Article published on August 31, 2011.
Deliverance from Evil is the third novel by Frances Hill. Author of several non fiction titles on the same subject, Hill’s novel charts the events of the 1692-1693 Salem Witch Trials, which took place in Massachusetts, New England, following the emigration of puritans escaping persecution in England during the 1620’s. The novel follows the true events of the Salem Witch trials, closely echoing Miller’s The Crucible, where young girls were involved in the accusation of witches- simulating terrible fits- which lead to the prosecution and death of nineteen men and women.
The narrative is split between events in Maine and Salem. In Maine the novel follows the story of minister George Burroughs and his new wife Mary whom he has rescued during a battle against the native Americans. We learn that George is a strong leader, a father whose two previous marriages have failed and a respected warrior admired for his amazing strength. Meanwhile in Salem a group of girls are starting to act strangely; having uncontrollable fits, fainting and seeing ghostly apparitions. As their symptoms worsen they turn against members of their own community as accusations of witchcraft are raised. The political figures of the village: ministers, land owners & merchants quickly realise they can use these accusations to their own advantage and get rid of people they have quarrels with or merely dislike.
As the situation worsens George is arrested as the leader of the witches, and his strength, circumstance and faith are all turned against him by men who wish to solve old debts with drastic measures. He is taken to Salem to await his fate pending trial while Mary struggles to prove his innocence. She soon learns that her pleas are falling on deaf ears as those involved in the politics of the witch trails are out for their own gain; those accused of witchcraft are often enemies of those in charge and therefore their fate has been sealed from the beginning. The girls hysterical fits at the sight of the accused are a simulation (Mary finds out one of the girls has been sent away as she could not simulate fits when required) and it is now up to her and a few other protestors to try and put a stop to this awful practice.
The history and politics of the Salem witch trials are fascinating for the modern reader and this is definitely a novel for those who wish to find out more about the era, as Hill’s historical accuracy is definitely her greatest strength. However the novel relies to heavily on relating the historical facts, an area the author is certainly comfortable with, rather than building on the mystery and intrigue surrounding the trials. The facts are spelt out to the reader, there is no question of whether the girls fits are real or false, and the intricacies of the morality of the time are not explored in great detail. What is interesting is the power of hysteria to seize hold of a community and the lengths people can go to the insure their own interests.