100 Books. 100 Years

100 Years. 100 Books – #15, 1928

A Mirror For Witches by Esther Forbes – I knew Forbes primarily from her Newbery winning novel for children, Johnny Tremain, so I was eager to read this book, which recounts the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials decades before Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

The book opens with Captain Bilby, an English merchant captain, rescuing a wild, goblin child from the scene of a horrific witch burning in France. He calls the child “Doll” because she reminds him of such a poppet, with her wild hair and button eyes. Doll, a child of 7 or 8, witnesses both of her parents being burned as witches, a trauma which shapes the rest of her life. Bilby’s wife is none to pleased when he returns to England with this odd, silent child. Eventually, the family makes its way to the Massachusetts colony, where Doll grows to womanhood never gaining the trust or love of her new mother.

Eventually, Doll attracts the attentions of  the son of a neighboring farmer, who finds himself attracted to her. The fathers agree this is a good match that will unite their farms and families. However, Goodwife Bilby accuses the girl of witchcraft, indeed has harbored the idea from the time the girl was brought into her home. The hysteria happening in Salem, located just a town away, seeps into the psyche of Cowan’s Corners, where Doll is accused of all sorts of evil doings.

Written decades before The Crucible, Forbes’ story of the Salem trials is told from a woman’s point of view, where sexual attraction and desire is looked on as devilment and the work of a witch, rather than as a natural human emotion. Forbes’ treatment of this dark chapter in American history is thoughtful, eloquent and horrifying at the same time.

I was able to find a copy of the 2006 reproduction printing of this book, done in authentic typesetting and accompanied by noteworthy woodcuts by Robert Gibbings. If you are fascinated by the hysteria that swept Salem in the 1600s, or if you are looking for a slice of women’s history, try this one. You won’t be sorry.

5 out of 5 catalog cards