Jo Ann Butler’s debut historical fiction novel, Rebel Puritan, is inspired by her 8th great-grandmother, Herodias Long. Butler blends historical fact and fiction in Rebel Puritan so seamlessly the reader never feels the novel is semi-biographical.
Herod Long is 12 years old when tragedy strikes her family. Her family, farmers in Burlescome, England, are near destitution when her father and oldest brother perish from the bubonic plague. Herod, her mother and brother, Will, are left with a holding they cannot work by themselves.
This dilemma is resolved by Herod’s mother, who invites her oldest daughter and her family to work the farm. Unfortunately for Herod, her mother’s plans do not include her. Herod and her mother have an acrimonious relationship. Herod is a bit of a dreamer and her mother has no fondness for dreamers.
Herod, another mouth to feed and an unreliable worker, is sent to London to serve her mother’s sister. Herod knows what happens to girls who are bonded out or sent away – few return home.
Herod arrives in London to discover Alice Clark, her mother’s sister, is a cold woman. Herod is considered little more than a slave 6 days a week, working from dawn til sunset for a woman who complains incessantly and threatens to turn her out penniless for the next infraction. Servitude to this miserly and cruel aunt is Herod’s future for the next five years.
Puritanism, the tentacles of which were newly arrived in Burlescome, is firmly entrenched in London. Herod attends church all day Sunday with her aunt and uncle and chafes under the extremism.
It is important to understand Puritanism as it effects much of Herod’s life. Puritans were a group of Protestants who were unhappy with the Church of England. They believed in following the laws set out in the Bible without deviation. They also believed in the doctrine of predestination – God has chosen at birth the Elect who will enter heaven and those who are not of the Elect are damned for eternity. No one knows whether they are the chosen, therefore, Puritans worked hard for the glory of God.
It was a harsh lifestyle. The premise of Puritanism was to stip away all material and traditional aspects of the Church of England and practice extreme piety. Puritans were under constant scrunity by fellow congregation members. Deviation from piety was dealt with swiftly by disapproval and discipline. Hell, fire and brimstone was the primary sermon.
Persecution in England prompted a massive immigration to New England, where communities were formed. These communities adhered to principles of Puritanism strictly. Those found in contravention were subject to banishment, corporal punishment and even, in some cases, death by hanging.
Now back to Herod. Her aunt and uncle operate a tailor’s shop. One day when she is minding the counter, a young man comes in. Herodios is enthralled and contrives to establish a relationship. This is the man she will marry in great haste (without divulging her true age of 13) so she can escape and immigrate to New England.
Life in New England and with her husband isn’t the deliverance she craves. Scraping a living off the land is harsh and her husband, John Hicks, brutal. Puritanism reigns. Herod becomes friends with dissenters within the community, liasions with repercussions.
Rebel Puritan is a novel of a young girl who struggles to find dignity and freedom within her world; a world in which women have few rights and are subject to male domination. Her efforts bring both success and tragedy. But her determination never fails.
Herod and her world come to life through Butler with her imaginative and gritty details. For example, I felt I lived through Herod in a dugout home on a treed lot in a small community in New England where every action is scrutinized.
Butler is skilled at evoking the realism, hardships, hard-won victories and inevitable decisions a woman faced in 17th Century England and America. The numerous characters who populate Rebel Puritan have flesh and bones.
I recommend Jo Ann Butler’s Rebel Puritan without reservation. I eagerly await receipt the continuation of Herod Long’s life in Reputed Wife, to be released later this fall.
My rating: 4.5/5 Stars (Most Excellent)
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