#39 ~ The Winthrop Woman

September 23, 2007 at 2:54 am | Posted in Barnes & Noble, Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Historical Fiction, LIfe, Margaret Mitchell, Reading, Religion | 4 Comments
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The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton

I joined the Historical Fiction forum at the end of last month. [I need to write another post on that later – it’s a lot of fun.] They have a book of the month forum for anyone who would like to join. From the beginning of September on, the picture above has been on the Home page. After about 10 days, I took the plunge and bought the book. I’m so glad that I did. The Winthrop Woman is a wonderful fictionalization of the life of one of the New World’s first citizens, Elizabeth Winthrop. To most, she would be best known as Elizabeth Winthrop, niece and then daughter-in-law of John Winthrop.

The Winthrop family is one of the best known Puritan families. John Winthrop served as the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony off an on from the moment he arrived in the New World. Much of his family followed his beliefs. Elizabeth, however, is an exception. From an early age, she is scared of the manner in which her Uncle John rules his household and holds his extended family to account. At a tender age, prior to the death of her mother in childbirth, Elizabeth was caught while staying at her maternal family estate in a grave lie. Her Uncle John punished her per his view of Biblical principles. This event, as envisioned by Seton, became the basis for Elizabeth’s view of God as vindictive and harsh. Elizabeth never follows along the path of faith tread by her family and always distrusts her uncle’s motives.

Elizabeth is a fascinating character. I found her to feel very much like Scarlet O’Hara, a woman who doesn’t set out so much to thumb her nose at society as she does to live her life as she sees fit. In fact, there are parts of Elizabeth’s story that are similar to the early life of Margaret Mitchell. Both Mitchell and Elizabeth grew up in the midst of a family member with very fierce religious/political beliefs. In Mitchell’s case, that person was her mother, Mary. Mary was a suffragist who pushed Mitchell extremely hard to excel in academics, only to have her daughter push back. I will have to reread the early portions of Southern Daughter, the Mitchell biography I’ve read, to see if there is really a likeness between the two women. That should make some interesting research.

In addition to learning more about the Puritans in England and their dreams for the New World. They had dreams of being able to freely practice their faith and to set up a society based upon worshiping God in the manner they believed humans were intended. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, the Massachusetts Bay Colony under Puritan leadership was worse than living in England as a Puritan. John Winthrop and many other leaders became increasingly more hard-lined as the colonies matured. Isn’t that just like human nature? I came away from this book with a much deeper appreciation for the religious freedom I live with every day. Thankfully, whether I go to church or not is my own business. Elizabeth suffered a great many disappointments in her life for this very reason. I have to wonder how relations with the American Indian tribes could have better been handled if the European leaders were more interested in governing their territory than they were in monitoring the day to day lives of those they found ungodly.

If you are a fan of historical fiction or simply interested in reading about one of this country’s strong settlers (who happened to eventually own land in her own right!), you will enjoy this book. In the Author’s note at the beginning of the book, Ms. Seton makes mention of the fact that prior to writing this novel that the modern day Winthrops of her time knew that Elizabeth was someone for whom they should be embarrassed. She was the family’s black sheep. They just weren’t sure why that was the case. I hope that they read Seton’s novel. I hope that they now are proud to be related to such a strong woman. They should. She is a wonderful role model in my eyes.


A Friendly FYI:

I purchased this book from Barnes & Noble. The next day, while on my lunch break, I read up until page 46 until I realized that the pages were out of order. B&N was great about exchanging it for me. I posted this on the Historical Fiction forum and another person had the same experience. If you decide to purchase this book, I would ensure that the pages are all there and in order before buying it. I was lucky to have bought it at the store. My friend on the forum had bought it on-line. The company refunded her money without incident, but she didn’t feel comfortable buying it again on-line.


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  1. I had every intention of reading this this month, but I am fast running out of time!

  2. Marg,

    There are still four more days left in September. What are you talking about 😉

    I think I’m going to have to skip October’s book (I say that now before the cover jacket of October’s book glares at me everyday when I log on to the site). I need to pick up the speed on my reading so that I don’t fall behind and miss my 52 books goal. I’m up for whatever wins the November book of the month. I like having nominations. Even though we’re only picking one book, you get at least a handful of other good reading ideas.

  3. […] Her romance with Rob never has the passion that was present another of Seton’s novels, The Winthrop Woman. This bothered me while reading the novel. It wasn’t until I sat down to write this review […]

  4. […] The Literate Housewife […]

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