Study Guide

Elinor Mompellion in Year of Wonders

By Geraldine Brooks

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Elinor Mompellion

If Anna had an Instagram account, Elinor would be her #wcw every time. Elinor is both feminine and free-spirited, striking a balance that Anna strives for herself over the course of the novel. She's the perfect role model for our heroine.

The Lady to End All Ladies

From one perspective, Elinor is the epitome of a traditional woman. She hails from an upper-class family. She's beautiful. She's generous and maternal. Elinor is even Anna's teacher: she shows her how to read and write. This gal is everything society wants out of a woman, and then some.

But there's something different about Elinor. Here's how Anna explains it: "There was something in her that could not [...] see the distinctions that the world wished to make between weak and strong, between women and men, laborer and lord" (2.2.42).

This strong, egalitarian side of Elinor becomes more prominent the more we get to know her. We see it in the way she works in her garden, which shows that she does "not scruple to toil with her hands" (2.2.41). Later, it comes out in spades when she and Anna annihilate gender expectations by extracting ore from a mine. Elinor is basically the Susan B. Anthony of the 1600s.

Origin Stories

Elinor has a secret buried in her past, however. As a young woman, she eloped with an older man named Charles. They had premarital sex, Elinor got pregnant, and Charles bailed on her, leaving her so stricken with grief and shame that she "violated [her] own body with a fire iron" (2.9.69), effectively aborting the child. Elinor remains profoundly shaken by this experience.

From the novel's perspective, the real problem isn't Elinor's choice to have premarital sex—it's her shame. This point gets driven home when we learn that Michael Mompellion, Elinor's husband, has refused to have sex with her—ever—in order to punish her for her sins. When he admits this to Anna, it totally reframes for her—and for us—what had seemed like the perfect relationship.

Sadly, Elinor's story gets cut short when she's murdered by Aphra, Anna's stepmom. The reasons for this are hard to pin down. Is Aphra jealous of Elinor's relationship with Anna? Is she bitter toward the upper classes? Or is she mad at Mompellion for what happened to her husband?

No matter the answer, this brutal ending emphasizes how women often shoulder unfair blame in society. Like many a woman before her, Elinor has been made a scapegoat for problems much larger than herself, and she suffers greatly as a result.

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