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Empowering Women in Alice Hoffman's Bewitching Novels

By: Sydney Spangler

Earlier this year, I picked up a novel titled "Magic Lessons" not realizing that it would be a journey I would later become very emotionally invested in. Something about Alice Hoffman's writing and her subject matter spoke to me as someone who enjoys the exploration of women relationships, whether it's between a mother and daughter, sisters, or friends.

Hoffman is an American author who is best known for her 1995 novel "Practical Magic." She has written more than 30 works of fiction and has enchanted the hearts of readers around the world with her stories, particularly those of the Owens women. The Owens women are a family of witches who often face adversity but overcome their challenges with the help of a sister or friend.

Her novel "Magic Lessons" was written 25 years after the first publication of "Practical Magic" as a look at where the Owens bloodline began. We're taken back to the 1600s to Salem, Massachusetts, where the renowned Salem witch trials took place. Maria Owens, the story's protagonist, is fearless as she takes on single motherhood and pushes against a society that condemns her.

Long story short, Maria travels to the colonies in North America after she falls in love with a man and ends up with child. Growing up, she watched women who were desperate because of love come to her adoptive mother's doorstep for help. She then witnessed the dangers love can bring when her biological mother's husband set flame to Maria's life. And when she watched her biological mother follow a man whose fate would end up in both their deaths, Maria vowed she would never fall in love. Yet, one cannot control the whims of the heart, which is where "Magic Lessons" really takes off. Maria ends up in Salem with a baby in tow and finds out that her lover is actually married with a child. He eventually tells Maria to get out and she sets up residency in a house in the woods. The people of the town basically shun her because she's outside of the norm for what women "should" be. Maria pushes against the rules with her clothing, her status as an unmarried mother, and as someone who lives outside of society. She even has a thriving business where women of the town visit her under the cover of dark for her witch remedies. Maria is basically a 17th century #GirlBoss.

But, things go south when her dude--who is literal scum--starts putting women on trial for being witches. Most of these women are just living their lives, but because they are living outside of societal norms--they're deemed as a problem and the solution is to persecute them. Eventually, Maria is caught in the crossfire when a jealous neighbor schemes to steal her daughter by having Maria legally killed. Maria and her daughter are separated, and Maria gets saved by her actual true love and ends up escaping to New York. Oh, and Maria puts a curse on her family that will cause their lovers to meet a terrible fate.

This begins the story's third arc where we see Maria's daughter mature and grow her powers as a witch, despite her kidnapper's best efforts to quell her nature. During this time, Maria wanders the streets of New York looking for her stolen child while attempting to push her rescuer away in fear that he'll die if she loves him.

I won't ruin the ending, but there's a lot of drama happening in this story--which is a big reason as to why I love it so much. I also love the exploration of mother/daughter relationships--we have Maria and her adoptive mother, Maria and her biological mother, and Maria with her own daughter. I think mothers and daughters have a special relationship. There's a bond that exists between two women as they navigate and teach each other about the world.

Now, I'm reading "Practical Magic," which follows two sisters of the Owens bloodline. It's another story that explores sisterhood and family, and I'm having a great time. After this, "The Rules of Magic," which is the second installment in the Practical Magic universe, is next on my reading list. Have you read any of Alice Hoffman's works? If so, what did you think?

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