THE DAYLIGHT GATE
By Jeanette Winterson
This novella from Jeanette Winterson brings her extraordinary command of language and her novelist’s eye to a truly fascinating real historical event – the trial of the Lancashire Witches in 1612 (the most famous of the English witch trials). This period is during the reign of James I of England, the Protestant king, who was determined to stamp out popery, witchcraft and heresy. With Guy Fawkes’ gunpowder plot against him still a very recent memory, his obsession is understandable. Winterson has brought her imagination to bear on the known facts and the participants. She portrays a lesbian relationship between two of the accused, Alice Nutter and Elizabeth Southern, but she also explores how unconventional, independent women at this time were marked out as ‘different’ and this made them susceptible to accusations of witchcraft. Though not all of the accused are innocents – and the witchcraft rites and practices are evoked with great atmosphere. The novella depicts a brutal and grisly time – rape, child abuse, incest, torture, and other torments are all depicted with an earthy nonchalance. Alice Nutter’s tour through the torture chambers (and the various methods indicated that could be used to compel her to confess) makes for chilling reading. Illustrious historical people also make cameos (Elizabeth I, Doctor John Dee, and Shakespeare) and are used to great effect. This is highly atmospheric, original, historical fiction. It’s even very suspenseful, despite the ultimate outcome being known at the outset.