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Literature / A Witch's Burden

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"Only when mankind understands his place will he have arrived—not progressed, but arrived at where he has yet been all along."

A Witch’s Burden is a 2019 novel by D. W. Goates.

Set in Germany in 1830, the story follows Elke Schreiber, a young woman who travels to the small town of Waldheim for a chance to finally teach in her own classroom. She arrives to find the job was given to the schoolmaster’s niece, despite the letter Elke received offering her the position. Since she has come all this way, she is allowed to assist, but Elke finds little reason to want to stay in the remote valley.

Waldheim is a picturesque village in Bavaria, but the idyllic setting is all it has going for it. Elke hears rumors of the Margrave living in the castle above—his evil deeds are known to all, though when Elke asks for specifics, they are hard to come by. She refuses to believe tales of witchcraft or to succumb to the mindless fear and hatred the others have of a man most have never even seen.

A Witch’s Burden is classified as literary fiction, a work of Romanticism combining existential philosophy with social criticism, dressed in Gothic trappings. The novel is ultimately about Elke's journey to find peace with herself and her place in—or away from—society.

A Witch's Burden contains examples of:

  • Abomination Accusation Attack: The Margrave is accused of everything from witchcraft to kidnapping to child molestation.

  • As the Good Book Says...: Elke reminds Sascha that revenge belongs to God.

  • Bilingual Bonus: There are German words and phrases scattered throughout the text, as well as some Latin.

  • Blind Obedience: The people of Waldheim are convinced of the Margrave's evil because, as Loritz tells Elke, he was "raised on it."

  • Bookends: In the first chapter, Elke is justifiably outraged to be peeped at in the inn; in the final chapter, she skinny-dips on the beach and waves to onlookers.

  • Brainy Brunette: Elke Schreiber. As expected for a teacher, she loves books, history, languages, philosophy, and a good debate.

  • Burn the Witch!: Elke reads "The Horrible Fate of Ernst Sachs". Also the fate of the Margrave.

  • Captain Obvious: Loritz walks a fine line between this and Deadpan Snarker.

  • Culture Justifies Anything: A major theme of the work, shown in particular with the people of Waldheim.

  • Dances and Balls: Elke comes across a Fasching ball in Munich.

  • Don't Go in the Woods: When Milla doesn't return from the forest, her mother fears the Margrave's familiars have gotten to her.

  • Drowning My Sorrows: Elke, particularly after her experience at the boys' school.

  • Eating Lunch Alone: Elke often reads while she eats alone.

  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Margave is only referred to by his title.

  • Family of Choice: Elke and Sascha.

  • Foreshadowing: A woman at church tells Elke that the Margrave will burn "at the stake for the witch that he is".

  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Loritz makes a half-hearted proposal to get Elke to stay in Waldheim.

  • Gasp!: Elke's reaction to seeing the Margrave's castle.

  • Held Gaze: Elke and Loritz share one.

  • Kindly Housekeeper: Bogdana, who nurses Elke back to health after wolves attack her coach.

  • Letting Her Hair Down: Elke literally and figuratively does this at the end of the book.

  • Locked Room Mystery: How Milla died.

  • Maybe Ever After: Elke and Loritz.

  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The reasons for Milla's disappearance.

  • Mood Whiplash: Elke and Sascha's picnic in the park takes a turn when Sascha tells her about the attack on the castle.

  • My God, What Have I Done?: Loritz, learning that Elke never was harmed by the Margrave.

  • The Plague: The story takes place during the great cholera pandemic, though it has little impact on the characters.

  • Portrait Painting Peephole: Elke is spied on through the knotty planks of the inn's lavatory. She even notes how the knotholes look like hundreds of eyes.

  • Savage Wolves: A very real danger and recurring element in Elke's dreams.

  • Secret Underground Passage: How Sascha escapes.

  • Shaming the Mob: Elke finally tells the people of Waldheim what she thinks of them after the Margrave and his household are murdered.

    Elke: And your only justification for it amounts to an agreement among fools. Zero plus zero equals zero. The full number of you times zero equals zero. You people are in need of a most fundamental teacher… But I see now what the Count meant: one cannot teach a fool at gunpoint.

  • Spirited Young Lady: While educated and proper, Elke also has a very low tolerance for bullshit and is not afraid to say so.

  • Sweet Tooth: Sascha. Elke to a lesser extent.

  • Take That!: Elke's joke about Georg Hegel's death.

  • Travel Montage: Most of the places Elke and Sascha visit are given this treatment.

  • Unfulfilled Purpose Misery: Elke eventually abandons her dream of teaching.

  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Sascha, a resourceful orphan and self-described good judge of character, makes an immediate impression on Elke.

  • Would Hurt a Child: Bernhard, the school "disciplinarian" in Waldheim, beats Rudolph for being a bit loud.

  • You Monster!: Helma turns on her husband when Milla is found.