Monday, November 7, 2011

My Enemy's Tears by Karen Vorbeck Williams

My Enemy's Tears by Karen V. Williams is a wonderful debut novel about her ancestor, Mary Bliss Parsons who was tried for witchcraft in 17th century New England!

Possible Portrait of Mary Bliss Parsons

A description of the witchcraft trials of Mary Bliss Parsons by The University of Massachusetts states:

…soon after the Parsonses moved to Northampton, rumors of witchcraft began to circulate, implying that the family’s success came at the expense of other families, and was the result of Mary’s dealings with the devil. To head off the allegations, Joseph Parsons initiated a slander case in 1656, which he won. But eighteen years later, Mary was officially accused of and tried for witchcraft in 1674. She was eventually acquitted, but it seemed that the residents of Northampton, despite any court decrees, were convinced that Mary was a witch.

Back Cover:

My Enemy's Tears: The Witch of Northampton is based on the historical record of Mary Bliss Parsons and Sarah Lyman Bridgeman, whose lives trace the journey of English Separatists to the New World, the growth of the first settlements along the Connecticut River from Hartford to Northampton, the lives of women in 17th century New England, and the conflict of faith and reason that gave rise to American democracy.

The Puritans in Hartford, which is at first little more than a campsite, find the wilderness a terrifying place full of warring natives, pestilences and floods destroying their crops, blazing comets, earthquakes and hurricanes--all portents of God's anger or a witch's meddling curse. Mary Bliss and Sarah Lyman grow up amid Puritan superstition and piety, busy with their household chores, one imagining a life different from her mother's and the other eager to marry and bear sons.

Mary Parsons and Sarah Bridgeman spend their married lives in the villages of Springfield and Northampton, where a youthful disagreement festers into a reason to hate and then to fear. As the years pass, one accuses the other of murder by witchcraft, which prompts a trial before the Court of Assistants in Boston--17 years before the infamous Salem Witch Trials.

In 17th century New England Mary Parsons and Sarah Bridgeman grow up in the wilds of uncivilized Hartford. When their friendship is torn apart by a disagreement, Sarah’s bitterness festers. As the two women marry and begin families of their own, their lives drift father and father apart. Sarah’s life is not easy and they struggle to survive. Mary on the other hand, is married to a successful man and they raise their family in comfort in a large home. Sarah’s bitterness is feuled by jealousy over Mary’s good fortune. When opportunity presents itself, Sarah accuses Mary of witchcraft.

I very much enjoyed this story, especially the way author, Karen Vorbeck Williams, was able to capture a true sense of the times. Her portrayal of Puritan religious beliefs and societal expectations was well researched and believable. From the start, she painted a vivid portrait of the hardships that settlers faced, including the numerous dangers resulting from disputes with the native people. The novel delves deep into the motivation of its characters. They are complex, believable, and easy to identify with.

Based on a true story, an ancestor of Ms. Williams, this is a fascinating recounting of early America and the struggles of women to survive and raise families amidst religious fears, witchcraft, the savage wilderness, and complex human relationships.


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