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The daylight gate by Jeanette Winterson

The daylight gate (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Jeanette Winterson

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5904230,431 (3.54)32
Alice Nutter fights for justice when a group of Pendle women are accused of witchcraft during the reign of England's James I, when being Catholic is considered an act of treason and the Latin High Mass is comparable to the satanic Black Mass.
Title:The daylight gate
Authors:Jeanette Winterson
Info:London : Published by Arrow Books in association with Hammer, 2012.
Collections:Your library

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The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson (2012)


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In the past years, Hammer Film Studios have attempted to return to the glories of old with a number of new horror movies, including the atmospheric film version of Susan Hill’s The Woman in White. Parallelly, Hammer has diversified into the publishing business, commissioning not just film tie-ins but also new horror stories by established authors. These have included fine ghostly tales by Helen Dunmore and Sophie Hannah, but the most self-consciously “literary” contribution is probably Jeanette Winterson’s “The Daylight Gate”.

Inspired by the notorious Lancashire witch-trials of 1612 and cannily issued to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the tragic events, this slim book is a bold reimagining of history, using real characters and places woven into an intriguing blend of fact and fiction.

The early 17th century was a dark period of British history. James I, having survived a number of treasonous plots (both real and, possibly, imagined) was clamping down on segments of the population deemed “dangerous”, including Catholics. This paranoia infected the population and outsiders could easily be branded as “witches” or “dabblers in the occult” as a pretext for prosecution (and persecution). Indeed, some historians now believe that the Lancashire witch trials were merely an exercise in anti-Catholic propaganda.

Winterson is brilliant at evoking this threatening, oppressive setting. Not for her the detailed descriptions historical novelists are wont to resort to in order to conjure up the past. What we get instead is a lean, almost biblical narrative voice which fits the epoch being portrayed, but is also timeless. It seems to suggest that terror does not lie in the supernatural but in the misery which Man is capable of inflicting on Man. And more unsettling still, that history can repeat itself and political oppression is not restricted to a particular time or place.

So far so good. But Winterson seems undecided whether to stick to writing a historical novel with subtle supernatural overtones or to opt for a straightforward piece of diablerie. That’s where the book starts to lose its focus.

“Popery witchery witchery popery” claims Thomas Potts – the real-life chronicler who acted as reporting clerk for the Crown. Winterson quotes his mantra in her introduction and argues that this was the typical reasoning of a reign where “witchery” was a convenient excuse to proceed against uncomfortable political figures. Yet, one of the characters in her story is, precisely, a Jesuit who, having survived torture without renouncing his faith, is not above embarking on a sexual liaison with an alchemist/occultist. With a cleric and a witch as bedfellows, Thomas Pott’s allegations do not appear so far-fetched. Again, the initial chapters suggest that the suspects in the trials are, at best, wrongfully accused outsiders who are being denied a fair trial or, at worst, a bunch of deluded dabblers in superstitious rituals. As the novel progresses however, we learn darker secrets about them and our sympathy towards them starts to wane.

My quibble is not about whether this portrayal is true to history or not – the problem is that Winterson’s approach undermines the very thrust of the novel. It almost seems as if there were two books rolled into one, each struggling to gain the upper hand.

“The Daylight Gate” is certainly a well-written read and the narrative style is gripping enough to lead you on despite the novella’s inconsistencies. However, it’s difficult not to feel that this could have been a more convincing work. ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Mar 5, 2021 |
A fictionalized retelling of the post-Gunpowder Plot Pendle Witch Trials, featuring Alice Nutter, and with a cameo by Shakespeare.
I'm all for fictional versions of historical events, and I'm also absolutely here for stories about witches and familiars and Shakespeare, but this one was just on the other side of too dark for me. I get that to say these women were ill-treated is a massive understatement, but I don't necessarily want to be bludgeoned with it, repeatedly. And maybe that was the point of Winterson's narrative, and if so, well done, mission accomplished, but I would rather have seen her flesh out the story of Nutter more, spend those words used on bleak and gratuitous violence on spinning more web for Alice's mysteries. She's such a promising character, but she doesn't get much more than the nod of that promise. The writing is good; the sentences are clipped and abrupt and stark, which seems right for the content, although in a few spots I think Winterson takes it a bit too far and it crosses over into clunky for brief moments. Anyway. Maybe I just wanted the book to be a different kind of book than it is. I see its merits, but I may stay clear of Winterson in future. ( )
  electrascaife | Jan 24, 2021 |
Why people are giving this low rating for not being historically accurate I don't comprehend. It's got magic and ghosts and alchemy and the gentleman and all sorts of stuff that clearly ISN'T REAL.

I found this a wonderfully written book, richly detailed and very emotive.

WARNING: It also contains the most disturbingly erotic torture and castration scene I've ever had the misfortune to read. I expect this will stay with me and haunt me forever. ( )
  mjhunt | Jan 22, 2021 |
This was a fine story told pretty well, but it didn't really do a whole lot for me. I guess I wanted more? ( )
  dllh | Jan 6, 2021 |
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of this book. Based on historical events, it nonetheless takes liberties with the supernatural elements.

Shakespeare makes an appearance and is one of the few voices of reason in the story. Alice Nutters and her magenta dress, tiny mirror made from alchemy, and loyal falcon were my favorite aspects of the tale. She is a strong and intelligent woman standing almost alone among a tide of ignorant and fearful men. Yet there are also good men present in the story.

My least favorite parts were the graphically detailed scenes of torture. That human beings could mistreat other humans so maliciously and gruesomely in the name of a religion is no stranger to history, yet 400 years later it is still hard to fathom and to forgive, but not to forget. Religions are still manipulated to brainwash the weak and give men reasons to make wars and fly plains into towers.

In remembrance of Alice Nutters and the perhaps 9 million other innocent women tortured, tried, and executed as witches in the name of an invisible man in the sky, I say, “Never again the burning times.” ( )
  LoriFox | Oct 24, 2020 |
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Wikipedia in English


Alice Nutter fights for justice when a group of Pendle women are accused of witchcraft during the reign of England's James I, when being Catholic is considered an act of treason and the Latin High Mass is comparable to the satanic Black Mass.

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Book description
Haiku summary
The accusation:
witchery – or popery?
Who cares? Hang them all.

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