Year of Wonders

Year of Wonders Summary and Analysis of “Venom in the Blood,” “Wide Green Prison,” and “So Soon to Be Dust”

Summary of “Venom in the Blood”

Five days after Anys’s funeral, Mem dies from complications related to her beating and near drowning. The village has lost its only midwives and healers: furthermore, all semblance of law and order has broken down because of the many deaths in the community. The participants in the mob that killed Anys are not tried for murder.

That Sunday at church, Michael gives an impassioned sermon. He relates the village’s plague to the plagues that occurred to test various people in the Bible, such as the plague on Egypt in the book of Exodus. He tells the community to remain strong, but he proposes that the villagers isolate themselves from other towns so that the plague does not spread through the countryside. He mentions that, even if the villagers do leave, they would be shunned by the people in other towns. With the further encouragement of Thomas Stanley, the previous rector, all the villagers agree to stay within the village’s borders. The Bradfords, however, slip off unnoticed so that they can pack their belongings for departure.

Summary of “Wide Green Prison”

Michael’s sermon is inspiring and rousing to Anna. She is feeling better when she sees Maggie Cantwell, the Bradfords' cook, at her home. In tears, Maggie tells Anna that the Bradfords are turning all their servants out onto the street and are locking up Bradford Hall: it is their intention to stay at another home until the plague leaves the village. Maggie asks Anna to come help her get the rest of her belongings from Bradford Hall before it is too late.

Anna and Maggie make their way to Bradford Hall, and Anna is shocked at how coolly the Bradfords are firing their staff. Michael appears moments later and confronts Colonel Bradford. He begs him to stay and help the villagers, but Colonel Bradford remains firm in his decision to leave. He even begins questioning Michael about which books he should take on his journey, until Michael warns the Colonel that his reputation will suffer greatly if he abandons the villagers. Colonel Bradford is unswayed. He and his family leave soon after. Maggie and Brand decide to leave and seek out relatives, hoping that their families will take them in.

Later that day, Elinor rushes to Anna and asks for her help in delivering a baby. With Mem and Anys dead, there is nobody else who could provide such assistance. Anna feels uncertain, but Elinor insists that Anna's experience birthing sheep will be an asset. Anna recalls how Anys and Mem delivered her own two children, and she tries to mimic their actions. During a moment of doubt, Anna can see Anys in her mind, guiding her to calm her breath and do what she naturally knows. At that moment, Anna finds confidence in her abilities and delivers a healthy baby.

Anna’s happiness is short-lived, though, because she knows that she is going back to an empty home. She also knows that Elinor had brought a phial of poppy in case the mother was in too much pain. She sneaks the phial out of Elinor’s possession and takes it home.

Summary of “So Soon to Be Dust”

Days later, Maggie and Brand return to the village: Brand is pulling the nearly-dead Maggie in a cart. Brand recounts to Anna and the Mompellions that he and Maggie were recognized as residents of the plagued village, so a mob surrounded Maggie and tried to kill her by throwing stones. Brand stole a nearby cart and hauled Maggie back, not knowing what else to do. Michael calms Brand's nerves and tells him that he is a hero.

Maggie needs Anna’s constant care, so Anna goes to the tavern to ask to borrow a horse and carriage. While there, she encounters her drunken father Josiah Bont. She rebukes him for being a drunken fool, and he threatens to stick her in an iron helmet and parade her around, just as he paraded Anna’s mother when she was alive. Humiliated and terrified, Anna pleads that he spare her. Josiah laughs, happy that his tactics have forced his daughter to cower. Anna leaves the tavern without the horse and carriage, though she soon realizes that she does not need these trappings after all. Maggie takes a turn for the worst and dies that evening.


That the Bradfords leave after Michael’s sermon comes as no surprise, as the Colonel is only doing what he had promised to do at the dinner party. Not even Michael can convince him to stay by appealing to his sense of honor, since the Colonel could be a hero to the villagers if he were to offer his assistance. Instead, the Colonel only cares about himself and his progeny. The notion that he or his family could carry the plague to another town doesn’t cross his mind: all he wants is to leave before anything bad can happen to his family.

Conversely, Maggie and Brand are repulsed and Maggie is nearly killed when they leave the village to stay with distant relatives. These starkly contrasted reactions illustrate the important role of social class in how the plague is perceived. Even though the Bradfords, Brand, and Maggie leave at the same time, Brand and Maggie have rocks thrown at them while the Bradfords are able to retreat to another town. Nobody turns away the wealthy military family, but the cook and pantry boy are seen as a threat to the countryside’s health.

Seeing the members of the mob that killed Anys allowed to walk free is a testament to how dire the situation has become. There is no semblance of law and order due to all the deaths, and the villagers can’t stand to see any more loss and conflict. Rather than holding the rioters accountable for their actions, the other villagers downplay the fact that these people murdered the only two medicine experts the town had.

With the Gowdies gone, Anna and Elinor both step up as the village health practitioners, although their training and knowledge may not be fully sufficient. Anna’s first act is to birth a baby. Because she has only helped to deliver sheep, she is understandably afraid and doesn’t entirely know what to do. Fortunately, she calms her nerves and recites the phrase that Anys muttered when she helped to deliver Anna’s baby.

This phrase is a form of invocation, and can be seen as a part of local religion -- or as an aspect of witchcraft. The invocation calls forward ancestors to help guide Anys’s hands, allowing Anys to use their practices and wisdom to make sound medical decisions. When Anna mutters this phrase, she is calling upon Anys’s own spirit to help her. Then, when she sees Anys in her mind telling her what steps to take, Anna feels that the invocation has been effectual.

The meeting with Josiah and Anna's interactions with him are further instances of violence against women, which is used as a way to keep women in a subordinate social position. By all accounts, Anna is in a better place than her father; Josiah is loud, brash, unruly, and drunk much of the time. He has a history of abusing both his deceased wife and Anna. Anna, on the other hand, is an independent working woman who constantly tries to free herself from her fear of Josiah. Yet Josiah knows that he has power over her and only has to threaten Anna to get her to submit. Her debasement is amusing to him, and he laughs when she soils herself in fear.