Study Guide

Michael Mompellion in Year of Wonders

By Geraldine Brooks

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Michael Mompellion

We're not quite sure how to feel about Michael Mompellion. While he seems like an upstanding guy for the bulk of the novel, there are a few buzzer-beating revelations that completely change our understanding of his character.

Let's check it out.

The Perfect Preacher

At first, this dude busts every stereotype of a Puritan minister. He's non-judgmental. He's egalitarian. He always does the right thing. These qualities are most embodied in his suggestion that the villagers remain in Eyam after the plague strikes: he thinks they should remain to deal with what God is dishing out and to keep others safe. He also works hard to help the community in the aftermath of the decision: he doesn't just talk about religion—he lives it.

Mompellion exhausts himself keeping Eyam together as the plague takes hold. Someone needs a preacher? He's on his way. Someone needs a grave dug? Mompellion to the rescue. In fact, there are times when Elinor and Anna don't tell him about the villagers' requests because they fear he'll work himself to death.

A Changed Man

The big turning point in Mompellion's life is the death of his wife, Elinor, in the latter half of the novel. With the plague finally gone, it should be a time of celebration in the village, but Mompellion is so grief-stricken that he becomes a recluse. He even turns against religion: "I thought I spoke for God. My whole life, all I have done, all I have said, all I have felt, has been based upon a lie. Untrue in everything" (3.15.89).

How could someone so devout turn on a dime like that?

And then, of course, there's his encounter with Anna. Anna has long been attracted to the preacher, and with Elinor dead, she can no longer resist. They make love multiple times, and everything seems perfect—at first.

That's when the real bombshell is dropped. Mompellion reveals that he withheld sex from Elinor throughout their entire relationship to punish her for her past sexual transgressions. Here's what he says:

"I deemed that she should atone by living some part of her life with her lusts unrequited. The more I could make her love me, the more her penance might weight in the balance to equal her sin." (3.15.81)

The truly nasty part is that Michael makes Elinor fall in love with him in order to cause her pain. It's sadistic. This changes our perception of Mompellion: rather than simply a kind-hearted man of God, he starts to look more like a heartless zealot with little empathy for others.

Although Mompellion ultimately claims to have reformed thanks to Anna, we're not certain that we believe him—the dude already misled us about his character once before. In the eternal words of The Who, we won't get fooled again.

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