Author: Jeanette Winterson, 2012.
Genre: Historical Fiction. 17th Century England. Horror. Witchcraft and Magic.
Other Details: Hardback. 198 pages.
Good Friday 1612. Pendle Hill. A mysterious gathering of thirteen people is interrupted by a local magistrate. Is it a witches' Sabbat? In Lancaster Castle two notorious witches await trial and certain death, while the beautiful and wealthy Alice Nutter rides to their defence. Elsewhere a starved child lurks. And a Jesuit priest and former Gunpowder plotter makes his way from France to a place he believes will offer him sanctuary. But will it? And how safe can anyone be in Witch Country? - synopsis from UK publisher's website.
This proved a powerful evocation of the events that led to the deaths of a number of women accused of witchcraft in 17th Century Lancashire. However, Winterson states in her Introduction that while she has based this short novel on these events she has not limited herself to history alone allowing for "speculations and inventions " and introducing elements aspects of fantasy and also taken dramatic license with characters. As she says: "My Alice Nutter is not the Alice Nutter of history".
The novel was certainly gruesome in parts, appropriate to its Hammer Horror imprint, with some images that I am certain I shall never forget. Yet there was also beauty and magic, not only of rural witchcraft but the angelic and hermetic magic of John Dee and Edward Kelly. It was very clear that Winterson had researched the period intensely as well as aspects of late 16th Century occult lore.
This was the selection for our Leicester reading group and those of us who did read it praised it highly even while admitting that some parts were disturbing to read. A few others made a start but found it too strong in terms of graphic content. Winterson doesn't shy from descriptions of violence, poverty, deprivation, illness and the horrific conditions that prisoners faced during the period.
One member of the reading group had the opportunity to read the novel 'on location' at Pendle Hill and brought back photos of the haunting landscape and the roadside statue of Alice Nutter that had been commissioned to mark the 400th anniversary of the events at Pendle Hill. Likewise, the publication of this novel in August 2012 also acknowledged this anniversary.
Review of 'The Daylight Gate' - in-depth review in 'The Guardian' 16 August 2012.
Alice Nutter Memorial Statue - Roughlee Village, Lancashire