Fascinated with The Familiars

It’s been a busy month so just a brief summary of our thoughts this time. Everyone enjoyed reading The Familiars, a fictional tale based at the time of the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612. The book is well researched and makes reference to many of the tragic events of the time leading up to the trials and the families involved. Many of us had heard of the trials, visited the area or had researched the Trials as part of a dissertation but were not aware of the full extent of the treatment of women in Lancashire at the time.

The book features two strong female characters from very different backgrounds – the newly married 17 year old Fleetwood and the mysterious Alice who becomes Fleetwood’s midwife.  We loved Fleetwood’s resilience and determination – described perfectly by Jo as a northern Demelza of 1612 – galloping through Lancashire on her beloved horse. Whilst on different paths of society Fleetwood and Alice develop a deep bond, connected by their difficult pasts.

Fleetwood has a difficult relationship with her cold and controlling mother. However as more was revealed about Fleetwood’s childhood there was still some sympathy for her mother. As with other historical books we’ve read as a group – you can’t judge things from a modern day perspective and have to put yourself back in the time and consider how powerless women were. Choices were limited irrespective of your social standing.

The male characters fare less well in the book. We enjoyed how close family friend Roger was transformed from kindly father figure to villain in his obsessive pursuit of the women healers of Lancashire and quest for the King’s favour. Our feelings towards Fleetwood’s husband Richard changed throughout the book as the story developed and we were relieved he redeemed himself towards the end.

We decided the devious child Jennet and her actions added a layer of suspense to the story – but again felt her actions were based on basic needs for food and shelter. Like other women in the story Jennet was another commodity who could be cast aside when no longer of use.

Via Twitter Stacey Halls kindly sent us a deleted scene from the book but those of us who read it decided it didn’t really add anything to the story.

There was so much to talk about we could easily have doubled our 30 minute lunchtime chat but you can read more about the women of Pendle here. It’s also possible to visit Gawthorpe Hall, the home of Fleetwood. We were pleased to discover that Richard and Fleetwood Shuttleworth were the first occupants of Gawthorpe, although their story in The Familiars is entirely fictional.

On to our next book

With a collective sigh of relief we are taking a break from repressed women with our latest book – The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing. Hope you are all enjoying it. Look forward to seeing you all online on Thursday 6th May at 12.30pm.

Bond, R. (2009) Mist Over Pendle Pendle Hill from Crown Point Road, Rossendale. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Pendle_Hill#/media/File:Mist_Over_Pendle_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1189698.jp (Accessed: 23/04/2021).
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