Magazine article The Spectator

Every Witch Way

Magazine article The Spectator

Every Witch Way

Article excerpt

The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson Hammer, £9.99, pp. 225, ISBN 9780099561859

The story of the Pendle witch trials in 1612 is well known, thanks to the publication of The Wonderfull Disoverie of Witches in Lancashire by Thomas Potts, clerk to the Lancashire Assizes in which ten of the 12 accused were condemned to death by hanging. But it is also unknown because Potts's certainties are not ours. We know who was accused of what but not why, although several of the cases collapsed into each other, with one defendant being released after a witness was 'proved' to have been in the pay of a Catholic priest. Witchery and popery were equally reprehensible, target culture making it imperative for Potts and his cronies to nail someone for something.

Jeanette Winterson is the latest in a long line of fabulists to be attracted to this mix of information and its opposite, and she swoops on the story like the falcon she gives to her heroine. Alice Nutter, one of the condemned, was an oddity at the time because of her gentry background. In Winterson's hands she becomes the very model of a modern Mrs Warren, who has made a fortune and lost in love.

She has also dabbled in magic under the guidance of John Dee, but unlike her female lover she has not gone over to the dark side and has since attached herself to a gunpowder-plotting priest who has been tortured to within an inch of his life. Winterson here sets a new standard for the emasculated hero - at least Abelard enjoyed his oats before being parted from his bits. …

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