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ISBN: 1-4208-2109-1
By: Jennifer M. Wilson

Review by: Nicolette Westfall


Jennifer M Wilson presents the life of Bridget Bishop without fear or inhibitions. Her words offer Bridget’s history in all its brutal beauty, both in the old country and in the New World. Human nature, in all its flaws and wonders, is the context for the disheartening mentality behind the first execution of a woman (Bishop) in Salem, 1692.

From youth to old age, Wilson’s words paint a realistic and engaging portrait of Bishop. She is able to elicit compassion from the reader for her interpretation of the character. At times, this goal is no easy task; Bridget’s flaws are readily available in many descriptive sections of the story. For example, as a woman who fears parenting, Bridget tells of her own pregnancy: “Thomas’ spawn was an aggressive incarnation. (181).” The reality of motherhood is given here instead of the ideal. Such acknowledgement is comforting for mothers who often suffer under public scrutiny

The darker side of the male sex is also presented. We see Bridget’s husband, Thomas Oliver, who is unable to cope with his addiction to opium. He takes it out on his wife. Although Bridget is initially attracted to Oliver because he seems to be different from the other men in the community (it seems that he does not subscribe to their Puritanical ways), she begins to realize, as her woman in arms, Margaret, notes, that “All men are brutes… (167). It is not only men who are violent in this historical society. Bridget herself becomes aggressive at times, when she cannot take the stresses that come with such harsh living. She does not surrender to hopelessness, however, as she continues to work to survive.

Although much is revealed about the consequences of peoples’ fears and hardships, the author works compassion into the story throughout. They are, after all, only human, and thus, have realistic desires and needs. After losing her first husband to illness, Bridget finds sexual satisfaction again, with Oliver (163). Women in the area become hostile when Oliver chooses Bridget over the young maidens as his wife. Although the negativity bothers her, she does not let it break her down.

Bridget is left alone except for her friendship with another outcast, Margaret. She simply does not behave the way a proper woman ought to. However, even those in Salem and neighbouring areas that contribute to her end are exhibited as sympathetic characters. While they are responsible for their own choices, they are at the same time, products of their rough and uncertain times.

The irony of Europeans moving to the New World in search of freedom is not lost on the reader. Bridget’s father quips, “We should be allowed some entertainment to pass the hours between work and death (3).” People leave their homes and travel across the ocean in order to have the freedom to practise their own religion. For Bridget, a woman who has prophetic dreams about her future, it means keeping quiet about her own faith in nature. She continues the tradition of midwifery, which adds more fire to the accusation that she is some sort of heathen witch. Sadly, the all too common battle between natural healers and the established power (ignorant men) plays out in this account, as it has so many times before.

Bridget does not discount the Christianity of her fellow Salem residents; she gives it a chance. At one point, she actively seeks out the Christian God, asking him for his view on her life and received nothing in response (134). When she listens to her own instinct, her inner voice, she is able to observe her own future, and dreams of her daughter (181).

Despite the rough Puritan life and resulting uncertainties, Bridget’s story is inspirational. Her dreams, hopes, realizations, and actions all validate other women’s experiences in difficult times. She proceeds with her instinct as guidance, regardless of the external consequences. She says true to herself while living within the context of her time.

The story is suitably wrapped up in an attractive, black jacket design, with a very fitting piece of artwork (illustrated by David Wilson) on the front. Appendices of relevant historical documents and bibliography are included, which further increase the value of this book.

Ultimately, the book is a must read—not because of Bridget’s unfair demise and status as the first woman executed in Salem for witchcraft--but for her passionate life, which Wilson instinctively weaves into a vibrant tapestry.

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