Year of Wonders

Year of Wonders Summary

Year of Wonders is about Anna Frith and the villagers of Eyam as they try to survive the plague of 1666 by isolating themselves from other towns in England.

Leaf-fall 1666 – Apple-picking Time

Anna Frith visits rector Michael Mompellion, who has become unstable after his wife Elinor’s death. Both she and Michael are tired and worn out, and it is impossible for them to feel sympathy for Elizabeth Bradford when she comes calling for Michael to help her sick mother. Michael refuses to go with Elizabeth, saying that he is showing her family the same level of courtesy they showed the village when the plague first struck. Michael’s faith has left him; he feels nothing for the town anymore.

Spring 1665 – Ring of Roses

Before the plague, Anna had already suffered a loss after her husband died and left her alone with two children. To make ends meet, she took in tailor George Viccars as a tenant. The two had an immediate romantic attraction, but Anna tempered her feelings. After receiving beautiful bolts of cloth from London and making several dresses, George Viccars becomes violently ill. Within days, he dies. His last words instruct the women to burn the dresses.

The Thunder of His Voice

Anna becomes curious about George’s relationship with Anys Gowdie, the town’s primary caregiver. Anys admits that the two were involved in a sexual relationship, but that George had strong feelings for Anna. Anna ponders Anys's sexual freedom and is slightly jealous of her carefree spirit. However, Anna realizes that she has children to tend to. Later, while working as a maid at the Bradfords' mansion, Anna learns that the plague is making its way through London.


Anna takes her sons out into the woods to enjoy nature, and Michael joins them briefly and plays with the children. Later, as Anna makes her way to the Gowdie household again, she comes across Mem Gowdie, Anys’s aunt, who is on her way to attend to an ailing boy. Anna sees the boy’s symptoms, and realizes that these symptoms are evidence of the plague. The doctor confirms this diagnosis and refuses to come back to Eyam. Soon after, the plague claims four more victims.

Sign of a Witch

As Anna’s other son dies and many other families lose multiple family members, the townspeople begin to lose hope. Many begin to believe that killing Mem Gowdie, who they believe is a witch, will cause the curse on the town to end. They try to drown her, but Anys interrupts the attempt and resuscitates her aunt. The mob then believes that Anys is a witch, so Anys is hanged. Michael comes to break up the mob, but he is too late: Anys has already died. Michael berates the mob into submission, forcing the unruly villagers to face their sin.

Venom in the Blood

After Mem Gowdie dies from her wounds, Michael uses the next Sunday as an opportunity to keep the people from rioting further. He admits that the plague is upon the town and urges each person to stay in Eyam. That way, the sickness will not spread to other towns and villages. All the families agree that this strategy is for the best, except for the Bradfords. After the sermon ends, they leave for Bradford Hall and immediately begin packing.

Wide Green Prison

While the Bradfords pack their belongings, Michael rides up to their home to convince Colonel Bradford to stay for the good of the community. The Colonel, though, will not be swayed, since he is convinced that his family’s health is more important than aiding the village. Days later, Anna receives word that a woman is in labor. She is called to serve as midwife and calls upon the spirit of Anys to help her through the process. The baby is delivered safely, but the joy of new life does not ease Anna’s suffering. She steals a phial of poppy from Elinor and takes it home.

So Soon to be Dust

Maggie Cantwell, a servant of the Bradfords, tries leaving the village to find help. However, she is beaten by a mob and is carried back to the town by a young boy who accompanied her. Her injuries are severe, so Anna goes to the tavern to ask to borrow a cart to help carry Maggie. While there, Anna encounters her drunken father Josiah Bont, who threatens to beat her for her supposed insolence towards him. Yet Anna cowers and begs for his forgiveness, a gesture which appeases him. Later, Maggie Cantwell dies from her injuries.

The Poppies of Lethe

To help manage her suffering, Anna eats some of the poppy that she stole from Elinor. She has a wonderful dream but then awakens to her dim reality. Wanting to escape from the pain more frequently, Anna begins walking to the Gowdies to see if they have any poppy in their home. On her way, she stops by a home and sees that a woman is using a spell in an attempt to cure her husband. When confronted, the woman admits that she bought the spell from Anys’s ghost. This statement confuses Anna, but she continues on to the Gowdies' home regardless. While there, she runs into Elinor. Elinor has a theory that curing the plague with medicine might be helpful. She convinces Anna to help her gather plants and medicines from the Gowdies.

While at the cottage, Elinor shares with Anna the story of how she and Michael came to be married. When she was a young teenager, Elinor ran off with an older man and became pregnant. She performed an abortion on herself and became severely ill and depressed. Michael was her father’s ward, and the two became close. She felt that marrying Michael gave her a second chance on life. She then warns Anna against becoming too dependent on poppy, as the substance only provides short-term relief.

