THE ERRORS OF DR BROWNE
When Doctor Thomas Browne accepts the role of both inquisitor and witness in one of England’s last witch trials, he embarks on what his biographer later calls ‘the most culpable and stupid action of his life’.
In Bury St Edmunds, 1662, two widows are charged with acts of witchcraft. Doctor Browne is known as a philosopher, natural scientist, logician and medical doctor, yet despite his best efforts, the trial hinges on the ad-missibility of ‘spectral evidence’: the accused women are deemed to have the ability to exploit their victims through dreams. This will set a legal precedent for the infamous Salem witch trials in Massachusetts thirty years later.
Conflicted by his deeply held religious beliefs and his confidence in emerging scientific methods, Browne is left to ponder the true nature of culpability – and whether the most insidious evil is, in fact, that which we carry within.
Winkler’s novel is a wry and insightful glimpse into the limits of reason, the patriarchal need to control every aspect of womanhood, and our ongoing preoccupation with reputation.