Esther Forbes Edith Olivier - Essay

Edith Olivier

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In "A Mirror for Witches" is found] that deep, tragic irony which culminates in St. John's Gospel, in the creations of the Greek dramatists, in Thomas Hardy. [Esther Forbes's] story has that human poignancy which tears the heart in the account of those witches who really were done to death at Salem, and as one reads "A Mirror for Witches" one feels stream over one the force of that same evil, reasonless torrent.

The scene is set "upon the skirts of Cowan Corners, and but six miles removed from Salem," and the action takes place some twenty or thirty years before the Salem witch-findings. As far as I know (though I may be mistaken), it is not founded on historical fact, but is a rarer thing,—a creation compact of imagination and of sure historic instinct. It is indeed a tour de force.

[The] story is the commonplace, almost sordid, one, of a panic-stricken child, pursued by spite and jealousy in a world where frightful beliefs can clothe the happenings of every day with a fiendlike supernatural character. It is there that lies the amazing technique of the writing. There is its unique ironic quality. As one reads the story, one sees that all its events are entirely normal. But in the poisoned light of fear and superstition they cast huge shadows, which swallow them up and engulf them, till they are no longer the doings of human people, but the awe-inspiring movements of some spectre of the Brocken. And so...

(The entire section is 562 words.)