ARC Review: ‘Six Women of Salem’ by Marilynne K. Roach

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Da Capo Press

3rd September 2013

The focus of this description of the Salem Witch Trials is six women caught up in the centre of them, Rebecca Nurse, Bridget Bishop, Mary English, Ann Putnam Sr., Tituba and Mary Warren. Their part in those terrible events is minutely described, using surviving court records and other papers including eye-witness reports. While ranging widely through the events these six women form the centre of the narrative, from introductions to a detailed discussion of events week by week.

The events are described in detailed narrative, with copious notes and sources. There are short vignettes of daily life, dramatisations of events as they took place at the beginning of most chapters; this provides an imaginative insight in to the thoughts of these women, though we will never be able to say what they really thought.

Roach captures the details; the growing hysteria and desperation of the community as more and more people are accused and afflicted, the destructive refusal of the magistrates to listen to the accused, and the long buried antagonisms that were aired as people used the witch hunt to get revenge for perceived slights. As one reads this book it becomes obvious that certain families used the witch trials for their own ends, and that what may have started out as a way for Annie Putnam to get attention led to the deaths of twenty-five innocent people. Supposed witches were bullied in to confessing then when they tried to retract their confessions they were ignored and some, such as Mary Warren, joined in as one of the afflicted and accused more and more people.

Ann Putnam Sr, whose daughter  Annie was the first of the ‘afflicted’, was convinced she was also bewitched and by means of leading questions to her daughter and maid, Mercy Lewis, discovered who their tortures were – people who had argued with the Putnam family in the past such as Bridget Bishop and Rebecca Nurse. Her own slave, Tituba, was implicated and Tituba’s lies – a confession she made from fear – escalated people’s fears.

It’s a sorry tale of superstition and small town jealousy, started by bored girls, who once it got serious – when they were actually believed – had to be kept up. Roach provides intelligent but minimal comment on the narrative, with some interpretation of events or the actions of those involved.

A fascinating and full description of terrible events.

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