Winterson’s bewitching prose is delivered in short snatches of action in the months leading up to the August Assizes of 1612. Following the publication of King James I’s Daemonologie – in which the king laid out his support for the practice of witch-hunting – there is mounting pressure from London to shackle the ‘cats fleshed as women’ in Lancashire.
The cursed peddlar John Law’s last word is ‘Demdike’ as he holds three fingers above his paralysed body. Though Roger Nowell, the magistrate of Pendel Forest, has little enthusiasm for witchunting and the fervour of a newfound religion, he agrees to target Alice Nutter, the gentlewoman who leases land to the Device family.
The infamous witch Demdike is already imprisoned in Lancaster Castle, but her home, Malkin Tower, remains riddled with filth and curse. In Winterson’s telling, witchcraft is thoroughly muddled with destitution, at once a misogynist projection and a protest against those nervous patriarchs who wish to stamp out ‘witchery popery popery witchery’.
indulge anew in the gruesome charm of falcon familiars, severed tongues and speaking skulls But Alice Nutter’s story strays from this sociological reading and meanders towards the alchemical occult of mathematician John Dee and the wild enigma of Elizabeth Southerns.
Winterson takes her greatest liberties with Nutter’s imagined links to the Demdike clan, and The Daylight Gate revels in this bold woman’s love affairs.
Set against these forays into London parties and brothels is the ritual sexual abuse of witches and their kin, and the grim tale of nine-year-old Jennet Device’s revenge.
Winterson situates her version of Pendel at the point where devilish pact meets the abuse of power, both political and magical. She cultivates a sharp simplicity of style that cuts clean through history and allows the reader to indulge anew in the gruesome charm of falcon familiars, severed tongues and speaking skulls.
The Daylight Gate was published in paperback by Hammer on 14th March and is available from Foyles, Amazon, or your local independent bookshop, priced at £7.99. An e-book edition is also available, priced at £5.69.
Recommended for: Fans of witchcraft and Winterson.
Other recommended reading: The Lancashire Witches by Carol Ann Duffy, inscribed on posts along Witches Walk from Pendle to Lancaster, Paradise by Toni Morrison, The Bewitching of Anne Gunter by James Sharpe, The Witch and her Soul by Christine Middleton.