Mary Tullis is not an ordinary young woman – not in her past, not in her future. Her present is 1832 in the small, Scottish village, Dyplin (dip-lyn). She moves to this rural town with her father, David, the umbrella-maker, hoping to leave her past behind in Glasgow.
It is a hard year for the people of Dyplin: The cholera comes. Resurrectionists steal bodies from graves. The children, bored with all this decay, turn to witchcraft. The Reverend Matthew Glendinning is profoundly tested in his new position – torn between ecclesiastic duty and his love for a woman. Dark and fearful moods grip his congregation. Meg Annan, of stained reputation, is in love with Daniel Rutherford, the school teacher. And Mary, too, is in love. But much of the love – and the hate – in Dyplin is misplaced.
Then a book reaches local hands, its anonymous author descrying the meanness and hypocrisy of the town. The book sets off strong, fundamental emotions in these townspeople, and a drama unfolds of immense compelling power. Janet Caird has created a world and a story of so profound an effect as to call to mind such enduring works as The Scarlet Letter and Zorba The Greek. Her novel is a superb achievement.
Very good read. As the book cover says it is reminiscent of The Scarlet Letter, just set in a Scottish village in a later century. The people of Dyplin don’t except outsiders easily and Mary with her offish ways doesn’t make it any easier for herself. She is a women who was wounded by others and has turned to her books for comfort and safety. Confident and well read, comfortable with herself, and because of her extensive reading (unusual for a woman in that day) she is quite progressive thinking for a woman. All this makes her appear uppity to the village people and they are against her immediately.
When the cholera strikes the normalcy seems to be disrupted and there is a totally different ‘air’ to the village and the people, that disturbs the minister. The winter is long and hard and the children of the village find a book on witchcraft and steal away secretly to a cave to experiment as a group with this new found ‘treasure’ to while away the long days. This seems to set in motion a great darkness over the village that culminates at the ‘May Burning’ in a most evil way. Emotions run high with no restraint.
Superstition, a suicide, a lynch mob, grave robbing, witch burning… an exciting, introspective look into the evil and goodness of men’s hearts.
‘The May Burning was a ritual peculiar to Dyplin, found in no other village along the hills. No one knew how old it was, but there were records of it back into the fourteenth century. It centred on an enormous fire which blazed from dawn till dusk. What it commemorated no one knew, and no one cared. It happened on the last Wednesday of May and until Dr. Gillies came to the parish, had been a time for dancing, drinking, fornicating – an abandonment of all the accepted rules by most of Dyplin – even those normally douce and respectable; though a few managed to resist the pull, shutting themselves in their houses, with their children round them, closing and bolting doors and shutters, and sitting with open Bibles to add a spiritual protection against whatever forces were abroad. For it was not like Hallowe’en and Hogmanay, which the whole country shared. This was something very close, very private. It was not talked about and looked forward to. Only a day or two before the due date, the fire was finally built, by silent men who scarcely spoke to one another. It was a vast release for all that had to be battened down for the rest of the year and would be battened down on the morrow.’
‘She suddenly turned to Craig and said, ‘I wish I could live like this, far away from everyone, with books all round me, and no people to bother me.’
‘That’s no way for a young lass tae talk. Books are fine. I couldna live without mine. But they’re not life.’
‘I don’t like life. Books are safe.’
He looked long at her. ‘So that’s the way o’ it. Ye’ve been hurt…na, na, I’m no’ asking any questions. I’m just saying ye’ll maybe find safety in books, but you’ll miss living. books canna tak the place o’ fowk.’
‘I hate most people.’
‘Hoots, lassie, ye dinna hate them – ye’re afraid o’ them.’
‘Are you afraid of people?’
‘There was a time when I was afraid of the hurt fowk could dae tae me – and I turned tae my books. And noo I canna dae wi’oot them.’
‘But if you’re happy?’
‘Happy enough, in a subdued wersh way. No’ what you should tak’ for happiness. Sometime I think books are a snare, like drink. They’re a’ richt for an auld man like me. I can make them the better part o’ my life and nae hairm. But you – you should tak’ care they dinna get a haud o’ you at the expense of life… This is a queer talk we’re hae’in. I’ve never met a lassie like you afore; I can weel understand that ye’ll no’ just fit in wi’ life in Dyplin…