- Cases of Male Witchcraft in Old and New England, 1592–1692 by E.J. Kent
E.J. Kent, witchcraft, Male Witchcraft, Early Modern Witchcraft, Witchcraft New England, Salem, Male Witch, Male Magic
In this book, E. J. Kent presents six case studies of early modern male witchcraft: three from England, and three from Massachusetts. George Burroughs, one of the Salem “witches,” is well-known, but the other five (Nicholas Stockdale, Edwin Haddesley, John Lowes, Hugh Parsons, and John Godfrey) will be less familiar to most readers. Kent has done some useful work in providing the summaries of depositions and other narrative evidence, as well as by including a great deal of contextualizing detail, and a few of her insights are interesting and stimulating (such as her observations about the occurrence of bestial imagery in the case of John Godfrey). Unfortunately, the book’s core flaws diminish its value to scholarly readers.
One crucial problem is a lack of reflection on the nature of the evidence with which Kent is dealing: namely, narrative evidence. She refers briefly to the cautionary observations of Malcolm Gaskill and Robin Briggs, who have pointed out that sources such as Star Chamber records cannot be taken at face value because they are constructed narratives; however, she seems to believe that saying a narrative is constructed means one cannot use it, which is not the point at all. Considering her reliance on narrative evidence, it is very puzzling that Kent does not refer to the excellent work of Marion Gibson, which addresses specifically the methodological issues involved in reading early modern English witchcraft narratives.1 Kent offers no meaningful discussion of the nature of narratives or of what the implications of constructed narratives might be for research on gender and witchcraft.
Kent’s approach to the existing historiography on male witches and on the broader topic of English witchcraft is also problematic. To begin with, many of the historiographical arguments of the introduction have been made elsewhere, in much the same way, notably by myself and Andrew Gow in our book Male Witches in Early Modern Europe.2 Kent does cite many of the relevant [End Page 97] works, including Male Witches in Early Modern Europe, but in such a way as to obscure the derivative nature of her arguments. This problem persists throughout the book; it is rarely clear from the way a scholarly source is cited whether Kent has drawn on it for her argument, for evidence, or as an example of how not to talk about male witches. More detailed footnotes would have helped make Kent’s intellectual debts clearer. Indeed, closer attention to detail would have made her historiographical analyses better in other respects as well. Kent sometimes quotes scholars out of context; for example, in the first paragraph she quotes Stuart Clark’s statement that male witches were literally unthinkable as if he was making a point about modern historiography. He wasn’t; Clark’s statement refers to how early modern witchcraft theorists conceptualized the links between witchcraft and gender. She also makes some odd criticisms, such as chastising James Sharpe for not citing Diane Purkiss and Deborah Willis in his book Instruments of Darkness.3 Contrary to Kent’s remark in the footnote, his failure to cite them is not inexplicable: Sharpe and Purkiss published their books in the same year (1996), and Willis’s book was published in 1995, most likely too late for Sharpe to have seen it.
The biggest problem, however, because it affects the case studies, is Kent’s focus on opposing what she calls the “feminization model” of male witchcraft. She understands this “model” as a monocausal explanation that reproduces the binarism of early modern thinking about gender and “disregards the gender specificity of masculine witches by eliding it with femaleness and isolates male witches from the social, cultural, economic and legal context of being male in early modern society” (9). She finds this “model” in Male Witches in Early Modern Europe and in Rolf Schulte’s Man as Witch: Male...