And people liked not to hear the rector calling him Anteros, after one of the old Puritans told them it was the name of a pagan idol. When I made so bold as to ask Mr. Mompellion about it, he had only laughed and said that even Puritans should recall that pagans too are children of God and their stories part of His creation.
This quote shows that Michael Mompellion is not entirely strict in his responses to Puritan belief. He accepts the faith and beliefs of other peoples without judgment, and he believes that their stories are a valid part of history. Anteros’s name is also a telling symbol of Michael’s character, particularly his relationship with Elinor. Since Anteros is the Greek god of requited love, it appears that Michael is a kind, loving husband who treasures his wife dearly. Yet, in a later stage of the story, Michael’s true nature contradicts this allusion.
In the very middle of the street, a walnut shell lies broken, and from it, already, sprouts a sapling that wants to grow up to block our way entire. I have watched it from its first seed leaves, wondering when someone would pull it out. No one has yet done so, and now it stands already a yard high. Footprints testify that we are all walking around it. I wonder if it is indifference, or whether, like me, others are so brimful of endings that they cannot bear to wrench even a scrawny sapling from its tenuous grip on life.
Anna’s narration at the beginning of the novel calls attention to the themes of life and death. It has already been a year since the plague manifested itself in the village, and she is so weary of death that seeing life in anything is a relief. Even seeing a small tree grow in the road seems like a miracle; Anna's observations attest to how devastating the plague has been.
“You don’t blame her for choosing a living of lustfulness and debauchery?” he inquired, his eyebrow raised in mock severity.
“May be I might,” I replied. “But before I blamed, I would like to know the extent of her choices in the hard world that you have described to me. If you are drowning in a sewer, your first concern might be that you are drowning, not how vile you smell.”
This exchange between George Viccars and Anna shows how prostitution was viewed in the 17th century. Women who turned to having sex for money were viewed as terrible sinners; men were not judged for their trysts, and women alone were blamed for fornication. This section also gives a brief glimpse into Anna’s own thought processes. Rather than jumping to conclusions and judging people for their transgressions, she wants to understand what would cause a woman to choose prostitution as a career. She does not see the world as black and white, right and wrong. Instead, she sees the necessity of questioning people’s motives before judging people's actions.
But I think that in her heart Aphra had never ceased to pine for the kind of power a woman like Anys might wield. How else to account for her ill thoughts toward one who only did good by her and her children?
Jealousy plays a large part in Aphra’s actions. According to Anna, Aphra is jealous of Anys’s beauty and of her power over men. She also envies Anys’s ability to act independently, without relying on men. But rather than seeing Anys as an asset, Aphra uses Anys for her medical knowledge while letting envy drive her to treat Anys like a witch.
There were angels carved into the cross, but also strange creatures whose nature I did not know. Mrs. Mompellion had told me once that the cross came from a time when the Christian faith was new to Britain and had to vie with the old ways of the standing stones and the bloody sacrifices. I wondered dully if the craftsman who made it was thinking to outdo those other, older stone monuments. Had he fashioned it out of a faith that was hard and certain? Or had it been the gestures of a man seeking to appease a God who seemed to want not the love and awe that the Scriptures asked of us, but an endless surfeit of our suffering.
The Christian faith in England had a difficult history; it fought with older pagan religions until Christianity finally became the predominant creed. Many early Christians mixed their symbols and beliefs with the longstanding religions in order to make Christian doctrine appear more acceptable. As Anna ponders this history, she is conscious of how there was a seeming war between spiritual factions while the simple craftsman was caught in the middle. She relates to the craftsman because she too is caught between her faith in a loving God and the possibility of a newly vengeful God who is causing suffering in her village.
“Is it true?” he yelled, his knuckles bunched tight and poised above her. “Did you lay with Satan?” Before she could answer, he smashed his fist into her face. Blood streamed from her nose. He raised his arm to strike her again.
After believing Anys’s ruse that all the women in the village had sex with Satan, John Gordon turns his anger and wrath onto Urith, his wife. He does not wait for her to reply to his accusing questions, but instead takes his bruised ego out on her without hesitation. John's actions are indicative of what many women suffered during accusations of witchcraft: labeling a women a witch gave men an excuse to abuse and degrade women for sinning. This theme of violence against women appears multiple times in Year of Wonders.
“For there was a time when I had much that I, too, wanted to forget. That poppy you took from me – it was a relict from that time. I had kept it, you see, even though it is some years since I have resorted to it. But it is a jealous friend and will not lightly loosen its embrace.”
Elinor’s admission to Anna that she was once addicted to opiates is the first glimpse into the idea that Elinor’s life is not faultless. Yet this quote shows Anna that Elinor will not judge her for wanting to escape the hurt and pain caused by losing her children. Elinor also addresses how addiction arises. With the opiates, the need for escape takes over and controls people’s lives. This idea of giving oneself to self-destructive influences recurs a number of times in Year of Wonders, as many characters’ actions are fueled by jealousy.
For if we could be allowed to see the Plague as a thing in Nature merely, we did not have to trouble about some grand celestial design that had to be completed before the disease would abate. We could simply work upon it as a farmer might toil to rid his field of unwanted tare, knowing that when we found the tools and the method and the resolve, we would free ourselves, no matter if we were a village full of sinners or a host of saints.
While most of the villagers see the plague as punishment for past sins, Anna spends the novel wondering whether or not past transgressions play any role in the horrible year that claims the lives of many of her neighbors. The events surrounding the plague cause Anna to lose her faith and instead see the world as a series of chance happenings: one must simply deal with a given issue and move on to solve the next problem. Yet this loss of faith also allows Anna to see the world in a more simple light. She no longer has to worry about divine wrath or vengeance. Instead, she can see each problem as surmountable; in the case of the plague, she realizes that one day the suffering will end.
“What could she give in atonement for the life that, because of her actions, never could be lived? Because lust caused the sin, I deemed that she should atone by living some part of her life with her lust unrequited. The more I could make her love me, the more her penance might weigh in the balance to equal her sin.”
This part of Michael’s confession to Anna involves sharp disillusionment: Anna sees that the Mompellions' relationship, which she envied, was premised on degradation. While Michael is sorry for how he treated Elinor, Anna is disgusted with his treatment of her friend, a woman who spent a long stretch of her life being forced to atone for a sin she committed out of desperation. Michael’s cold, vicious side has revealed itself in small ways before, but this moment is when Anna realizes that Michael is not that man she thought he was.
How I had envied Elinor! The delicacy of her husband’s manner, the subtlety of his mind. How could I have understood so little? And yet how could anyone understand such things: that delicacy masked a most unnatural coldness; that subtle thought had twisted itself into perversion.
After Michael’s confession, Anna understands that her jealousy was misguided. The envy Anna once harbored for Elinor is subverted by the confession of what Michael forced Elinor to endure. At the same time, Anna considers what had initially drawn her to Michael and realizes that the holy, caring nature that Michael exuded was nothing more than a façade, a means of hiding his misogynistic ways.
Year of Wonders Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Year of Wonders is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
One day, Anna hears a mob some distance down the road. She approaches and sees Mem Gowdie on the ground. She has been tied up and is being beaten by a number of drunk villagers. They are accusing her of witchcraft, saying that she cursed the...