THE PLAGUE VILLAGE OF DERBYSHIRE


Victoria here, reporting on a a wonderful book I read recently, chosen for one of my book groups. The author Geraldine Brooks, who has written several novels in addition to her career as a reporter in some of the world's most dangerous locales, gives us a fictionalized account of real events in the village of Eyam in Derbyshire in 1665-66.

The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

from the Amazon.com review:
"Geraldine Brooks's Year of Wonders describes the 17th-century plague that is carried from London to a small Derbyshire village by an itinerant tailor. As villagers begin, one by one, to die, the rest face a choice: do they flee their village in hope of outrunning the plague or do they stay? The lord of the manor and his family pack up and leave. The rector, Michael Mompellion, argues forcefully that the villagers should stay put, isolate themselves from neighboring towns and villages, and prevent the contagion from spreading. His oratory wins the day and the village turns in on itself. Cocooned from the outside world and ravaged by the disease, its inhabitants struggle to retain their humanity in the face of the disaster. ... there is no mistaking the power of Brooks's imagination or the skill with which she constructs her story of ordinary people struggling to cope with extraordinary circumstances." --Nick Rennison, Amazon.co.uk


My photo from the neighborhood of Eyam some years ago

A friend and I visited Eyam on a whirlwind tour of the region a few years ago. We were fascinated with the story of the community which quarantined itself to protect the neighboring villages and thus may have save the entire nation from a wider tragedy.

Derbyshire

Though I hadn't realized it at the time, Eyam Hall, below, actually dates from the years just after the plague ended.

Eyam Hall

The National Trust operates programs at Eyam Hall and its gardens.  Tours of the village and its museum are often scheduled.  

Boundary Stone

The 3rd Earl of Devonshire supplied the village with food and other needs in exchange for lists and vinegar-soaked coins left on the stone by the villagers. It was assumed that the vinegar cleaned the coins of infection.

The Eyam parish church figures prominently in the novel.

A long list of books, articles, plays, even operas, deal with the Plague Village. I can enthusiastically recommend Year of Wonders as an admirable reading experience. Despite the desperate struggle of the villagers, there are illuminating and satisfying insights into character and growth, particularly for Anna Frith, the story's heroine. Not exactly a cheery novel, but one you will long remember.