Anna to read, and tells her her deepest secrets.
The story is written with an attention to detail that is very moving. The descriptions of the English countryside make you long to vacation there, while the descriptions of those suffering from Plague are disturbing and somewhat gross (but not in a gratuitous, disgusting way). The effects that the disease has on the village is profound. Not only do they lose 2/3 of their population to the Plague, along with the skills and knowledge that those people had provided to the community, but fear, superstition, and greed play their parts as well.
It was an intriguing book, and one that I would highly recommend. Not, perhaps, if you’re currently suffering from ‘flu, however. I liked it well enough that when we went to the bookstore yesterday, I purchased March, which is another book by the same author. For those of you who enjoyed Little Women, March is the tale of Mr. March, the absent father in Little Women, and his experiences while off in the Civil War. I’m looking forward to reading it, but not yet…next on my list is the last book in the challenge, Julie and Julia, which was given to me by some dear friends last Christmas. I saved it for last in this challenge, because I thought I might need cheering up after some of the heavier topics I visited…including adultery, cancer and personal freedom over one’s own body, and homesteading in the 1800s.
(If you’re wondering why this post is so dang late in the day, I wrote it up, and tried the Google Toolbar spellcheck, and somehow lost my first post! ARGH! So I stopped, took a shower, did some work, went to the neighbors house to check on her cats while she’s out of town, ate breakfast, and only now am getting back to a second try. Whew.)