Book Review: A Measure of Light

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A Measure of Light was certainly a fascinating read! Thank you to Random House Canada for sending it our way. It is now on its way to Elizabeth here at the Hoarders next, because I think this is a read right up her alley, just as it was mine.

Here I was again, reading a book containing real life people blended with a fictional story. (I read A Measure of Light just before starting A Touch of Stardust however.) Starting in 1634, Beth Powning takes us on the unforgettable journey of Mary Dyer’s life, her flight from England to the New World for her fight for religious freedom to her death, by hanging in 1660.

“Soul liberty. The reason they had left England – for the right to worship as they wished.” (p. 113)

Mary and her husband fled England as the climate for the Puritans was becoming a harsh one faced with torture and imprisonment. Public and barbaric acts were waged on many. However, their arrival in New England, in order to practice their faith as they wished, was a far more barbaric life than the one they just fled from.  Here in New England,  daily whipping of men and women at the posts for “crimes” such as raising your hand to your husband or not attending church were frequent.

Mary’s close friend Anne Hutchinson  has been quite vocal about her distaste and distrust of the group of ministers administering and preaching brutal judgement, worse than those they thought they were freeing themselves from in England. Together, Anne and Mary strongly oppose these harsh teachings, knowing it’s not right and long for the freedom to express themselves freely within their religion.

First they left England because of the violence and cruelty against the Puritans. Upon arrival in New England these former punished men took it upon themselves to enforce blistering strict and regimented religious rule. There was no separation between the law and religion. Mary deeply saddened by this, and by frequent childbirth and now due to the banishment and later murder of her closest friend Anne, returns to England to stay with her dying Aunt.

“Tis fear, the fear of weak men. They do not wish for the ministers to be usurped – for just as men rule the home, so, in effect, do the ministers rule the government.”  (p. 247.)

Although Mary has promised that as soon as her beloved Aunt passes, she will return from England, she does not, and spends another seven years in England. Here, she is emboldened by the Quakers and its teacher, George Fox. For the first time, Mary has found happiness and can practice her faith in the manner more akin to what she was envisioning when she first left England.

“Every man or woman hath received from the Lord a measure of light. He says that if we follow the light we shall come into the state Adam was before he fell. We shall be innocent. Pure.” (p. 198 said by George Fox.)

“….you will see the bright morning star appear, which will expel the night of darkness that hath been in your hearts…” My heart.” (p. 201 Mary listening to George Fox’s preaching.)

She returns to Boston a stranger to her children, and them complete strangers to her. She is only content when fully immersed in the life and teaching of the Quakers. However, here in New England they are brutally treated as well.

“Terrible sufferings…”They were whipped in the public square, men and women alike. One man of forty years was deprived of food for four days and locked in neck-to-foot irons for sixteen hours.

But both, man or woman, shall have our tongues bored through with a hot iron…In What way do we harm them? How can they be so cruel, Mary?” (p. 247)

Mary and the Quakers are not welcomed in New England, and are severely punished. Mary is imprisoned and sentenced to death. Although, her eldest son has found a way to free her, Mary refuses this freedom and returns to the place she has been ordered from. Upon her return it is told to her that she will hang for it. She returns. She returns because she feels this is the way to reach ultimate fulfillment for her belief in God and her religion.

“I have been met with true peace, Mary said. ” (p. 264)

“His voice quivered, then settled. “You shall go to the place whence you came, and from thence to the place of execution, and be hanged there until you are dead.”

The will of the lord be done,” she said. ” (p. 267)

In the end, you feel both a mixture of awe and disdain for Mary Dyer. Awe for her strength and conviction in fighting for her right to religious freedom, and to leave the Puritans and become a Quaker. But, also, great frustration for how she chose to leave her family for so long, and continued to create unloving and lengthy distances from them, all in order to turn herself into a martyr for the Quakers. She is filled with great conviction for her beliefs and what she knows to be absolutely wrong and the abuse of power by the ruling men/ministers, and to freely allow for her imprisonment – and later death – all because this is what she believes she was called by God to do. That is some awesome fervor for her faith isn’t it?

You cannot deny however that Powning has given us an incredibly fascinating read. I was glued to the pages reading and was left thinking/reflecting on the power of these men to have all believe that punishment, great heaping gulps of severe punishment and fear, is the only true path to God.

4 stars for this incredible read.

Literary Hoarders Penny rev