Summary and book reviews of Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

Daughters of the Witching Hill

A Novel

by Mary Sharratt

Daughters of the Witching Hill
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2010, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2011, 352 pages

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Book Summary

Daughters of the Witching Hill brings history to life in a vivid and wrenching account of a family sustained by love as they try to survive the hysteria of a witch-hunt.

Bess Southerns, an impoverished widow living in Pendle Forest, is haunted by visions and gains a reputation as a cunning woman. Drawing on the Catholic folk magic of her youth, Bess heals the sick and foretells the future. As she ages, she instructs her granddaughter, Alizon, in her craft, as well as her best friend, who ultimately turns to dark magic.

When a peddler suffers a stroke after exchanging harsh words with Alizon, a local magistrate, eager to make his name as a witch finder, plays neighbors and family members against one another until suspicion and paranoia reach frenzied heights.

Sharratt interweaves well-researched historical details of the 1612 Pendle witch-hunt with a beautifully imagined story of strong women, family, and betrayal. Daughters of the Witching Hill is a powerful novel of intrigue and revelation.

Daughters of the Witching Hill:
A Novel of the Pendle Witches

She was a very old woman, about the age of Foure-score yeares, and had been a Witch for fiftie yeares. Shee dwelt in the Forrest of Pendle, a vast place, fitte for her profession: What shee committed in her time, no man knows. . . . Shee was a generall agent for the Devill in all these partes: no man escaped her, or her Furies.

Thomas Potts, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the County of Lancaster, 1613

1
1610

See us gathered here, three women stood at Richard Baldwin’s gate. I bide with my daughter, Liza of the squint-eye, and with my granddaughter, Alizon, just fifteen and dazzling as the noontide sun, so bright that she lights up the murk of my dim sight. Demdike, folk call me, after the dammed stream near my dwelling place where the farmers wash their sheep before shearing. When I was younger and stronger, I used to help with the sheepwash. Wasn’t afraid of the fiercest rams....

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Daughters of the Witching Hill is set in Pendle Forest in Lancashire, England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, spanning the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James.

Discussion Questions
  1. What did you learn about life in northern England during this time?

  2. Comparing the Pendle Witch Trials to the more familiar Salem Witch Trials of 1692, what primary differences crop up in the social forces driving the two witch hunts?

  3. Does book’s portrayal of magic and cunning folk in Early Modern Britain feel authentic to you? Did the book change any of your views on historical witchcraft?

  4. This is how Thomas Potts describes Elizabeth Southerns, aka Mother Demdike, in his book, A Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

As a reader, I learned about the use of religion as a means of control over the people ... at times, it reminded me of the current times, when we are becoming less tolerant of others who are not exactly like us. I encourage all to read this enchanting story as it will have a lasting effect on you showing how the world has changed and then really not changed over the last several hundred years. I recommend Daughters of the Witching Hill for book clubs as there is much to discuss and will definitely be recommending this to my friends, co-workers and our library's patrons who ask for "a good read".   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review Members Only (717 words).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Committed storytelling and visual detail mark this overlong but tightly wound historical.

Library Journal

Starred Review. While not a quick read, this is a fascinating tale. The story unfolds without melodrama and is therefore all the more powerful.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [T]his novel grows darker as it approaches its inevitable conclusion, but proves uplifting in its portrayal of women who persevere, and mothers and daughters who forgive.

Reader Reviews

Natalya M. (Medical Lake, WA)

A cunning novel of witchcraft
This book is a great historical fiction novel that puts together magic, religious persecution, and witch hunts. Bess Southerns a poor widow starts using her gifts to help those in her village. She teaches her cunning craft to her granddaughter and ...   Read More

Colleen T. (Lakewood, CO)

Daughters of the Witching Hill
An amazing story. The author's excellent writing style puts you in the story so you feel as though you are actually there. I recommend this book highly.

Peg M. (Durham, NC)

The Good Women of the Witching Hill
Mary Sharratt has taken a piece of English history and made the women and their story come alive. Her occasional use of olde English-language words is initially unsettling but eventually infuses the story with an other-worldliness, without intruding ...   Read More

Mary M. (Lexingtin, KY)

Fascinating Historical Novel
I found this book to be interesting and well written. I knew nothing about the historical events it was based on. I sometimes have trouble relating to characters in historical novels, but from the first few pages I felt I knew Demdike. I cared ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Mary Sharratt explains how she became a "Daughter of the Witching Hill"
In bleak midwinter 2002, I moved to rural Lancashire, in northern England, an incongruous place for an American expat. The first months were so oppressively dark, I felt I was trapped inside some claustrophobic gothic novel. But then came spring in a tide of bluebells and hawthorn. The wild Pennine landscape cast its spell on me.

Pendle Hill

I live at the foot of Pendle Hill, famous throughout the world as the place where George Fox received his vision that moved him to found the Quaker religion in 1652. But Pendle is also steeped in its legends of the Lancashire Witches.

In 1612, seven women and two men from Pendle Forest were hanged ...

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