Review: In Defense of Witches by Mona Chollet

This book was perhaps more about feminism and less about witches than the description led me to believe, but very interesting and fun to read.

What it’s about

From the aforementioned Goodreads description:

Centuries after the infamous witch hunts that swept through Europe and America, witches continue to hold a unique fascination for many: as fairy tale villains, practitioners of pagan religion, as well as feminist icons. Witches are both the ultimate victim and the stubborn, elusive rebel. But who were the women who were accused and often killed for witchcraft? What types of women have centuries of terror censored, eliminated, and repressed?

Celebrated feminist writer Mona Chollet explores three types of women who were accused of witchcraft and persecuted: the independent woman, since widows and celibates were particularly targeted; the childless woman, since the time of the hunts marked the end of tolerance for those who claimed to control their fertility; and the elderly woman, who has always been an object of at best, pity, and at worst, horror. Examining modern society, Chollet concludes that these women continue to be harrassed and oppressed. Rather than being a brief moment in history, the persecution of witches is an example of society’s seemingly eternal misogyny, while women today are direct heirs to those who were hunted down and killed for their thoughts and actions.

With fiery prose and arguments that range from the scholarly to the cultural, In Defense of Witches seeks to unite the mythic image of the witch with modern women who seek to live their lives on their own terms.

My thoughts

I mention this every time I review nonfiction, but I really don’t read a lot of nonfiction. This one grabbed my attention with that awesome cover and title—I love reading about witches (fictional or no). While Chollet does keep connecting both historical and modern-day witches to the issues she addresses in In Defense of Witches, the book is mainly an exploration of feminist issues.

The introduction has most of the history of witch persecutions found in the book, explaining how certain women—usually childless, elderly, or independent ones—were targeted historically. Chollet reminds the reader of what can easily be forgotten with the casual, sometimes lighthearted treatment the witch hunts receive: countless innocent women were tortured and killed for no reason but subjugation. In the following chapters, Chollet discusses how societies are still persecuting women for choosing to be independent, choosing not to be mothers, or just aging naturally. In Defense of Witches is smart, humorous, and, like so many feminist works, equal parts inspiring and infuriating. It touches on many different topics while weaving witches into the narrative. I really appreciated getting both French and American perspectives on women’s issues (and witchiness).

The book is well-written and researched, and it’s translated from French beautifully. If you’re looking for an in-depth history of witches or witch trials, this is not the book for you, but if you’d like a general overview of feminist thought, check it out. Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for my copy in exchange for this honest review.


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