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Damned Women

Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England
Narrated by: Susan Marlowe
Length: 7 hrs and 42 mins
Categories: History, American
3 out of 5 stars (9 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In her analysis of the cultural construction of gender in early America, Elizabeth Reis explores the intersection of Puritan theology, Puritan evaluations of womanhood, and the Salem witchcraft episodes. She finds in those intersections the basis for understanding why women were accused of witchcraft more often than men, why they confessed more often, and why they frequently accused other women of being witches. In negotiating their beliefs about the devil's powers, both women and men embedded womanhood in the discourse of depravity.

Puritan ministers insisted that women and men were equal in the sight of God, with both sexes equally capable of cleaving to Christ or to the devil. Nevertheless, Reis explains, womanhood and evil were inextricably linked in the minds and hearts of 17th-century New England Puritans. Women and men feared hell equally, but Puritan culture encouraged women to believe it was their vile natures that would take them there rather than the particular sins they might have committed.

Following the Salem witchcraft trials, Reis argues, Puritans' understanding of sin and the devil changed. Ministers and laity conceived of a Satan who tempted sinners and presided physically over hell, rather than one who possessed souls in the living world. Women and men became increasingly confident of their redemption, although women more than men continued to imagine themselves as essentially corrupt.

The audiobook is published by University Press Audiobooks. 

"Thoughtful and stimulating book...Strongly recommended." (Choice)

"An important and valuable book...opens avenues for investigation that go beyond her splendid treatment of the 'witchcraft' issue." (The New England Quarterly)

"Exciting and provocative...makes a significant contribution to the scholarship about gender and religion." (Journal of Interdisciplinary History)

©1997 Cornell University (P)2018 Redwood Audiobooks

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Too much in the weeds

I really wanted to love this book, because I am a student of history and my late grandfather is from Salem... However... it came across like a graduate thesis that became a book. I'm not sure if it was because the reader was so monotone or because the material was so dry and heavy on what were essentially footnotes within the material.

In addition to the reader being incredibly one note, she over enunciated most of the words in the book, with a couple of strange exceptions, such as Satan, which she pronounces Sa-en without the T. That sort of thing doesn't usually get to me, but a book about witches was heavy on Satan, and so it was really noticeable.

I don't think I would have found the material so dry if the reader had put more inflection into the narration. I think even quote and reference heavy history can be made less dry by a good reader and I think the combination of the narrator and the material made it pretty dull.

I found the central thesis of the book fairly compelling, although again, it seemed a bit like a graduate thesis in that she has a viewpoint and in addition to explaining why she doesn't agree with scholars with a different viewpoint, she stuck heavily to her argument. I find that history this complex is rarely single factor, and while I think she is correct that the way Puritan religion in New England was structured, women were likely to find sin in themselves easily and self blame as well as the community being set up to blame them, I think it is probably not so one dimensional. I think a lot of the other factors, which she attempts to disprove were also probably contributing factors such as women acquiring property against normal social order. I found the book a little one dimensional.

I wish I could be less critical, but I was given this audiobook in exchange for my honest review, which is what I have given.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • KD
  • 11-05-18

Dry and needs revisions

lots of potential but none of it was fulfiled. honestly it just felt very dry, i appreciate the info but i could not get myself through it.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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A study of belief not of the trials

If you are looking for a book that goes through the New England Witch Trials, particularly Salem, then keep looking. That is not this book. This book is a study of the beliefs and practices of the time period, focusing in detail on the beliefs in regards to witchcraft and Satan.

The book discusses what the theology of original sin, predestination, witchcraft, and Satan were at the time. In delves into how each of these things fed into one another to create an almost perfect storm that lent itself to a belief of women and witchcraft. The book explains that there were slightly different approaches to original sin and gender at the time affected how people say their position in regards to salvation. Original sin meant one thing in relation to males, and another to females. This approach then caused the people to more readily believe that women were in league with Satan, than men. The book explains how women had to prove they were not in league with Satan, while men were much more easily forgiven.

The book also talks about the changes in belief since the period, with changes from Satan being a present being, to being more of a spiritual being - not physically present. It looks at how the fervor against witchcraft and Satan changes theology and legal approaches in the years that followed.

It's a really useful book in understanding why the trials happened, not necessarily understanding the mechanics of what happened during the trials

This book may not be everyone's cup of tea. It is a narrow focus, looking at specific theology in a specific time period, and determining how that shaped the actions of the times, and the beliefs of the years to follow. What the book does, it does well. I found it interesting and engaging throughout.

Narration by Susan Marlowe was good. I found her to be clear and easy to follow with no major issues. Occasionally there were some slightly longer pauses than needed, like there was a comma in the middle of the sentence that didn't need to be there. But nothing that caused me any concern while listening.

This book was given to me for free at my request and I provided this review voluntarily.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Interesting View on the Witch Trials

This book mainly focuses on the religious beliefs of the time, a theoretical approach to the witchcraft trials that rocked New England, rather than a historical accounting. Putting that aside, the listen was fascinating. Elizabeth Reis took Puritanism and looked at the time period by utilizing the religion as a whole lifestyle rather than a secular belief. This book goes in depth about the WHY of the witch trials rather than the common HOW.
It was a great listen for anyone interested in understanding a bit more about the Salem witch trials or Puritanism of New England.

This audiobook was provided by the author, narrator, or publisher at no cost in exchange for an unbiased review.

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Damned Women

This is book gives listeners lots of information on the scripture of the Puritans during the witch trails and begins to delve into what women of that time had to deal with in regard to religion and their own selves.

I like the subject matter of this book and found it interesting at times but as a whole it came off dry and like a text book. It is mostly just quoting scripture and some narrative of people from the witch trials and after. I would have liked it to have gone deeper into the matters and not just lightly scratching the surface. It was interesting to see the difference between the people’s thoughts during the trails and after. Their thoughts and reactions are turned to a different direction as time passes after the witch trails. The author has an interesting take on the way gender influenced thinking when it comes to sinning for the Puritans. Narrator Susan Marlowe speaks clearly but with a monotone voice that after some time made it harder to be engaged with this book.

I received this audiobook at my request and I voluntarily wrote a review.

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Great Information written in a Scholarly Tone

I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

I found this book to be interesting -- it provides some really good information as to what the Puritans believed and the disparity in punishment between men and women when they failed to lead pure lives. The author addresses the issues of self-preservation, strong religious beliefs, and gender roles [especially women being subservient to men - as those who stood up to the male judges were usually sentenced to death] as possible reasons women confessed to being witches. I believe that history this complex cannot be blamed solely on the single factor of religion. While I think she is correct that the Puritan religion in New England caused women to find sin in themselves and accept blame [akin to having women live up to the ideals of the Virgin Mary] and a male dominated community ready to judge these women harshly when they failed even slightly, I think it is probably not so one dimensional.

While this book is full of great information, there is some repetition in her arguments and it is written in a more scholarly tone than a literary style which some readers may find dry.

The narrator, Susan Marlowe, did a good job in conveying the text.