Year of Wonders

by

Geraldine Brooks

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Year of Wonders can help.

Year of Wonders: Epilogue Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Anna reflects on a Margaret Cavendish poem Elinor once showed her, which compared the ocean’s waves to green meadows. Now she lives in a large house overlooking the water. As she works, she watches merchant ships arriving from ports like Venice and Marseilles, exchanging a variety of goods including, unfortunately, slaves. Anna says that she never intends to travel by sea again, since the journey away from England wasn’t peaceful and bucolic, like the Cavendish poem, but violent and stormy.
Anna is now situated in a much different and more cosmopolitan landscape than the one to which she’s always been confined. Circumstances have forced her to leave Eyam, but have simultaneously opened up the wider world to her.
Themes
Female Sexuality and Friendship Theme Icon
Science and Superstition Theme Icon
Anna summarizes her journey away from Eyam. Instead of settling at Elinor’s estate, she hires a wet nurse and continues on to Liverpool. She wants to distance herself from her own life. Moreover, she wants to “make something entirely new,” away from the memory of her lost friend.
Anna has always tried to emulate Elinor as much as possible, but now she realizes that while she is highly influenced by her friend, she’s also a worthy person in her own right. This is the climax of Anna’s personal development.
Themes
Female Sexuality and Friendship Theme Icon
For a few days, Anna stays in a Liverpool inn and wonders what she should do to provide for herself and the baby. Eventually, the innkeeper informs her that an unsavory man has been asking questions about her and the baby. He advises her to get on the next ship leaving port. She boards a ship leaving for Venice.
Colonel Bradford is determined to suppress the shame of his wife’s sexual transgressions. That Anna is able to save the baby is a triumph of female bonds over male oppression.
Themes
Female Sexuality and Friendship Theme Icon
After a tumultuous sea voyage, during which Anna fears death more than once, the ship makes a stop in Oran, Algeria, a city then controlled by the Al-Andalus Arabs. Anna remembers Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine, which she once studied with Elinor, and decides that since Muslim societies seem to have so much medical knowledge, she will settle there and try to obtain training in “the craft that had become my vocation.”
Even though she has grown up in a religiously homogenous community, Algeria’s religious differences aren’t important to Anna. For her, the pursuit of science fosters not only education and character development, but tolerance and open-mindedness toward others.
Themes
Science and Superstition Theme Icon
Get the entire Year of Wonders LitChart as a printable PDF.
Year of Wonders PDF
The ship’s captain directs her to Ahmed Bey, a well-known doctor living in Oran, who quickly agrees to take her on as an apprentice. Anna becomes one of Ahmed Bey’s wives so that she can live in his house without impropriety, although they don’t have a romantic relationship. Instead, they develop a close friendship, discussing his strong Muslim faith and “the flimsy, tattered thing that is the remnant of [Anna’s] own belief.” She says that while she no longer has faith, she has hope.
It’s interesting and perhaps problematic that Anna satisfies herself with a celibate marriage, much like Elinor. On one hand, it seems the only way to maintain her independence while living in a conservative community. On the other hand, Anna has always longed for sexual fulfillment and to be rooted in an intimate family relationship like the one Mompellion and Elinor seemed to have. That she has to give up those hopes shows that women who want to live unconventional lives have to sacrifice much.
Themes
Female Sexuality and Friendship Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Under the direction of Ahmed Bey, Anna learns a far more sophisticated kind of medicine than she has ever known. Unlike the primitive barber surgeons of England, Ahmed Bey and his colleagues actually pursue a scientific understanding of the body and its ailments. Anna makes herself useful by treating women who, in this conservative society, sometimes die rather than being examined by a male doctor. Anna becomes an experienced midwife and learns Arabic.
Becoming a midwife, Anna follows through on the positive instinct she had while delivering the Bradford baby. It’s notable that she makes midwifery her specialty. Even when she’s not delivering the babies of troubled marriages, like Mrs. Bradford’s, she’s helping women transform a frightening and dangerous part of life into a powerful and independent moment.
Themes
Female Sexuality and Friendship Theme Icon
Science and Superstition Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Anna becomes accustomed to life in a completely different world from the one she’s always known. She experiences the different colors of the landscape and the dry climate; for the first time, she tastes an orange. While she spent her whole life in a tiny, isolated town, now she lives in a large, noisy city and greets her patients when she walks in the streets. As is traditional, the women call him by the name of her firstborn, “Umm Jam-ee.”
Anna has always felt stifled by life in Eyam, and she finally gets to experience the wide world, full of things she’d never dreamed of. This broad new life is the reward of her embrace of science and her empowerment as a woman.
Themes
Female Sexuality and Friendship Theme Icon
Science and Superstition Theme Icon
Anna names the Bradford baby Aisha, the Arabic word for both “bread” and “life.” She walks down to the women’s courtyard, where Aisha is waiting for her under the care of Maryam, Ahmed Bey’s friendly eldest wife. With Aisha is Anna’s younger daughter, to whom she gave birth in Oran. She has Mompellion’s gray eyes, but Anna has named her Elinor. Anna takes one daughter in each hand and they walk out of the house, into the city.
Aisha’s name reinforces her status as a deciding factor in Anna’s life, catalyzing the changes that have led her to Oran. Her younger daughter’s name, Elinor, shows Anna’s love for her friend, even though she conceived the baby with Mompellion. By naming her daughter Elinor, she turns her into a symbol of friendship between women, rather than the reminder of a flawed relationship with a man.
Themes
Female Sexuality and Friendship Theme Icon