Jane-Emily & Witches’ Children by Patricia Clapp
originally published 1969 and 1982
Harper, 7th printing, 2007
Genre: Horror, suspense, historical fiction
Jacket copy: Emily was a selfish, willful, hateful child who died before her thirteenth birthday. But that was a long time ago.
Jane is nine years old and an orphan when she and her young Aunt Louisa come to spend the summer at Jane’s grandmother’s house, a large, mysterious mansion in Massachusetts. Then one day . . . Jane stares into a reflecting ball in the garden—and the face that looks back at her is not her own.
Many years earlier, a child of rage and malevolence lived in this place. And she never left. Now Emily has dark plans for little Jane—a blood-chilling purpose that Louisa, just a girl herself, must battle with all her heart, soul, and spirit . . . or she will lose her innocent, helpless niece forever.
One of the most adored ghost stories of all time is available again after thirty years—to thrill and chill a new generation!
During the winter of 1692, when the young girls of Salem suddenly find themselves subject to fits of screaming and strange visions, some believe that they have seen the devil and are the victims of witches.
Book report: It’s funny: Though both I’m Deborah Sampson: A Soldier in the War of the Revolution and Witches’ Children were favorites of mine in elementary school, I don’t recall ever happening upon Jane-Emily in the Mililani Library. And don’t doubt me; I read Deborah Sampson (about a girl who dresses as a boy and FIGHTS IN THE REVOLUTION) probably seventy-odd times in second and third grade, and around that time Witches’ Children introduced me to the joys of both historical research and the occult shelf in the Children’s section. Actually, a decade or so later, when I was in The Crucible (Ann Putnam, Sr, whut whut!) and our director was going over historical notes with us, I brought up the cake Tituba makes of rye meal and the girls’ urine (my director–Stephen Clark–was nonplussed at that detail being in a children’s book). Yes, a good ten years later, I still vividly remembered that detail, and it was because the book was THAT good. But yeah, Jane-Emily? Never heard of it, so of course it went on my Shelf Discovery reading list, though there it only merited an Extra Credit mention. If Patricia Clapp wrote it, I was going to read it.
Jane-Emily features the pretty but somewhat shallow Louisa (who improves as a result of her experiences), and her little niece Jane, whose parents have just died in a terrible accident. The two go to summer at Jane’s grandmother’s house, a wonderful Queen Anne mansion, which unfortunately happens to be haunted by the ghost of Jane’s aunt Emily, the spoilt little pig who willed herself to die out of spite. (And in what could be called, as Shelf Discovery so aptly puts it, “a petulant state of outrage.” 293) Those who’ve read The Turn of the Screw will be familiar with the sort of creeping dread that Clapp uses in her psychological tale of terror, one that gave me the chills, even as an adult in my cozy apartment.
Witches’ Children is the tale of the Salem Witch Trials from the perspective of Mary Warren, one of the accusing girls who later became accused herself of witchcraft. Unlike The Crucible, however, it’s far more relatable for a young girl, as Mary Warren and her peers like Ann Putnam Jr, Betty Parris, and the oh-so naughty (in The Crucible, at least) Abigail Williams rebel against the Puritan strictures that bind seventeenth-century Salem. But like Abigail in The Crucible, Mary Warren nurses a secret tendre for John Proctor (who always seems a prig to me), which is turned over her head when he spurns her assistance. That fury of a woman scorned scorches Salem, only this time it’s Mary’s sisters in affliction who act, to punish her as much as him. Witches’ Children perhaps never garnered as much attention because of its darkness; the victims in it are part of their own torture (it is never assumed that Tituba spelled anyone) and their torments are their own creation. It’s difficult to face that the strictures we put upon our society can create such human monsters.
Cover: Gothic and evocative, from script to coloring (lime green on black is like, inherently creepy). (Even though Witches’ Children gets–like Rodney Dangerfield–NO RESPECT.)
Falling to the floor in a small heap, Abigail wrapped her arms about her head, swaying from side to side, still screaming. I could stand it no longer. In a flash I rose and bent over her, pulling her arms free and lifting her face. Her eyes were still tight shut, and I drew back my hand and slapped her blind face. The screaming stopped on a high note. Then Abigail’s eyes opened slowly and she stared at me as if she had never seen me before. In all the room there was no sound. Abigail, eleven-year-old Abigail gazed up at me.
“I saw the Devil,” she said, and her words came slowly. “He is vastly tall and black, and his hands reached out for me.”
Without a sound Betty Parris slipped from the settle onto the floor in a dead faint. Abigail looked at her, and slowly a smile came over her face. She stood up, smoothing down her tumbled skirts.
“You see?” she said calmly. “We can do such things ourselves. Look at Betty. She knows. We have no need of Tituba, nor of bowls of water. We are enough. Now, which of you would choose to be next?”
But no one chose. We ministered to Betty, bathing her face, speaking softly to her, until she opened her eyes.
“I saw him, too,” she whispered. “I saw the Devil, too.”