Year of Wonders

Year of Wonders Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is the significance of the Bible verse “Your Wife will be like a fruitful vine / Within your house; / Your children will be like olive shoots / Around your table” that Michael quotes at the beginning of the novel?

    When Michael presents this passage from scripture at the beginning of the novel, the reader is led to believe that Michael is merely upset that his wife died before giving him children. However, both Michael and Elinor reveal secrets about their marriages as the novel progresses. At first, Anna thinks that Elinor is merely barren as the result of her self-performed abortion. However, Michael sheds an even more stark light on the marriage: he refused to consummate his marriage with Elinor, meaning that he refused to provide her with a legitimate marriage to begin with.

  2. 2

    What causes the plague to spread to multiple households rather than remaining isolated?

    George Viccars is the first person to die of the plague, apparently because he contracted the bacteria through close contact with an infected bolt of cloth. When he is dying, he warns everyone to burn all the dresses that he made for the women. If the town had heeded his advice, the bacteria would most likely not have spread. However, women bring infected dresses into their homes and thus carry the bacteria across the village.

  3. 3

    How does Edward Cooper contract the plague?

    Edward Cooper contracts the plague from playing with playing with infected rats in the woodpile. While George Viccars's bolt of cloth was the primary carrier, the infection most likely spread to rats through a flea infestation. All three of these sources have been historically cited as plague carriers.

  4. 4

    What is the significance of Anys’s invocation “May the seven directions guide this work. May it be pleasing to my grandmothers, the ancient ones. So mote it be”?

    Anys’s invocation is a mixture of Christian and pagan mythology. The seven-pointed star is a Christian symbol of protection and represents the seven days of creation. At the same time, this seven directions that correlate with the seven points on the star are derived from pagan customs. By calling on these different traditions to guide her work, Anys calls attention to the ambiguous state of religion during the seventeenth century.

  5. 5

    How does Michael guide the town to do what he thinks is best?

    Because Michael is highly educated and has contacts at universities in London, he knows that the sickness going around is the plague. However, he also knows that its presence could cause the townspeople to panic and riot. Michael uses his powerful oratorical skills and his influence as the town rector to convince the people to isolate themselves. He also establishes connections between the town's situation and tribulations in the Bible to convince the residents to burn all their belongings.

  6. 6

    How does Brooks create doubt in the reader’s mind about whether or not Anys’s spirit is helping women during the plague?

    The first time that Anys’s spirit is mentioned is when Anna feels Anys guiding her as she delivers a baby. This reference creates the impression that Anys’s spirit is helping to guide women through medical difficulties, much as Anys herself would have in life. Then, when other women receive help from Anys’s spirit, the reader is uncertain about the status of Anys's spirit. Is the spirit a supernatural turn in an otherwise realistic novel, a trick of the emotions, or an elaborate hoax?

  7. 7

    How does Elinor’s confession to Anna change Anna’s opinion of both Elinor and Michael?

    When Elinor confesses to Anna about her troublesome teenage years and about how Michael married her -- regardless of her tarnished reputation and inability to have children -- Anna grows more fond of the Mompellions. She feels closer to Elinor because the confession is so honest and personal. She also feels that she understands why Elinor does not judge people in difficult or compromised circumstances. As for Michael, Anna believes that he is kinder and more generous than she had thought.

  8. 8

    Why do the Wickfords name their mine the Burning Drake?

    The name "Burning Drake" originated when the father, George Wickford, saw a burning duck flying across the sky. In Eyam, this event was significant because a burning duck or drake was supposed to signify a rich strain of lead in the ground. The Wickfords immediately began digging out the lead, and found one of the richest mines in the area. They named it the Burning Drake after the fortuitous event that marked its discovery.

  9. 9

    Why does the judge at Josiah’s trial sentence Josiah to have his hands impaled?

    Josiah was caught trying to bury Christopher Unwin alive so that he could steal Christopher's belongings. With so many deaths, there was no longer a real semblance of law and justice in the village. This social breakdown caused the miners to use their own tough justice on Josiah. In their code, people who steal from others are punished by having their hands impaled. Josiah's fate was to be a warning for other people who might attempt to steal other objects.

  10. 10

    Whom does Aphra blame for her suffering?

    After Aphra’s entire family dies, she blames Anna and the Mompellions for what has happened. Although the plague took all of her children, she believes that Anna and Elinor caused her youngest child to be taken from her. The two women tried to take Faith away while Aphra was recovering from being held in the pig sty, and so the events surrounding this punishment were fresh in her mind when Faith succumbed to illness. Aphra also blames Anna for not going to save Josiah after his hands were impaled with knives.