The Witch in History: Early Modern and Twentieth-Century Representations

The Witch in History: Early Modern and Twentieth-Century Representations

The Witch in History: Early Modern and Twentieth-Century Representations

The Witch in History: Early Modern and Twentieth-Century Representations

Synopsis

Looking at texts from colonial narratives to court masques, trial records to folktales, and Shakespeare to Sylvia Plath, this book shows how the witch acts as a carrier for fears, desires and fantasies both now and in the early modern period.

Excerpt

When I was a small girl, I was fascinated by The Wizard of Oz—not the celebrated MGM musical, but the original book by L. Frank Baum. What intrigued me was not only its child’s paradise of bright, flat colours, small people, pretty fairies, easy magic and good food, but the way this painted nursery world was always precarious, subject to corruption by a spectacularly dark figure who seemed to have strayed in from another kind of story. To me, the Wicked Witch of the West did not seem to ‘belong’ to the bright and pretty world of Oz; she overwhelmed its illusory harmony; her presence was too strong to be contained within its fictional and discursive borders. She did not make sense taken together with the dainty china milkmaids and cute Munchkins; in some way, she therefore came to stand for the irruption of chilly but exhilarating reality into the artificial security of a comfortably privileged childhood. My identification with such a figure was a secret even from me; I wanted to be her partly so that I would not have to be afraid of her.

At the age of four, The Wizard of Oz was my favourite Let s Pretend game, specifically the moment when Dorothy melts the Wicked Witch of the West by throwing a bucket of water over her. In Baum’s book, as in the film, Dorothy does not mean to kill, but Baum does make her hurl the water in anger at the Witch; she at least means to wet her. I, always cast as Dorothy, was even more knowing; I could relish my knowledge of what was to come, exult in my power, while playing at being a wholly innocent child-victim. Dorothy’s awesome power to destroy reality and adulthood and fold herself back into dependent childhood could indeed be relished by a child born, as I was, in the early 1960s, for never before had the children of the middle classes had it so good. Baum’s narrative, reshaped as my own sadistic little psychodrama, became the story of the child’s emotional power over its apparently all-powerful parents. For I always cast my long-suffering mother as the Witch, as if in an early effort to prove the connections between witch-stories and images of maternity. As she gamely went through the motions of melting many times a day, she too could hardly help but reflect on the connections between witch stories, power and maternity. Feebly, I hasten to add that I did not use a bucket with real water in it; my mother had, however, quite enough knowledge of child psychology to grasp what was afoot,

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