Study Guide

Year of Wonders Summary

By Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders Summary

Anna Frith is a recently widowed mother of two. She works at the church rectory in Eyam for Michael Mompellion, the local Puritan preacher, and his wife, Elinor.

A visitor named George Viccars has been staying at Anna's home. He's a handsome tailor, and Anna has a baby-size crush on him. Before anything happens, however, Viccars falls ill and dies over the course of a few days.

Oof. Here we go…

Sickness spreads through the village. Once it's clear that this is the Black Plague, Mompellion convinces the villagers to remain in Eyam in order to both stop the spread of the plague and show their obedience to God. Everyone agrees, except for one wealthy family, the Bradfords.

Both of Anna's sons die, and she's plunged into grief. At first, she turns to opium to ease the pain, but her growing friendship with Elinor helps her dig herself out of that hole. The two women make it their mission to support the community in its time of need. They concoct herbal remedies, deliver newborns, and even extract ore from a mine.

It's not all good news, though. There's still the whole plague thing, you know. The local medicine women, Anys and Mem, are murdered by a mob. Bizarre superstitious beliefs spread throughout the village. The worst, however, might be the actions taken by Anna's dad, Josiah Bont.

Bont exploits the villagers by overcharging them to bury their dead. Eventually, he pushes things too far by burying a guy before he dies (talk about a preemptive strike), and he is punished severely by the villagers. This punishment inadvertently leads to his death.

His wife, Aphra, goes insane with grief. In her madness, she turns to strange pagan beliefs, revealing in the process that she's been the one spreading superstitious beliefs around the village. The nerve. The villagers lock up Aphra in horrendous conditions as punishment—which only drives her more insane. Horrifyingly, she kills her daughter Faith and locks herself in her house.

In the middle of this chaos, a magical thing happens—the plague recedes. The Mompellions hold a church service to celebrate this occasion…but don't get too comfortable, folks. Aphra suddenly appears carrying her dead daughter in her arms. She freaks out and stabs Elinor to death, presumably in retaliation for Mompellion's perceived mistreatment of her and her husband. What should be a joyous event has become a tragedy.

The town opens up once again, but it's not the same. Mompellion, for example, has become a recluse. The one interesting note is that the Bradfords return to town: Mrs. Bradford is pregnant—but not from her husband. Scandal.

Out of the blue, Mompellion and Anna hook up. We didn't see it coming, either. Things are great at first, but Anna learns that Mompellion withheld sex from Elinor throughout their entire relationship in order to punish her for her past sexual transgressions. This horrifies Anna and completely changes her relationship with the preacher.

In her post-coital confusion, Anna delivers the Bradfords' newborn daughter. She's horrified when they try to kill the baby to cover up their own shame. Anna has a proposition: if they give her some money, she'll skip town and take the baby with her. They agree.

Anna heads to Elinor's family estate, but she leaves when she finds out that the Bradfords are trying to frame her and say she stole their money. Could these people be any more terrible? She ends up in Algeria, where she marries a prominent doctor—not for love, but so that she can serve as his medical assistant.

Anna loves her life in this strange place with her two daughters: Aisha, from the Bradfords, and Elinor, from her relationship with Mompellion. This isn't just a new chapter in her life—it's a whole new volume.