Esther Forbes Edith Olivier

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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 completely does Miss Forbes identify herself with the mental attitude of the period, that one realizes how the fantastic beliefs generated in a soil of ignorance and fanaticism, can permeate everywhere, so that even the little victim herself believes at last that she is possessed and loved by a demon lover. The atmosphere of the book is entirely true to the seventeenth century.

And the characters which move in this atmosphere are clearly and delicately drawn. They come very near, in spite of their remote setting. The tiny, stunted figure of Doll is full of pathos and beauty; and Jared, with all the characteristics of the conventional sea captain, yet succeeds in being individual and charming. Hannah is a detestable woman, but she is...

(The entire section is 562 words.)