Among Those That Go Down to the Pit

When Elinor and Anna return, they learn that the gravedigger has died. Anna disregards her personal pride and goes to her father, whom she bribes to be the new gravedigger. Later, Anna discovers that a young Quaker girl, Merry Wickford, is about to lose her rights to her family’s mine since all of her relatives are deceased. No miners are willing to help Merry meet her quota, so Anna and Elinor go to the mine to work for Merry. Anna almost dies in the mine when she attempts to use dynamite to blow up a deposit of lead, but she is rescued by Elinor and Merry after the explosion. Fortunately, blast loosens enough lead for Merry to meet her quota for many weeks to come.

The Body of the Mine

Anna discovers that her father is using his new career as gravedigger to cheat people out of their money by overcharging and bullying villagers. When he tries to bury Christopher Unwin alive, though, the villagers are outraged at his brazen attempts to steal from people who aren't yet dead. He is charged with attempted murder and theft, and he is punished by having knives stabbed through both of his hands. When neither Aphra Bont, Anna's stepmother, nor Anna comes to remove the knives from his hands, he dies. Aphra reveals to Anna that she couldn’t go to him because all her sons died from the plague. When they reach Josiah’s body, Aphra gathers some of his hair and takes out one of the knives before burying him under a crude manikin made of sticks.

The Press of Their Ghosts

After Anna tells Elinor about her father’s abuse, Elinor mentions that many people have been buying spells and potions from the ghost of Anys. Others like John Gordon have turned to self-flagellation to atone for their sins. While Michael and Anna ride to John’s house to talk him out of self-harm, they come across Anna’s former nanny, who is having sex with a man in the road. Michael gets down and gently rebukes the man. However, he brings his full wrath down on Anna’s onetime nanny. Michael and Anna agree to forget Michael’s outburst, though Anna is now a bit more wary of him.

Once the two reach John’s house, they encounter John’s wife Urith, who is starved and sickly. They find John’s body later: he fell off a cliff during a delusional sleep. Many people send Urith hay and furniture for bedding, and she soon contracts the plague and dies. Some townspeople are convinced that John’s self-harm was the only thing keeping him and Urith alive, so they turn to flagellation. However, Anna guesses that someone sent Urith an infected pile of hay.

A Great Burning

Elinor comes down with a fever, and both Anna and Michael become extremely nervous. However, the sickness passes and Elinor becomes well again. Michael then comes up with an idea to purge the plague; he decides everyone must burn all their belongings to get rid of the plague bacteria. At the bonfire, two boys approach with Aphra in tow. Apparently she was the one who secretly posed as Anys and sold people fake spells. She is released without severe punishment, but Anna is still worried about her youngest sister Faith. Anna then goes to see Aphra frequently but is consistently turned away. Yet when Aphra begins dancing wildly around a fire in her home, Anna bursts in and sees that Aphra has strung Faith’s dead body from the ceiling. Aphra still refuses to let anyone inside her home, though, so the people finally stop trying to help her.


Both Anna and Elinor soon discover that fewer people are dying or contracting the plague. Elinor begs Michael to hold a celebratory feast, and he consents once he believes that the plague is truly over. At the dinner, though, the wailing Aphra emerges, the knife that killed Josiah in one hand and the shriveled corpse of her daughter in the other. She swings the knife and tries to kill Michael, but he is able to calm her down. Yet Elinor makes the mistake of trying to reach out to the deranged Aphra, and Faith’s head falls from her body and rolls on the ground. Aphra pulls back and slices Elinor’s neck, then uses the knife on herself.

Leaf-fall 1666 – Apple-picking Time

The novel returns to its starting point. After burying Elinor, Michael becomes sullen. Yet he and Anna find comfort in each other and have sex a number of times. Anna believes that she has achieved happiness and peace, until Michael reveals that he and Elinor never consummated their marriage. He says that she needed to atone for committing an abortion, so he made her fall in love with him while withholding any real love and intimacy from her as a form of penance. Anna becomes disgusted with Michael’s confession and leaves immediately for the church.

While inside, she finds Elizabeth Bradford. Anna tells Elizabeth that she will come and help care for Elizabeth's pregnant mother. At Bradford Hall, she uses her medical knowledge to deliver the baby. However, Elizabeth tries to drown the baby, and Anna subsequently learns that the child is illegitimate. Anna suggests that the Bradfords give her money to take the baby away from the village. As she is making her way out of town, she is stopped by Michael, who gives her his horse.


Anna’s initial plan was to take the baby and stay in England with Elinor’s family. However, she went off her intended path and traveled to the continent of Europe before deciding to live on the North African Coast. While there, she met and lived with a famous doctor, Ahmed Bey. He allowed her to study medicine further, and she eventually became a midwife to modest Muslim women. She named the Bradfords' child Aisha: it is also revealed that she had another child by Michael, a child she named Elinor.