A Fever in Salem: A New Interpretation of the New England Witch Trials

A Fever in Salem: A New Interpretation of the New England Witch Trials

by Laurie Winn Carlson
     
 

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In the late winter and early spring of 1692, residents of Salem Village, Massachusetts, began to suffer from strange physical and mental maladies. The randomness of the victims, and unusual symptoms that were seldom duplicated, led residents to suspect an otherworldly menace. Their suspicions and fears eventually prompted the infamous Salem Witch Trials. While most

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Overview

In the late winter and early spring of 1692, residents of Salem Village, Massachusetts, began to suffer from strange physical and mental maladies. The randomness of the victims, and unusual symptoms that were seldom duplicated, led residents to suspect an otherworldly menace. Their suspicions and fears eventually prompted the infamous Salem Witch Trials. While most historians have concentrated their efforts on the accused, Laurie Winn Carlson, A Fever in Salem focuses on the afflicted. What were the characteristics of a typical victim? Why did the symptoms occur when and where they did? What natural explanation could be given for symptoms that included hallucinations, convulsions, and psychosis, often resulting in death? Ms. Carlson offers an innovative, well-grounded explanation of witchcraft’s link to organic illness. Systematically comparing the symptoms recorded in colonial diaries and court records to those of the encephalitis epidemic in the early twentieth century, she argues convincingly that the victims suffered from the same disease, and she offers persuasive evidence for organic explanations of other witchcraft victims throughout New England as well as in Europe. A Fever in Salem is a provocative reinterpretation of one of America’s strangest moments, and a refreshing departure from widely accepted Freudian explanations of witchcraft persecution.

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Editorial Reviews

Seattle Times
Carlson turns to tackle a phenomenon that has engrossed and frightened generations.
— Barbara Lloyd McMichael
Atlantic Monthly
Ms. Carlson writes well, at times, even humorously.
— Phoebe-Lou Adams
New Yorker
Meticulously researched...marshals her arguments with clarity and persuasive force.
— John Banville
Providence Journal
Provocative, informative, and dramatic...packed with epidemiological evidence and studded with convincing figures and maps.
— Nan Sumner-Mack
The Seattle Times
Carlson turns to tackle a phenomenon that has engrossed and frightened generations.
— Barbara Lloyd McMichael
The New Yorker
Meticulously researched...marshals her arguments with clarity and persuasive force.
— John Banville
The Seattle Times - Barbara Lloyd McMichael
Carlson turns to tackle a phenomenon that has engrossed and frightened generations.
Laurie Garrett
What an intriguing hypothesis!
Katrina L. Kelner
This book will send historians and epidemiologists scurrying back to the drawing board.
Atlantic Monthly - Phoebe-Lou Adams
Ms. Carlson writes well, at times, even humorously.
The New Yorker - John Banville
Meticulously researched...marshals her arguments with clarity and persuasive force.
Providence Journal - Nan Sumner-Mack
Provocative, informative, and dramatic...packed with epidemiological evidence and studded with convincing figures and maps.
Robert S. Desowitz
A medical mystery that will intrigue both the epidemiologist-historian detectives and the lay reader.
The A-List
A fascinating, refreshing reassessment of one of the most bizarre episodes in American history.
John Banville
Meticulously researched...marshals her arguments with clarity and persuasive force.
New Yorker
Adams
Ms. Carlson writes well, at times, even humorously.
Atlantic Monthly
A-List
A fascinating, refreshing reassessment of one of the most bizarre episodes in American history.
McMichael
Carlson turns to tackle a phenomenon that has engrossed and frightened generations.
The Seattle Times
KLIATT
Do we really need a new interpretation of the Salem witch trials? Yes. We need this one. Carlson's focus is on the afflicted Salemites, not on the accused, their judges, their ministers, or their religious and social surroundings. She traces the existence of sporadic epidemics of a mosquito-borne disease eventually named "encephalitis lethargica," the disease made somewhat famous by Oliver Sacks in his book and the subsequent movie Awakenings. While the reader may not need every detail of medical history provided by Carlson, there is no avoiding the correspondence between the myriad of forms this disease can take and the symptoms of the Salem "bewitched." Most intriguingly, a diagnosis of encephalitis lethargica explains not only the complaints of "pinching" and "biting" made by the afflicted children at Salem, but also the hallucinations that accompanied their "fits." Paranoia may well have been the problem of those who witnessed the seizures in New England in the 1690s, but, if Carlson is correct, the bewitched of Salem simply had a disease no one could diagnose. Highly recommended, especially with Hill's Salem Witch Trials Reader, reviewed below. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Ivan R. Dee, 197p, maps, notes, bibliog, index, 22cm, 00-043041, $14.95. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Patricia A. Moore; Academic Resource Ctr., Emmanuel College, Boston, MA (retired) January 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 1)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781566633093
Publisher:
Dee, Ivan R. Publisher
Publication date:
08/28/2000
Pages:
220
Sales rank:
975,221
Product dimensions:
5.54(w) x 7.38(h) x 0.57(d)

What People are saying about this

Garnett
What an intriguing hypothesis!
— author of The Coming Plague

Meet the Author

Laurie Winn Carlson has written frequently on the history of the West, including Cattle: An Informal Social History; Seduced by the West; Sidesaddles to Heaven; and Boss of the Plains. She lives in Cheney, Washington.

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