Name: The Winthrop Woman
Author: Anya Seton
Publisher: Mariner Books, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt
Type: Biographic/Historical Fiction
This is a very interesting story based on the life of Elizabeth Winthrop, member of a prestigious, wealthy family, whose head, John Winthrop was Governor of an area of land in what is called the Bay Area in Connecticut and whose job included guiding not only his own family but also the people of his constituency in all things, especially things regarding their religious life. This so called guidance was literally a matter of the most stringent control in a day when there were no means of instant communication and no avenue for help.
Set in Connecticut, politics of the day was geared for one man control in each area as we allow governors in each state although without such total control over his subjects. As many were wont to complain, it is why they left England but alas their situation did not get better it got worse. The major cause for this failure was that the majority of those who came together to America came for religious freedom and their leader, the governor was determined that only he knew right from wrong and a system of punishment was set up for transgressors. It was mentioned in The Winthrop Woman that she was punished in the stocks and afterward flogged. Opinion was in favor of such beatings as a cure for most any kind of wayward behavior. This was doubtless influential in her rebellion against all religion. There were no checks or balances to keep kindness and integrity as a part of the teaching process.
Mrs. Seton is an excellent writer and while one understands this is a work of fiction based on the Winthrop lives, it is impossible not to recognize and feel the constant presence of the government and the priests who allowed such behavior to their own people. It’s hard to believe but they even had to get permission to move. We, as a people have moved from dominion by the governors and priests to the position again of saying to ourselves and to others that I am my own ‘boss,’ and I will do as I please. Perhaps then we have come full circle and will soon regain our sanity.
We have desperate need to quit ‘bouncing’ from one extreme to another. We cannot exist as a country unless we start thinking ahead. What will the consequences be if we choose this path or another? Religion without the love generated by spiritual lives is no good, but politics without the checks and balances of spirituality is deadly, and it is waiting for us just beyond the door.
According to Mrs. Seton’s novel, in her final days Elizabeth found God. I do not know if this is part of the fiction that made a good story, or if it is true that she did. There are many tragedies she had to endure, but she didn’t lie down and give up. She kept fighting and the story says that she was finally victorious. I pray that the story is correct. Read this historical, biographical novel of the years 1610 – 1668 in Connecticut. You’ll find both love and hate, bravery and determination, and quite probably a new understanding of the hardships and successes of some settlers who came to America searching for freedom.