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Image: Ollie Grove

also acutely aware of the dangers of childbirth in those times and enlists the support of a young midwife named Alice. Asserting her need for Alice to attend her is a major element in her struggle for independence and causes great friction within her marriage. Later, Fleetwood begs a furious Richard to come to Alice’s aid during the assizes where she is to be tried as a witch. She thinks to herself, ‘Again, I was thwarted, bound by my invisible leash. It was strange: I was sitting in my house with my husband and dog but had never felt more wretched… now I felt like a visitor in my own life.’ Alice herself comes from a line of ‘wise women’ who, over generations, have accumulated learning and experience in the use of medicinal plants and herbs - a much-needed resource for treatment and remedies amongst the poorer population. Her knowledge, and therefore power, is the focus of fear, suspicion and persecution on the part of the ruling classes who understand it only as ‘witchery’. ‘Most women are wise,’ Alice says. And, according to the king, not to be trusted. She continues, ‘He has driven them into the shadows. But people are still sick and dying and having children, and not everyone has a royal physic. The king has muddled wise women with witchcraft.’ The novel is enriched through marvellous evocations of period clothing, details of interiors, the food eaten and the appearance of the characters themselves. The reader is given colour, texture and light in relationship to both human activity and the landscape, descriptions which are sometimes quite lovely but which are accompanied by graphic images of appalling poverty and destitution. Beneath this tale, based on historical fact, there runs an undercurrent of the unexplainable. Alice is bound up with a family which has a reputation for ‘witch behaviour’. ‘Poppets’, small, hand-made cloth dolls, are described, and the notion of each individual having a ‘familiar spirit’ is taken as fact. Amber-eyed Alice is kind and compassionate, ‘not beautiful but… [with] some vital quality that made her interesting to look at.’ Although a benign figure, there is an element of her character that is never quite explained or understood. Fleetwood’s closing thoughts leave the reader to ponder on this. Feeling herself watched she turned and, ‘A stunning red fox fixed me with its wide, amber eyes and placed a hesitant paw on the grass. We stared at one another and time stood still… my breath caught in my throat. Then I blinked, and it was gone.’ dorsetbooks.com bridporttimes.co.uk | 83

Profile for Sherborne & Bridport Times

Bridport Times February 2019  

Featuring Helen and David Aupperlee of Broadoak Coffee, What's On, Arts & Culture, History, Wild Dorset, Outdoors, Archaeology, Food & Drin...

Bridport Times February 2019  

Featuring Helen and David Aupperlee of Broadoak Coffee, What's On, Arts & Culture, History, Wild Dorset, Outdoors, Archaeology, Food & Drin...