Year of wonders

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19 April 2016

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Year of Wonders: Practice essay
This text demonstrates the difficulties of holding on to faith in times of adversity. Discuss. Geraldine Brook’s novel ‘Year of Wonders’ is a true story of Eyam, a small village in the north of England, which made the remarkable decision to voluntarily quarantine itself when struck by the plague in 1665. Set during the restoration England where Puritan Christians were losing their battle against the Church of England to simplify practices, Brook’s explores how difficult it is to hold on to faith in times of adversity. By highlighting how adversity can lead a priest to lose faith in all that he believes, how a young girl can be brave enough to leave her belief in faith and turn to that of science and how a women is pushed to the point that her superstitious nature is revealed. Brook’s demonstrates the devastating effect adversity can have on faith. The loss of faith due to adversity can lead a man to no longer trust what he believes. The young village rector of Eyam is portrayed through the narrative perspective of Anna Firth, to be a man of great charisma and strength.

However through the clever use of a circular narrative and flashbacks by Brook’s, the reader is introduced to a Michael Mompellion at the start of the novel who has already lost his faith. From the very beginning of the novel it is highlighted how times of adversity makes holding on to faith difficult. As the novel jumps from autumn 1666 back to spring 1665 the reader is shown how Michael Mompellion was very religious and strongly believed in God. This is evident when the plague hits Eyam and Mompellion, through the control religion has over the village, convinces the villages that the plague was a metaphorical “casket of gold, sent from God,” and that the villages must stay and fight ‘the test from God’ or fear his repercussions for running. Furthermore, as the death toll from the plague rises, Mompellion begins to fight a losing battle, trying to maintain people’s faith in God “For what I did believe…had failed me.” When Mompellion’s wife, Elinor is killed, he too finally loses his faith.

Through Anna’s narrative perspective Mompellion is viewed by the reader as a man who now sits in that “dim room, still and silent…hand on bible….never opened.” Brook’s uses imagery of Mompellion’s hand on the bible, and symbolism through him dropping it, to highlight how even a man as ‘strong’ as Mompellion can lose their faith in times of adversity and that the religious control he held over the village was not strong enough to prevent himself, losing his own faith. Brook’s demonstrates quite clearly through Mompellion how in times of adversity it is difficult to hold onto faith. Times of adversity can lead a young woman to view the plague as a thing of nature, not of faith. The young protagonist Anna Firth, is a young timid and naïve girl at the beginning of spring 1665, and through the use of a circular narrative by Brook’s, the reader is shown how Anna goes on a journey from this young timid, naïve girl to a worldly women. Anna first begins to question faith when she loses her two young children to the plague, and decides to stay in the villages quarantine because she “had no will to live.” Anna doesn’t recognise the plague as a “gift from God,” as she is too grief stricken from the loss of her family. Anna struggles to hold on to her faith as the intensity of the plague increases, questioning “why should one like me, who is weary of this life and ready for the harvest, be spared, when all the young ones are plucked up unripe?” Brook’s highlights how much Anna has grown when she comes to the realisation that maybe the plague is a thing of nature and not God.

As Anna struggles to find a reason as to why God would inflect such a thing on the village and the ‘random’ nature of the plague she comes to the conclusion, “Perhaps the plague was neither of God nor the devil, but simply a thing in nature.” Brook’s demonstrates through Anna’s realisation how in times of adversity holding on to faith can be difficult and that the change Anna went through to come to this conclusion took great strength, highlighting the strength of women and how it prevailed in a time when the social constraints on a women in society were hard to break. Holding on to faith is difficult in times of adversity and is clearly shown through Anna. When the battle to hold on to faith is lost, it pushes some to reveal their true superstitious nature. Aphra Bont, the step-mother of Anna and wife to the cruel Josiah Bont, is a woman who demonstrates the worst that can occur when faith is lost. Aphra, from early on in the novel is portrayed by the narrative perspective of Anna, to be a women of superstition, “ever ready to believe in sky-signs or charms.”

In times of adversity, the plague, Aphra is pushed to lose what little faith she had, as she too struggles to find a reason as to why the plague killed her children, while her husband was killed by the revengeful actions of the villages. Aphra, goes around the village pretending to be the ghost of Anys Gowdie, offering spells and charms in return for a valuable procession, showing how she has losing faith and turning to superstition. Furthermore, when Aphra is caught praying on the misfortune of the villages, her decent into madness begins. It is quite clear that Aphra has lost her faith and when she is seen by Anna, “Dancing and leaping around the strung up puppet,” that was her dead daughter Faith. Brook’s uses Aphra to highlight that the struggle to maintain faith in times of adversity is not easy and the grief and loss of faith Aphra experienced, lead her to turn to that of superstition and which-craft. Brook’s cleverly used irony with Aphra as her daughter’s name was Faith, suggesting that she once did have faith, but what little faith she did have left when adversity hit, was lost.

Brook’s demonstrates through Aphra that the loss of faith due to adversity can turn a person to that of superstition. Geraldine Brook’s novel ‘Year of Wonders’ is a true story of the plague that swept through the small English village of Eyam. The novel demonstrates how it can be difficult to maintain faith in times of adversity. Brook’s illustrates this through the young village rector, Mompellion, whose desperate efforts to maintain everyone’s faith in God and the religious control he used to do so, failed and allowed him to lose his own faith. Brook’s shows how the struggle to maintain faith in adversity can lead to the remarkable growth from a timid girl to worldly women and how she goes on to come to the realisation that the plague may be a simple thing of nature. Finally Brook’s uses a superstitious woman to illustrate how the struggle to maintain faith can push a woman to superstitious beliefs. Geraldine Brook’s novel demonstrates how during times of adversity, faith can be lost if it not held onto.

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Year of wonders. (19 April 2016). Retrieved from

"Year of wonders" StudyScroll, 19 April 2016,

StudyScroll. (2016). Year of wonders [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 31 January, 2023]

"Year of wonders" StudyScroll, Apr 19, 2016. Accessed Jan 31, 2023.

"Year of wonders" StudyScroll, Apr 19, 2016.

"Year of wonders" StudyScroll, 19-Apr-2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 31-Jan-2023]

StudyScroll. (2016). Year of wonders. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 31-Jan-2023]

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