Central to the story is Anna’s complex relationship with Elinor Mompellion, the rector’s wife. Originally hired to work in the rectory after the tragic death of her husband, Anna becomes daughter-like to the selfless Elinor who teaches her how to read and write, recognizing special qualities within Anna that have lain dormant her whole life. Elinor and Anna break the boundaries of class and religion as they care for the sick and dying, even learning herbal remedies that border on heresy in their desperate attempt to alleviate the suffering. Anna’s love for Elinor empowers her as the months drag on, yet at the same time she seethes with jealousy for all that Elinor has, or seemingly has, including her picturesque marriage with the rector, Michael Mompellion. It is Anna’s fervent battle between devotion and resentment that makes her such a compelling and believable protagonist.
Anna herself, under the guidance of her boss and confidant Elinor Mompellion, helps ease the suffering as best she can with herbs and ointments. She emerges as something of a heroine, though her sacrifices are largely unrecognized by her peers. Because Anna's life becomes so entwined with the lives of her neighbors, the reader is able to get an all-encompassing look at the horrors of an entire village, not just one person. Anna's neighbors become almost as real and cherished as she herself does as this novel progresses.
works closely with Elinor Mompellion in attempting to learn what they
They were four days digging out Sam's body. They took it straight to the sexton's instead of bringing it home to me. They tried to keep me from it, but I wouldn't be kept. I would do that last thing for him. She knew. "Tell them to let her go to him," Elinor Mompellion said to the rector in that gentle voice of hers. Once she spoke, it was over. She so rarely asked anything of him. And once Michael Mompellion nodded, they parted, those big men, moving aside and letting me through.