Study Guide

Year of Wonders Society and Class

By Geraldine Brooks

Society and Class

Chapter 1

She pinched her face at this; she was not accustomed to sharing a doorway with servants [...]. Well, times had changed in the Bradfords' absence. (1.1.34)

Before the plague, Elizabeth Bradford had the run of things in Eyam. Things change, however. The plague completely upends the established social order of the village, effectively destroying the distinction between the upper and lower classes. Ol' Lizzy is none too pleased about this.

Chapter 2

I can scarce credit that the noble and gentry who so stand upon their superiority to such as we can yet be so base as to make the worst of us seem like angels. (2.2.20)

George Viccars' tales of debauchery in London are shocking to an upstanding young lady like Anna. Though most of that reaction is due to the lurid subject matter, a good chunk of it is based upon it being upper crusters who are acting in such a way. Aristocrats engage in rampant debauchery, and yet they have the nerve to look down on commoners like Anna? That's a bridge too far.

Chapter 3

But more than her delicate beauty, Colonel Bradford appreciated her substantial connections. (2.3.40)

In other words, Colonel Bradford is a gold digger: he ain't messin' with no broke Puritans. As long as his lady will help advance his social status, he's going to put a ring on it every time.

She was a rare creature, Anys Gowdie, and I had to own that I admired her for listening to her own heart rather than having her life ruled by others' conventions. (2.3.25)

Anys refuses to accept the constraints society places on her, especially where gender is concerned. In fact, she's one of Anna's key inspirations in her quest for personal self-discovery, a quest that eventually allows her to redefine her own womanhood outside of sexist limitations. That's a pretty big win, in our book.

Chapter 6

It had been a strange thing for us, to have our small village suddenly thrust into the high matter of king and parliament. (2.6.8)

We can imagine that would be bizarre. Mompellion was not necessarily trying to make some grand political statement by suggesting that the villagers remain in town, but it's such a powerful gesture that it resonates throughout England.

Chapter 7

"Dear sir, I did not raise my daughter to have her play wet nurse to a rabble. And if I desired to succor the afflicted I would have joined you in Holy Orders." (2.7.16)

Colonel Bradford has no use for Mompellion's egalitarian ideas about confronting the plague. All he knows is that he has enough money to evacuate his family, and that's enough for him. This is an especially significant decision because the Bradfords are the leading aristocratic family in the village.

And so, as generally happens, those who have most give least, and those with less somehow make shrift to share. (2.7.32)

Oh, snap—that shade is aimed squarely at the Bradfords. And it's a direct hit. Most of the people who remain in Eyam do incredibly courageous things to help their friends and neighbors, which only highlights the failings of the upper class in this situation.

Chapter 9

And so I learned that Michael Mompellion was not, as I had always thought, the scion of a distinguished clerical family. (2.9.72)

This might explain why Mompellion is so different from the stereotype of a Puritan minister. Before his life as a professional man of god, Mompellion was your average working-class Joe, which gives him a uniquely egalitarian perspective on society.

Chapter 11

"You bleed us dry [...] thinking nothing of breaking our backs for a pittance. And then you go on like we should lick your boots for the ha'penny you fling us." (2.11.18)

Josiah Bont's anger toward the upper class is rooted in childhood trauma. In a way, this might explain his exploitation of the other villagers' suffering. He's doing something that he sees aristocrats doing to commoners like him every day. In his bitter mind, he doesn't understand why he shouldn't be allowed to do the same.

We [...] kept to the old order, with the yeomen and the miners toward the front, then the artisans, then the crofters and the hands. (2.11.10)

Despite the existing social order literally dying away, the villagers of Eyam still adhere to the rules of that social order. What's up with that? While there are many possible answers to this question, we think it's because it gives these people a sense of order and stability. They really need both right now.