Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, by Geraldine Brooks, was published in 2001 and received critical acclaim. As the title suggests, the story takes place during the height of the bubonic plague in Eyam, England.
The main character in the story is Anna Frith, a widow. She lets a boarder, George Remington Viccars, stay with her to supplement her income. Viccars is a tailor and regularly imports fabrics for his business. Viccars receives a cargo of fabrics from London that contain the bacterium Yersinia pestis: the bubonic plague. Viccars dies, and Frith is asked to help keep the plague from spreading in the village.
Frith exemplifies the status of women in small-town Puritanical England. She takes on low-income jobs to survive and provide for her sons. The setting of the novel itself conjures images of isolation and remoteness. When the village first experiences mass deaths from the plague, even government officials avoid the town. The isolation of the village symbolizes the isolation of the people themselves, particularly Frith, who has to take a do-it-yourself approach to helping her neighbors.
The local healers in Eyam are murdered by an angry mob who believe the herbal healers were practicing witchcraft and caused the village to be cursed. This extremist religious attitude and its violent consequences further alienate everyone in the village. Everyone becomes susceptible to death, whether via the bubonic plague or via the paranoia of the public.
Additionally, being a widow during the 1600s in Puritanical England meant that a woman had to depend on men for financial help. The widow was the symbol of societal alienation during a time of grief. However, the character of Anna Frith exemplifies perseverance and self-reliance.
This novel was critically acclaimed upon publication, with book reviewers citing the story of Frith as a message of female empowerment in a society that oppressed them.