Winterson's novella reconstructs the pursuit of the "Pendle witches" in 1612.
When the gentlewoman Alice Nutter allows a gathering of the poor to take place on her land, she is accused of involvement in a witch's sabbat. As her friends are rounded up and sent to Lancaster Castle, her Jesuit lover invites her to escape with him to Europe, and her loyalties are torn. The narrative barrels along enjoyably, mixing earthy historical detail with colourful supernatural scenes of talking spiders and priapic demons. But herein lies a contradiction: Winterson suggests that the Pendle women were simply the innocent victims of a deeply sexist and paranoid society (as was surely the case), but then also depicts them as actually possessing magic abilities. She can't have her (witch) cake and eat it too.