The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike

published 1984      part 1    

Jane Smart came up to them. For the performance she had had to spread her legs and therefore was the only woman at the gathering in a full-length gown, a shimmering concoction of aqua silk and lace trim perhaps a touch too bridal. “Ah, la artiste,” Van Horne exclaimed, and he seized her hand not in a handshake but like a manicurist inspecting, taking her hand upon his wide palm and then rejecting it, since it was the left he wanted, the tendony fingering hand with its glazed calluses where she pressed the strings. The man made a tender sandwich of it between his own hairy two. “What intonation,” he said. “What vibrato and stretch. Really. You think I’m an obnoxious madman but I do know music. It’s the one thing makes me humble.”

Jane’s dark eyes lightened, indeed glowed. “Not prissy, you think,” she said. “Our leader keeps saying my intonation is prissy.”

“What an asshole,” pronounced Van Horne, wiping spit from the corners of his mouth

observations: Yeah we think you’re an obnoxious madman too, mate, and some of us are not too sure about your creator either. The crass vulgarity of ‘she had had to spread her legs’ seems unnecessary – she is a cellist. Darryl Van Horne is the Devil and is an OTT character, but he is meant to be able to charm women, and that does not come over.

The book is generally described as being set in the 1960s, but early 1970s seems more like it – in one scene the TV is on and ‘the President, a lugubrious gray-jawed man with pained dishonest eyes, had been making an announcement of great importance to the nation’ and later on the babysitter wants to watch Archie Bunker - All in the Family premiered in 1971. It is a splendid moment when Alexandra complains about how difficult it is to find a sitter so that she can attend satanic and witches’ rituals.

The clothes as described throughout the book are horrible – obviously meant to be in the case of Van Horne so could indeed be late 60s or early 70s. One of his outfits is described thus: ‘a silk paisley strawberry-coloured bathrobe …with bellbottom slacks of a fine green vertical stripe… and a mauve foulard.’ If only we could find a picture of that.

Links up with: There’s a previous entry for The Witches of Eastwick, and a witch featured, unsurprisingly, in the book Halloween Party. Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley is frequently compared to a witch.

This picture is by William Orpen (again), is of Mrs Ruby Melville and comes from the Athenaeum website.


  1. Moira - I have to admit I like historical novels to be authentic. They don't need to be perfect but I do like a strong sense of the period. This one seems as though it slips on that count. I pick up a certain humour in it but honestly, I think I'd wait to delve into this one...

    And yes, the fashions of the late '60's and early '70's were...unique.

  2. I love Updike but I've never read this one. It sounds like something to look out for. I never got to see the film either.


Post a Comment