The Ghosting of Anne Armstrong

Written by Michael Cawood Green
Review by Bethany Latham

Want to entertain yourself with “Ghosting Through: Ficto-Critical Translation as a Means of Resisting the Appropriations of History and Place”? Nah, me either – and I’m an academic. Yet this scholarly project of the author’s is the basis for this surprisingly readable tale of Anne Armstrong, a Northumbrian teenager whose accusations of witchcraft against her neighbors were presented before multiple justices in 1670s England. To “engage critically with the conventions of the genre” (required since he was awarded a research fellowship to do just that), English professor Green has taken the extant court documents and fictionalized Anne, her present-day ghost, and his own part as a researcher into her history.

Green possesses an interesting imagination; his look into the minds of Anne and the justices who examine her, their motives and concerns, more than achieves his goal of “invoking an awareness of how strange and foreign history…is to our contemporary understanding.” In a genre that often, in inept hands, ludicrously conflates historical characterization into something that dovetails neatly with modern culture and social mores, Green’s imagining of this story is refreshing.

All this aside, the book is simply a good read when taken at face value as historical fiction. The imagery Anne conjures – being bridled and ridden as a horse, her neighbors flying around in eggshells and kitchen bowls, transforming into various animals while singing, dancing, and feasting at a witches’ Sabbath – is vivid. Voice is convincing, atmosphere and geography immersive. If you want an academic treatise on metafictional interventions, feel free to read the 50-page appendices of essay and notes where the author explains exactly what he was attempting to do here. If you don’t, enjoy Anne’s story for what it is: an absorbing fictionalization of 17th-century witchcraft “evidence” given by a poor young girl, and learned justices’ reactions to it. It works either way.