A striking seventh novel from British scholar and critic Davies (Four Dreamers and Emily, 1997, etc.) examines the revolutionary passion of two women separated by 400 years.
When Olivia’s mother dies, the teenaged girl and her father acquiesce in the dead woman’s wish to be buried in the yard of Pinfold, the home that’s been in the family for generations. While digging a grave for the devout Quaker, the two come upon the remains of a 17th-century woman. More startling, and of particular interest to the archaeologists brought in, is the artifact she’s buried with: a scold’s bridle, a gruesome device of torture once used to silence troublesome women and heretics. For the stoic Olivia, fascination with the dead woman first serves as a distraction from the death of her mother, then turns into a more generalized obsession when she goes off to college and becomes a historian. Her unorthodox teaching methods and overt masculinity manner win her few friends, though the independent Olivia cares less about her contemporaries than about her mission to find the identity of the woman she unearthed all those years ago. When the skull of the woman identifies her as one Hannah Jones, Olivia begins searching in earnest. As historian/detective, she painstakingly uncovers documents that illuminate Hannah’s extraordinary life as one of England’s earliest Quaker proselytizers. With her “yoke-fellow” (wife and religious helpmate) Isabel Clarke, Hannah roamed the countryside as a religious and social anarchist, frequently tortured and imprisoned, until finally she was executed and buried in shame with the bridle. Using “found” documents, Davies builds an exacting portrait of the turbulent time and instills a quiet majesty in her subjects. Fierce, bewitching Hannah, humble Isabel, even misanthropic Olivia—all lend a compelling dignity to this little gem.
Historically fascinating and emotionally gripping: another success for Davies.