The Wheelwright’s Daughter

Written by Eleanor Porter
Review by Margery Hookings

When a landslip opens up a huge chasm in the centre of a Herefordshire village in Elizabethan England, the feisty Martha Dynely is immediately blamed for the catastrophe. She is an articulate young woman and viewed with suspicion in her local community, which is split by religious bigotry and poverty. At a time when many around her are illiterate, Martha can read. She is also is well-versed in herbal remedies, which lead villagers to the inevitable conclusion that Martha is a witch.

It doesn’t help that her wheelwright father is a drunkard and that the circumstances of her mother’s death are surrounded by intrigue. Add to this potent brew the love of a young stable hand, a sinister priest and a natural disaster seen by ordinary people as the devil’s work, and you have a magical concoction for a first novel. As a character, Martha is complex and not instantly likeable, her pride and naivety getting her into ever-deeper water. Her first-person account is complemented by Porter’s descriptions of the local landscape, authentic dialogue and detailed research. But can she overcome the small-mindedness of her local community and save herself from a witch’s fate? A tale of love, betrayal, superstition and fear.