From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Duke historian Robisheaux turns the obscure story of a smalltown German woman convicted of witchcraft into a marvelous window onto a society in crisis. On Shrove Tuesday, 1672, Eva Küstner delivered Shrovetide cakes baked by her mother to her neighbor, Anna Fessler, who was still recuperating from the birth of her child a few weeks earlier. A few days after eating some of the cakes, Anna died a painful death. Almost immediately, the community accused Eva and her mother, Anna Schmeig, of witchcraft. In this fast-paced account, Robisheaux chronicles the roles that various ministers, lawyers and physicians play in the indictment of Anna Schmeig and her immediate family. Robisheaux shows that Schmeigs trial and execution as a witch grew out of a small villages superstitions and its belief in the power of God to transform an evil event into an exemplary one. Drawing on rich records of the trials of Schmeig and her family, Robisheaux finely crafts a vivid glimpse of a time, place and state of mind that, though remote, is all too familiar. 22 illus., 3 maps. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In the German hamlet of Langenburg in 1672, panic ensued when a young woman named Anna Fessler ate a butter cake and died overnight. Had Anna Schmieg, her neighbor, poisoned the cake by means of witchcraft? Robisheaux explores the lore surrounding one of Germany’s last witch trials, using details from a gruesome autopsy report, an investigation mounted by the court adviser Ulrich von Gülchen, and eyewitness testimony. The rich microhistory that results illustrates the contradictions between early modern European thought and medieval superstitions. Schmieg’s fate—underscored by filial betrayal, torture, and a wrangled confession—is worth learning, but, frustratingly, Robisheaux leaves larger historical questions unanswered, and we’re left pondering the significance of why Schmieg was the last witch of Langenburg.
Copyright ©2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker