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Posted on August 18th, 2012, by

The novel “Year of Wonders”, written by Geraldine Brooks, is probably one of the most famous books written by this author. In fact the book is quite interesting. From the beginning a reader can be intrigued by the title of the book and its subtitle “A Novel of the Plague”. Such a combination seems to be quite unusual because there is certain controversy between the title and subtitle. But what is really important in this book is the message the author conveys to readers. Probably, one of the cornerstone ideas Geraldine Brooks attempts to underline is the belief in wonder, which is associated with something good and positive. Even such terrible things as the plague cannot overshadow the power and magic of wonders.

The first thing the reader’s eyes catch in the book is the title and subtitle of the novel. It is obvious that they seem to be so contrasting that to a certain extent such a combination seems to be inappropriate for a literary work of such a quality. Nonetheless, on deeper reflections, the author’s intentions acquire certain shape and eventually it becomes clear that it is a real wonder. In fact, the title and subtitle seem to be contrasting to one another because, traditionally, wonders have a positive connotation, while the plague is always associated with some human tragedy, which often leads to the ruin of many human lives.

However, such a combination is not illogical. In stark contrast, it is probably the first wonder of the novel. It literary terms it is even possible to estimate that it resembles a kind of paradox, since the title “Year of Wonders” and the subtitle “A Novel of the Plague” convey one of the main ideas of the whole book that there is always something positive (wonders) in human life even in the time of hardships (plague), when the perspective of survival seems to be vague. Probably the title and the subtitle to a certain extent exaggerate this idea but, at the same time, they prepare a reader to perceive the book as the writer wants the novel should be perceived.

Naturally, it is possible to suggest that the author could use a different title and subtitle or even unite them in a title like “Surviving Plague: Year of Wonders”. In all probability, such a title would lose the effect, the power and symbolism of the original title because in this variant of the title the negative side of the book is put on the first place.

It means that the plague and negative associations related to it would be emphasised and dominant. However, in all probability, the author’s intention is to underline the positive side of the life, i.e. wonders, which, being rare in human life, still happen. It seems as if the author appeals to people, gives them a piece of advice that they should not lose the last hope, even if the plague is killing people, including the closest ones, as it happens to the main character of the book Anna Frith, who has lost her husband and two sons. The author intends to say that even in such a situation there remains room for wonders and wonders will win and defeat any plague or any other misfortune that may happen in human life.

Naturally, the title is not the only wonder in the book. It should be pointed out that such a contrast of wonders versus the plague may be traced throughout the whole book. By the way, such a contrast may be also interpreted as the opposition between good and evil. In fact, the plague is a symbol of evil and those hardships a human being may face in his/her life.

Speaking about other wonders, it is possible to refer to descriptions that are amply used in the book. For instance, it really seems to be a great wonder that, despite the fact that the plague has come in the village, the surrounding nature still remains beautiful and inspiring admiration into the main character’s soul. Not surprisingly that the character says that “we live all aslant here, on this steep flank of the great White Peak. We are always tilting forward to toil uphill, or bracing backward on our heels to slow a swift decent. Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to live in a place where the land did not angle so, and people could walk upright with their eyes on the straight horizon. Even the main street of our town has a camber to it, so that the people on the uphill side stand higher than those on the downhill” (Brooks 1998, p.32).

At the same time, such attention to the surrounding nature maybe also interpreted as the author’s intention to underline the eternity of life. In other words, the plague disappears but hills and towns remain.

Furthermore, a particular attention should be paid to the behaviour of people during the plague. In fact, their behaviour is also a kind of wonder. For instance, the main character Anna Frith, being of a low social status, serves at Elinor Mompellion and her husband Michael Mompellion, who are “highly literate, relatively non-superstitious for this pre-scientific period, and liberally reformist in religion” (Corbett 2003, p.265). The latter facts are very important in understanding the wonder of transformation of Anna from a servant into the individual practically equal to her mistress. It also reveals the fact that traditional relations between people of different social status that result in inequality and discrimination tend to miraculously vanish because the plague is the main danger for all people, regardless their social and educational level, cultural norms, or religious beliefs. It seems that the author wants to underline that all people are equal when they face death.

However, such a wonder, as the shift in relations between Anna and Elinor, may be observed with slight changes in the behaviour of other characters. For instance, it is a real wonder that Anys, one of the murdered healers, is such an independent woman. Her views are revolutionary for a woman living in the 17th century, especially when she explains why she has never married: “Why would I marry? I’m not made to be any man’s chattel. I have my work, which I love. I have my home”Š But more than these, I have something very few women can claim: my freedom. I will not lightly surrender it” (Brooks 1999, p.126). It is worthy to remind that it is said by a woman murdered after she has been accused of witchcraft that reveals the real level of the development of the society in the 17th century.

Furthermore, it should be pointed out that the behaviour of inhabitants of the village is also quite unusual and may be referred to as some wonder. For instance, in addition to the examples mentioned above, it is worthy to note that the inhabitants of the village decide to remain in the village in a complete isolation, even though they realise that all of them will probably die.

Finally, the book’s epilogue reveals another wonder when the main character has to flee to “safety-up in North Africa in the sanctuary of a kindly ”˜Bey’s’ harem” (Corbett 2003, p.277). In fact, such ending is probably intentional and the author simply wants to make the style of the book rather similar to the style of the books written in the 17th century, since in that epoch the medieval stereotypes about fabulous oriental countries were quite strong.

Thus, in conclusion, it is possible to say that “Year of Wonders” by Geraldine Brooks is quite an interesting book that has to be analysed in details. In fact, there are so many wonders hidden within the novel that a much more profound research should be made in order to reveal all of them. As for those wonders that have been discussed in this paper, it should be said that they reveal social changes, as well as changes in traditional socio-cultural norms and beliefs that author wants to convey to readers.

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