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The Winthrop Woman Paperback – April 22, 2014
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The Winthrop Woman is that rare literary accomplishment living history. Really good fictionalized history [like this] often gives closer reality to a period than do factual records. Chicago Tribune
In 1631 Elizabeth Winthrop, newly widowed with an infant daughter, set sail for the New World. Against this background of rigidity and conformity she dared to befriend Anne Hutchinson at the moment of her banishment from the Massachusetts Bay Colony; dared to challenge a determined army captain bent on the massacre of her friends the Siwanoy Indians; and, above all, dared to love a man as her heart and her whole being commanded. And so, as a response to this almost unmatched courage and vitality, Governor John Winthrop came to refer to this woman in the historical records of the time as his unregenerate niece.
Anya Seton s riveting historical novel portrays the fortitude, humiliation, and ultimate triumph of the Winthrop woman, who believed in a concept of happiness transcending that of her own day.
A rich and panoramic narrative full of gusto, sentimentality and compassion. It is bound to give much enjoyment and a good many thrills. Times Literary Supplement
Abundant and juicy entertainment. New York Times
ANYA SETON (1904 1990) was the author of many best-selling historical romances, including Katherine, Avalon, Dragonwyck, Green Darkness, Devil Water, and Foxfire. She lived in Greenwich, Connecticut.
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Fortunately, New Amsterdam was not quite as misogynist and she was able (by declaring herself an adulteress) to divorce her second husband when he left for England. This left her free in Dutch territory, but guilty of a capital crime in English lands. Eventually she found some happiness with her third husband, but they were beset with problems, and had to start over in a new place several times
The first thing that struck me was how extremely difficult the passage was to America and the blind faith the Puritans had in their decision to follow their leaders to the new world. Seton spends a great deal of time describing Elizabeth's voyage and it is truly horrifying how difficult and dangerous the trip was at the turn of the seventeenth century - a time when it was unknown how to prevent scurvy and when people would routinely die on the ships - not only from shipwreck.
Seton takes a critical view of the colony's repression. The Puritans sought to practice their own religion, free from the Anglican church, but it becomes clear that there was a lot of in-fighting amongst how exactly to interpret the bible. This infighting and bigotry inhibited freedom moreso than England, which they were trying to escape. This point is particularly poignant with respect to Anne Hutchinson.
Seton spends a great deal of time discussing the Native Americans. I was surprised at how sharply critical Seton was of the English and Dutch treatment of the Native Americans, given the fact that the novel was written in the early 1950s. However, after reading the novel, I find myself looking out at my surroundings in America with an extra sharp appreciation of the costs that were paid in wresting control of this territory from the Native Americans.
Because Elizabeth is forced to leave the Massachussets bay colony, Seton also spent time discussing the international politics of the era and the territorial competition between the Dutch and the English.
I highly recommend this novel to any fan of historical fiction. This novel strongly follows fact and is largely derived from the Winthrop Papers and other matters of historical record, given the main character's connection to the famed Winthrop family. If you are originally from the Boston, Connecticut, or New York area, it is particularly fascinating to attempt to imagine what used to be and what could have been, had colonialism not taken root in America.
Winthrop Women, first published in 1958 and later released in 2006 is a particular gift for those whose interests lie in the history of the Puritans, the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the early settlement of the environs of Greenwich, Connecticut. Above all, it is a great love story and the saga of a strong and independent woman richly entwined in the region's history.
Winthrop Women embraces a broad historical web, set in the 1600s (1617-1655) centered around the family of John Winthrop, a fanatical practitioner of the Puritan faith who became the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and his rebellious niece and daughter-in-law Elizabeth Fons. Their descendents remain in Connecticut and throughout New England. Seton tells the Winthrop family and Elizabeth Fons' story in three parts: The early years in England living a near aristocratic lifestyle; the great Puritan migration to the New World with the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; Elizabeth's banishment from Massachusetts and her emergence in Greenwich, Connecticut with husbands (correct) , lovers and children joining in the journey!
Anya Seton's story of Elizabeth is written in " high-definition." From childhood, "Bess" is of independent thought and passionate in her views. She was born on a collision course with the beliefs of her Puritan elders, especially John Winthrop. Long before boarding the ship Lyon for the journey to the New World, this child of luxury and high social status had established herself as the Fons' and Winthrop family non-conformist.
Proudly leading his flock beneath the banner of religious freedom to the colonies in New England, far away from the dictates of King Charles, Cromwell and the ruling British establishment, John Winthrop becomes a zealot and religious tyrant, ruling over his domain, with a wrathful "God" as his enforcer.
Elizabeth's ever complicated life, saturated with her passion for men and her non-conformist beliefs, provides the framework for an abundant tableau of what life and love was like in 1630s New England. The drudgery of daily survival, the absence of luxuries, disease and Indians both friend and foe. Foremost, the woman's role of being, above all, a necessary "good breeder," upon which the future of the faith and the colony itself depended!
Elizabeth, having fallen in love with John Winthrop's son, her cousin Henry, became pregnant and was hastily married before leaving England! Henry, a kindred free spirit was not traveling with Elizabeth on the ship Lyon but was under his father's supervision on the Arabella. Elizabeth learned upon her arrival in Massachusetts that Henry had drowned in a boating accident upon landing. There would be two more husbands and many children, living and still-born before her story concludes thirty years later.
During a brief period when Winthrop had been ousted as Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor, the community rose up against Elizabeth's behavior with rumors and speculation that she and her Indian servant Telaka were possessed by the devil. The outcry became witchcraft! Banishment from the colony, the final solution in those days short of hanging, saw Elizabeth, her family and Telaka ( whom Elizabeth had rescued from a slave auction) on their way to Greenwich where under Dutch law there was greater respect for individual freedom and religious beliefs. This novel is so wonderfully written and researched that of course, Telaka, had ended up in Boston only after being kidnapped from her tribe, the Siwanoy Indians who populated the area in and around Greenwich! A homecoming for Telaka and a new most welcoming home for Elizabeth, her husband and brood? Not quite that simple!
In the Greenwich chapters you will walk with Elizabeth on the white beaches of Monakewago ( Tods Point), follow the Mianus River, witness the massacre of over 1000 Siwanoy Indians ( Telaka's family) in what is today Cos Cob. There will be yet another husband and more "breeding, " and another banishment with the loss of thousands of acres of land that today encompass the entire Town of Greenwich.
History is taught in many ways and Seton is deserving of high praise both as a novelist and historian for Winthrop Women. Seton wrote Winthrop Women while living in Old Greenwich, Connecticut where she died in 1990 at age 86. She is buried there in Putnam cemetery.
Other highly acclaimed novels by Anya Seton include, Foxfire ( 1950), Katherine (1954), The Mistletoe and the Sword (1956). See gordonsgoodreads.com
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I do not know many women of today would be able to endure what this woman...Read more