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The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England

by Carol F. Karlsen

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I read this book while in graduate school as I was researching the whole witchcraft trials both in the colonies and abroad. I liked this book because Carol put a lot of research behind this. She did a careful analysis of the witch trials without sensationalizing it, which is easy to do with a topic such as this. Karlsen's main focus was on the motivations behind these allegations and found that it was really economic motivations as opposed to religious or social motivations as others have believed. She brings new insight into the struggle between gender and power in colonial America.

Anyone who is studying the witchcraft trials during this time, or just want to learn more about it (without all the drama) shoudl definitely pick up this book. It was written in 1987 but is still relevant and worth the read. ( )
  Angelic55blonde | Apr 4, 2012 |
Carol Karlsen's 1987 book The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England provides a sort of demographic, sociological, and anthropological examination of the witchcraft trends in early New England. By examining the records, Karlsen has created what she suggests was the archetypal 'witch' based on income, age, marital status, &c.

She argues in part that women who had inherited or stood to inherit fairly large amounts of property or land were at particular risk, as they "stood in the way of the orderly transmission of property from one generation of males to the next" (p. 116). These women (and others), Karlsen suggests, were targeted largely because they refused to accept "their place" in colonial society. How their actions translated into being accused of witchcraft by - usually - other females is left unexamined for the most part, unfortunately.

This is a fairly useful study into some of the various elements of the witchcraft cases. I don't find Karlsen's arguments as compelling as those made more recently by Mary Beth Norton, for example, but this is hardly a bad book just for that reason. Recommended for those interested in the witchcraft phenonmenon.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2007/03/book-review-devil-in-shape-of-woman.html ( )
1 vote JBD1 | Mar 13, 2007 |
Karlsen investigates the demographic background of the women caught up in the witchcraft trials in Colonial New England. Her findings on the relative economic and other power indicators provide insight into possible motives for the hysteria, other than religious zeal. ( )
  AlexTheHunn | Nov 23, 2005 |
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For Alice, Katie, and Tess. In memorium.
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On 14 May 1656 Boston widow Ann Hibbens stood before the magistrates and elected town representatives of the Massachusetts General Court, the highest judicial and legislative body in the colony.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393317595, Paperback)

"A pioneer work in . . . the sexual structuring of society. This is not just another book about witchcraft."--Edmund S. Morgan, Yale University

Confessing to "Familiarity with the Devils," Mary Johnson, a servant, was executed by Connecticut officials in 1648. A wealthy Boston widow, Ann Hibbens, was hanged in 1656 for casting spells on her neighbors. In 1662, Ann Cole was "taken with very strange Fits" and fueled an outbreak of witchcraft accusations in Hartford a generation before the notorious events in Salem took place. More than three hundred years later the question still haunts us: Why were these and other women likely witches? Why were they vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft? In this work Carol Karlsen reveals the social construction of witchcraft in seventeenth-century New England and illuminates the larger contours of gender relations in that society.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:17 -0400)

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W.W. Norton

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