Anna Frith who is a mother, widow and servant at the time that the disastrous plague reaches her village, Eyam, narrates the story. Anna loses her whole family to the plague disease, after she has already been through the passing of her dear husband, Sam, in a horrible mining accident. Although there are moments when Anna feels that there is nothing left to live for in her life, she finds an inner strength and resilience that not only propels her through the tragedy, but allows her to grow in stature as a result.
Anna comes from a croft that had ever been ???a joyless place??™ and as is typical of women of that period and class, she was not educated in a formal setting. Anna, however, has a natural intelligence and a thirst for knowledge, and she nourishes this through her relationship with Elinor Mompellion, when she works as a servant for her at the rectory. ???Within a year of her coming??™ Elinor teaches Anna to read as well as providing her with tutelage in all aspects of life. She comments that Elinor never let ???a minute pass without trying to better me, and for the most part I was a willing pupil.??™ Anna thrives on this knowledge and she gains confidence and self-assurance from it and she is able to apply it in practical terms, to the situations that she faces once the plague takes hold of her community.
Anna blossoms in her role as healer as she sees from her work that it was possible to lose herself in it and that ???much good??™ could come of it. When she perceives the need for help, she will go to great lengths to provide assistance, even if it means that she puts herself at risk. Anna is by no means perfect, and this is clearly illustrated when she smashes the ???delicate dishes??™ one by one, after feeling the pangs of jealousy at the relationship shared by Elinor and Michael Mompellion.
Anna has come full circle. She has already been a wife and mother but nature robbed her of her original family, but through the strength of her character that has truly been tested, she is able to emerge from her suffering, and begin a new life.
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Michael Mompellion is the main reason why the village of Eyam becomes abandoned and isolated at the time of the plague. Even when under the pressure from the situation, Mompellion is a commanding leader. Anna states how he ???naturally he took charge??™ once the first victims of the plague began to pass away. He speaks with authority and his voice is ???so compelling that you focussed all your thoughts upon the words and not upon the man who uttered them??™ as well as making practical decisions such as delivering his sermons in the Delf, instead of indoors.
He is also able to set an example to the villagers through his actions. This is not only shown when he and his wife remain within the ???boundary stone??™ of the village without any thought for their own safety, but also when he realises that ???all worldly goods??™ must be burned as another precaution against the spread of the plague. He is the first to place his own belongings on the burning pile so that the villagers will follow suit. As the dire consequences of his decision become more apparent, Mompellion takes it upon himself to attend to every dying member of the community. He spends hours with the suffering ???fighting first for the body and then, when that cause was clearly lost, for his soul.??™ He holds firm to his belief that ???no one in this village will face their death alone.??™
The plague that??™s ripping apart the village takes its toll on Mompellion as he is traumatised by what he has brought upon the village. As a result, he makes several errors of judgment. Mompellion is a flawed character, and this is reinforced when he reveals the truth to Anna about his marriage to Elinor.
Even though Elinor Mompellion is the wife of the rector, she does not remain in the background of life in the village, Eyam. Instead she makes her own role in the community as a maternal figure, healer, mentor, counsellor and guide.
Anna believes that ???the whole parish??™ benefitted from her troubles of not having children and in particular, she feels that she gains so much attention herself because of Elinor??™s ???failure to conceive a child.??™
Elinor is well educated and cultured however she ignores social rank and becomes a loyal friend to Anna, her servant. She teaches Anna to read, and she is responsible for continuing the legacy left by the Gowdie women, to provide the community with herbal remedies and salves to help ease the suffering of those afflicted by the plague.
It is Elinor who spends hours identifying plants and herbs that can be made into poultices and remedies for the sick. She is also responsible for encouraging Anna to take on the role of a midwife, when there is no one else available. When Elinor sees a need in the community she aims to meet it, and she is crucial in offering comfort to the sick and dying as the plague ravages the village.