An icy, doom-fraught tale from religious history: Hughes uses a speculative version of the life of a famous 18th-century...



An icy, doom-fraught tale from religious history: Hughes uses a speculative version of the life of a famous 18th-century Yorkshire clergyman to attack the Methodist crusade--branding it a co-conspirator with industry in the enslavement of England's laborers. In 1733 William Grimshaw, ""the cheerful and beefy young curate"" of the Yorkshire village of Todmorden, meets frail clothier's daughter Sarah Lockwood; they marry--but the adored wife dies after only six years, having borne two children. And then Grimshaw, writhing under God's imagined punishment (Sarah's death), collapses, recovers, but now sees ""the bottomless pit of Hell"" everywhere: ""He saw mirrors in their faces, his own unpunished sins. . . ."" Re-married, to cold patrician Elizabeth, Grimshaw is given a living at Haworth--and there, with a flaming sword of passion and rhetoric, he sets out to eradicate all remnants of ancient symbols and festivals, all singing and dancing. (He breaks the fiddler's instrument over his head.) He thunders the new Methodist doctrine--salvation through scrupulous, dutiful behavior and prayer--at the restless, the poor, the dispossessed. He brings on a ""fever of conversions"" . . . while Hughes also follows the fortunes of other preachers: elegant, shrewd John Wesley; unlettered, crude, passionate Darney, roaring out Scripture through his red beard; Mary Hepton, who harks back to the goddess religion (and suffers a truly horrible slow execution); Ben Rushworth, who speaks for the working man. And when astute politics brings the itinerant preachers into the mainstream, industry benefits from this new gospel of ""discipline,"" which keeps workers at their jobs, away from all frivolity. (In an epilogue, the Bronte sisters, living in Grimshaw's environs, are told: ""There were fairies down in that valley when I was a lad, but the Methodists killed them."") With tumultuous mob scenes and canny commentary: a strong fictional field-trip through a curious slice of Anglican/Methodist history.

Pub Date: June 1, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Victor Gollancz--dist. by David & Charles

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1983