Posted by: Natalie | August 16, 2010

Newes from the Dead

Newes From the Dead by Mary Hooper tells the ‘real life’ tale of Anne Green, a young woman hung for infanticide in 1650. The twist, however, is that she survived!

Based on fact from the original pamphlets of the time, which provided the title for the book, Hooper faithfully tells the truth to Anne’s revival and her subsequent restoration to the world. Although records are numerous as to the medical care Anne Green received (along with those present), a wonderful narrative is spun alongside to make this report more personal and reflective of the girl herself.

Puritan England was a place of over zealous religion driven by fear. Opposing views were driven underground and neighbours watched one another carefully for any hint of a scandal. Any excuse for punishment to be bestowed on those around became the corner stone of entertainment seen as all other forms were sinful.

Good, God fearing Christians such as Anne Green, strived to adhere to the moral guidance set for the Protectorate, but, as many reported cases suggest, found themselves in employment that made this difficult. Throughout history there are suggestions of the landed gentry taking liberties with their staff and an unjust legal system chastising the poor. Anne Green seems to have found herself in just such a situation.

Based on historical cues (explained in the Author’s Notes following the story), Mary Hooper suggests that it is the Grandson to rich landowner Sir Thomas Reade, who endeavoured to have his wicked way with the young girl. Geoffrey is portrayed as everything you come to expect of a cad – pompous, egocentric, manipulative and ultimately cruel. Anne finds herself pregnant, very much alone and terrified.

Several months later, on a harsh cold night, Anne miscarries and births the still born child alone. But, such a circumstance cannot be hidden especially when she is found covered in blood and near to collapsing. Chaos ensues among the servants to the point were Sir Thomas is summoned. Unable to admit his Grandson’s actions he flows with the hysteria to suggest that Anne is not only a liar but a murderess, determined to cover up the fact that she was ever pregnant. From here she is conveyed to the gaol at Oxford, to wait in the most putrid and appalling conditions, for several weeks until a judge arrives to try her. With Sir Thomas being a hefty local influence, the jury being made of his peers and Anne unable to afford representation, she is quickly found guilty and sentenced to be hung from the neck until dead.

A sorry scene of family farewells followed by a quite harrowing narrative of her last moments on the scaffold, makes the end of Anne’s life is a depressing one. Her naivety lasts throughout and still she hopes in her last moments that a pardon will be granted, for surely they must see a mistake has been made. Even her final words are taken from her as the hangman proceeds before she can even complete the sentence. It is as well that we know of the amazing revival of Anne’s spirits from the start, or this dark and hopeless case would have hearts breaking all over.

Cleverly, this tale is told by Anne herself as she lies in darkness, believing herself in Purgatory. In fact, to begin she believes herself buried alive and trapped beneath the earth in her coffin. However, strange visions beyond the eye lids she cannot open, change this view to one of limbo, still waiting for the final heavenly decision on her life.

These chapters are set between reports of an Oxford Fellow of New College, Robert Matthews, who explains all the comings and goings during the attempted dissection of Anne. Noticing a flutter of her eyelids, yet not feeling a strong pulse, they believe there may be a slim chance of her survival. A marvellous account of the used processes to revive her is included within the detail, and is rather humorous to read. And this is one of the little perfections in this book.

Even though the background tale is somewhat fabricated, the basis of the story is entirely true. But it is the subtle weaving of the finer historical detail that I find most interesting. The year of 1650 is painted so beautifully even though its content is an upsetting one. Younger readers could glean an awful lot from this book, from basics such as ‘fashion’ and society, to the larger elements as the position of women, beliefs surrounding miscarriage and pregnancy, the effects of Puritan rule, and the fact that it was alternative moral positions that ultimately allowed for Anne to survive. Had the Oxford Physicians not maintained their scientific stance and succumbed to the ‘will of God’, Anne would have been left to die and this tale never told.

It is a nice little book, prettily told. I find the story of Anne most fascinating but mostly because it is a real story with a supporting bibliography. Had this book been pure fiction, I probably would not have enjoyed it as much – not because the writing is poor, far from it. Mary Hooper writes in a very engaging fashion, however, were it pure and utter fabrication, it would not hook me enough, there would not be enough intrigue or imagination to hold me. But as it is, it is certainly a book well worth a read and one that I would recommend to anyone with a vague historical interest.

This is the first of Mary Hooper’s books I have read, and it shall not be the last.

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Responses

  1. That’s a pretty thorough review.

    I think any historical fiction has succeeded if it has taken the skeins of fact and woven it with storytelling so you can’t make out the warp and weft, it just becomes the fabric of the novel.

    Thanks for pointing out this author to me, I’ll definitely look her up.

    • You’re welcome! I am looking forward to reading her latest, “Fallen Grace” set in Victorian England. It seems to bode well as another heart breaker!

      Enjoy!

      Natalie x


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