Newes from the Dead
Based on a true account, Newes from the Dead chronicles the story of a serving girl in 1650 England who is hung for infanticide, and later wakes up on the dissection table. As a young woman Anne Green is assigned as a serving girl to Barton Manor, the house of Sir Thomas a rich aristocrat. In the beginning Anne gains a suitor, John Taylor the local blacksmith, but she is seduced by Sir Thomas grandson Geoffrey Reade. Geoffrey entices Anne with the promise of becoming the lady of house, and raising her out of her life’s position. Anne is swayed by Geoffrey’s offerings and consents to his sexual advances. After several encounters Anne becomes pregnant and tells Geoffrey. However, Geoffrey has married another rich aristocrat and will not admit that he has fathered the child, so Anne turns to her mother for help. She tries to miscarry the baby by drinking concoctions given to her by the local witch doctor. However, the concoctions don’t seem to work and Anne’s belly begins to grow. Several months later Anne gives birth to a still born, however during 17th century England unwed mothers who gave birth to still born babies with no witnesses were considered murderesses. In addition, Anne has given birth to the master’s illegitimate grandchild which would bring scandal to the family. Anne confesses to Sir Thomas that her still born baby is Geoffrey’s. However, Sir Thomas does not believe her and orders that Anne is a liar and a murderess. Anne is then sent to jail where she experiences a living hell on earth, and is then sentenced to death by hanging. After the hanging her body is obtained by the New College, Oxford for dissection. Robert Mathews a shy medical student notices strange things about Anne’s corpse, and convinces his colleagues that she may not be fully dead.
At first readers will be drawn to this book due to our morbid curiosity of being buried alive. And indeed the parts in which Anne describes being trapped in darkened limbo is often disturbingly chilling. However, I thought the dissection portion of the book was more farcical than gruesome. (For example, at one point in the book one of the medical students stomps on top of Ann’s chest to see if she is alive.) The most terrifying part of this book is felt while Anne is unconscious and begins to realize that she is in limbo, and perhaps even buried alive. In addition, because the narratives were split into two perspectives, Annes (first person) and the medical students (third person), I felt like I was reading two different books at once. (But maybe this was the point?) Overall, it’s not a stale read for a historical novel.