Lauren's Reviews > The Winthrop Woman

The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton
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's review
Apr 07, 2008

it was amazing
Read in April, 2008

This book is a fascinating take on the origins of colonial America. I normally do not read historical fiction set in the United States. I selected this book because of my admiration for Anya Seton's Katherine and Avalon. This heavily fact-centered novel starts out in England in the early 1600s. It centers on Elizabeth Fones, the unconventional neice of John Winthrop, Sr., the first Governor of the Massachussets Bay Colony and the author of the famous City on the Hill sermon. The novel traces the Winthrop family's decision to come to the colonies through Elizabeth's perspective and gives an honest view of the establishment of Winthrop's city on the hill.

The first thing that struck me was how extremely difficult the passage was to America and the blind faith the Puritans had in their decision to follow their leaders to the new world. Seton spends a great deal of time describing Elizabeth's voyage and it is truly horrifying how difficult and dangerous the trip was at the turn of the seventeenth century - a time when it was unknown how to prevent scurvy and when people would routinely die on the ships - not only from shipwreck.

Seton takes a critical view of the colony's repression. The Puritans sought to practice their own religion, free from the Anglican church, but it becomes clear that there was a lot of in-fighting amongst how exactly to interpret the bible. This infighting and bigotry inhibited freedom moreso than England, which they were trying to escape. This point is particularly poignant with respect to Anne Hutchinson.

Seton spends a great deal of time discussing the Native Americans. I was surprised at how sharply critical Seton was of the English and Dutch treatment of the Native Americans, given the fact that the novel was written in the early 1950s. However, after reading the novel, I find myself looking out at my surroundings in America with an extra sharp appreciation of the costs that were paid in wresting control of this territory from the Native Americans.

Because Elizabeth is forced to leave the Massachussets bay colony, Seton also spent time discussing the international politics of the era and the territorial competition between the Dutch and the English.

I highly recommend this novel to any fan of historical fiction. This novel strongly follows fact and is largely derived from the Winthrop Papers and other matters of historical record, given the main character's connection to the famed Winthrop family. If you are originally from the Boston, Connecticut, or New York area, it is particularly fascinating to attempt to imagine what used to be and what could have been, had colonialism not taken root in America.

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