Sunday, 29 August 2010


Wedlock by Wendy Moore

Subtitled, How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match.

And my word, he was indeed Georgian Britain's worst husband! I was drawn to this book by its eye-catching cover, and as my current writing project covers a period from Georgian to mid-Victorian times, I thought it would count as research. Plus I like a bit of biography now and again.

This book was unputdownable - it read like a novel. Mary Eleanor Bowes (an ancestor of the Queen) was Britain's wealthiest heiress when her first husband died, and became prey to a fortune-hunting Irish ex-army captain. He managed to charm her, then tricked her into marrying him by fighting a sham duel in her honour, and being apparently on his deathbed persuaded her to grant the last wish of a dying man. He was carried to the altar to make his vows, then made a miraculous and swift recovery. He then proceeded to abuse Mary, physically and mentally, for the ensuing eight years while he did his best to gamble his way through as much of her fortune as he could get his hands on. Eventually she, with the help of trusty maidservants, managed to escape and whilst in hiding, began divorce proceedings against him. In those days it was more or less impossible to divorce, and even if you did, you could not remarry. The law was biased in favour of the husband, and a divorced woman would certainly not be granted custody of any children. But Mary had a good case, and it all looked hopeful, when her husband found out where she was living and managed to abduct her, and take her on the run. She then endured appalling abuse which nearly killed her, before she was rescued. Her husband was convicted of abduction and later of non-payment of debts, but through contacts, charm and money managed to live quite comfortably while supposedly in prison. Poor Mary died before him, though she was able to live her last years peacefully and safely - interestingly for me, her last abode was within a mile of my home!

This book was completely brilliant. Fascinating and well-written, I did not want it to end. The author has written another biography - of Georgian surgeon John Hunter (who is a bit-part player in Wedlock) - and I have just ordered that too.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Holiday reading

Had two weeks camping in Spain, and read the following books:

Sweet Thames - Matthew Kneale
I enjoyed English Passengers so much I had to try something else by the same author. This one is set in Victorian London, and is all about the development of the sewers. Sounds like a delightful topic, no? It's a great book, though not a patch on English Passengers. Well written unusual story which rattles along nicely. Young Joshua Jeavons has married the daughter of his boss, but she has refused his attentions since they married. When she goes missing he has to go searching, and it turns his life upside down as he finds himself among the low-life of London. The sewers run through the novel in more ways than one.

The Hearts and Lives of Men - Fay Weldon
I'm a long term fan of Fay Weldon so when I spotted this one at the community centre bookstall I had to snap it up. Very enjoyable and written from an arch omniscient point of view. It begins in the sixties, in the world of artists and art-dealers, and spans the following twenty years. Clifford and Helen fall madly in love, marry, have a child, and divorce. It takes them a while but eventually they remarry. Their child, meanwhile, becomes a tug of love child and is lost presumed dead in a plane crash. But she survives (aged 4) and undergoes several adventures before finally being reunited with her parents as an adult. A great book with a happy ending, and worth reading as an example of stylish omniscience.

The Legacy - Katherine Webb
I was once a member at and still get their newsletters, which is where I heard of this book, published following rave reviews at YWO. They were well-founded - I loved this book. It reminded my of Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum - repressed childhood memories and a historical story unwinding side by side with the current day story. Erica and Beth have inherited their grandmother's house. Erica's fascinated by the past and is trying to uncover distant secrets of her grandmother and great-grandmother. Meanwhile, being in the house where they spent summer childhoods is uncovering more recent secrets - what happened to their cousin Henry who disappeared there one summer?

Remarkable Creatures - Tracy Chevalier
This is the tale of Mary Anning, the fossil-finder of Lyme Regis, and her middle-class spinster friend Elizabeth. Lyme Regis is just down the coast from me, and fictionalising the lives of real people is a literary idea close to my heart at present... Plus I've loved previous novels from Tracy Chevalier so this was a must-read for me. It didn't disappoint. It starts when Mary is just a girl, who has 'the eye' and can spot the fossils on the beach and in the cliff. She and her family are scraping together a living selling them. When she befriends Elizabeth Philpot, the older woman helps her sell the larger specimens, but both, as women, struggle to gain recognition for their efforts. They become rivals in love but ultimately are reunited. Thoroughly enjoyable.