Review: The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem – Stacy Schiff

Today’s review was inspired by the many nonfiction travelogue novels I have been reading as of late.

While I am now well versed in where to go should I ever get the chance to travel to Salem, my understanding of the witch trial are less than perfect.

Did The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem by Stacy Schiff give me a firm understanding of what lead and what came out of the Salem witch trials? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.

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28449076The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem by Stacy Schiff

Publisher: Back Bay Books (September 20, 2016)

Print Length: 512 pages

Audiobook Length: 18 hrs and 22 mins

Narrator: Eliza Foss

The panic began early in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister’s niece began to writhe and roar. It spread quickly, confounding the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, husbands accused wives, parents and children one another. It ended less than a year later, but not before nineteen men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.

Speaking loudly and emphatically, adolescent girls stood at the center of the crisis. Along with suffrage and Prohibition, the Salem witch trials represent one of the few moments when women played the central role in American history. Drawing masterfully on the archives, Stacy Schiff introduces us to the strains on a Puritan adolescent’s life and to the authorities whose delicate agendas were at risk. She illuminates the demands of a rigorous faith, the vulnerability of settlements adrift from the mother country, perched-at a politically tumultuous time-on the edge of what a visitor termed a “remote, rocky, barren, bushy, wild-woody wilderness.”

With devastating clarity, the textures and tensions of colonial life emerge; hidden patterns subtly, startlingly detach themselves from the darkness. Schiff brings early American anxieties to the fore to align them brilliantly with our own. In an era of religious provocations, crowdsourcing, and invisible enemies, this enthralling story makes more sense than ever.

The Review

Spanning 512 pages, The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem is a comprehensive, and in certain passages, dense, look as to what was the cause and effect of one of Colonial America’s most mysterious cases of hysteria.

The Witches leaves no stone unturned in search for the truth behind the witch hysteria of 1692. Told in linear chapters, Schiff details the whole horrible history, from the political situation preceding the events, to the numerous accusation, trials, and punishments. It is clear when reading The Witches that Schiff is captivated by the trials, so much so that along with the information in the main text she has chosen to include both an index of characters, because their are a lot of people to remember, and footnotes, for those extra tidbits of information.

And yet, even though I was searching for a text to thoroughly educate me in all things Salem witch trials, this was a trial to read. It is very dense in places, almost textbook like, which kind of made me lose interest in context that was probably important to the overall examination. I also, in my reading, wasn’t given all the answers I was looking for. Schiff opened the novel by saying fourteen women, five men, and two dogs were executed for witchcraft, but did elaborate in regards to the two dogs. I know it’s a weird criticism, but I really did want to know why and how the dogs were tried for witchcraft and had to find my answer via the internet rather than this book. Finally, while I did appreciate Schiff’s analysis of why things transpired the way they did, I think it would have gone better if it would have been a short epilogue, rather than the last chapter.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indigo

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And those are my thoughts on The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem by Stacy Schiff. Have any witchy nonfiction recommendations? Leave your recommendation below and help my TBR grow.

 

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