Study Guide

Year of Wonders Chapter 9

By Geraldine Brooks

Chapter 9

The Poppies of Lethe

  • Anna has been planning to throw away the poppy, but she can't force herself to go through with it. After six weeks of this back and forth, she finally decides to eat half of her stash.
  • Anna blisses out. It's the first time in a long time that she hasn't been haunted by memories of her children.
  • The next day, just as she steps out from her front door, she's approached by young Sally Maston. Sally's mother has just died, and her father is quickly following.
  • A bunch more people die that day. Anna and Lib haven't been talking since the whole Anys situation, but Anna visits her friend because she's knock-knock-knocking on heaven's door.
  • There are more deaths the next day, including Sally's. Anna takes the second half of the poppy.
  • Anna's anxiety once again recedes, but it comes back full force the next morning when she realizes that she's out of opium. She decides to search the Gowdies' hut for more of the stuff.
  • On her way over, Anna notices that there's no smoke coming out of the Talbots' chimney, and she goes inside. She discovers that Richard Talbot has cut off his little Richard—if you catch our drift—because he thinks that this will stop the spread of the plague.
  • Spoiler: it doesn't.
  • Anna notices that Richard's wife, Kate, is holding a "small triangle of parchment" (2.9.23) with a magic spell written on it. Kate claims that the ghost of Anys gave it to her.
  • Anna finally heads to the Gowdie house. As she rustles through the abandoned home, she hears a voice behind her.
  • It's Elinor.
  • Elinor says that she's looking for medicinal herbs that will stop the spread of the plague. Hesitant, Anna admits that she's there for the poppy.
  • Somehow, Elinor already knows this. Then, she shocks us by revealing that she was once a poppy addict.
  • Elinor grew up in an upper-class family. She was 14 when an older suitor set his eye on her. Despite her father's warnings, Elinor eloped with him to London. She got pregnant before they got married, and her boyfriend abandoned her.
  • In grief-stricken madness, Elinor aborted her own child with "a fire iron" (2.9.69).
  • After this traumatic event, Elinor returned home and got hooked on poppy. That's when she first met Michael Mompellion, who at the time was her family's groundskeeper.
  • Elinor's family had also funded Michael's education after seeing how smart he was.
  • Elinor and Michael fell in love, and Michael helped her a great deal, especially because she was dealing with a massive amount of shame.
  • Anna is taken aback. She never would have guessed this backstory.
  • Elinor abruptly changes the subject back to the plague. She has been charting its spread and has noticed that it mostly affects young and middle-age people.
  • Elinor and Anna spend the rest of the day researching, focusing in particular on the work of a Muslim doctor named Avicenna.
  • After gathering up the herbs they need, Anna throws the remaining poppy into the fire. She's going cold turkey.