Review: The Brideship Wife by Leslie Howard

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☆☆➹⁀☆ 4 stars ☆➹⁀☆☆

About the Book:

Inspired by the history of the British “brideships,” this captivating historical debut tells the story of one woman’s coming of age and search for independence.

England, 1862. Charlotte is somewhat of a wallflower. Shy and bookish, she knows her duty is to marry, but with no dowry, she has little choice in the matter. She can’t continue to live off the generosity of her sister Harriet and her wealthy brother-in-law, Charles, whose political aspirations dictate that she make an advantageous match.

When Harriet hosts a grand party, Charlotte is charged with winning the affections of one of Charles’s colleagues, but before the night is over, her reputation—her one thing of value—is at risk. In the days that follow, rumours begin to swirl. Soon Charles’s standing in society is threatened and all that Charlotte has held dear is jeopardized, even Harriet, and Charlotte is forced to leave everything she has ever known in England and embark on a treacherous voyage to the New World.

From the rigid social circles of Victorian England to the lawless lands bursting with gold in British Columbia’s Cariboo, The Brideship Wife takes readers on a mesmerizing journey through a time of great change. Based on a forgotten chapter in history, this is a sparkling debut about the pricelessness of freedom and the courage it takes to follow your heart.

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My Thoughts:

Author Leslie Howard has channeled her passion for Canadian province history into her debut novel, The Brideship Wife.  I had not heard of the brideship women previously, and I was intrigued to learn more about it.  Apparently, England seemed to enjoy shipping away their problems.  The shipment of criminals to Australia is widely known, but how many of us had an idea they were also shipping off their inconvenient and troublesome women to northwest Canada?

While it is purported that women of various classes were “offered the opportunity” to marry or live independently in the new colony of British Columbia, Ms. Howard’s story leads me to believe that these women did not often find better opportunities in this faraway colony.

The Brideship Wife is set in 1860s England and Canada.  The stiff dialogue greatly represents the stuffy, class-conscience attitudes of the time.  The book is divided into three parts:  the story set-up in England, the maritime journey from England to British Columbia, and life in the “new world”.  The life in England is a fairly typical read, and modern readers will be justly aghast at the deplorable treatment of women.  The life at sea was a bit too long for my taste.  New characters were introduced and relationships established, and while that second act was critical for the heroine’s growth, I felt like I had been stuck on a ship for months with her.

Ms. Howard’s descriptive narrative of life in British Columbia made me feel like I was experiencing the place along with Charlotte. Newly wealthy men desperate for a wife proposing to women the minute they step off the boat.  Rowdy, crass men looking to take advantage of desperate women.  The lawlessness of the more remote towns. Trading shares in gold mines, land grabs and the same social and political hazards they thought the left at home.  Through all this mayhem, Charlotte behaves like a much more modern woman than the naïve, bookish young lady that she is purported to be.

I was looking forward to more in-depth information on Canada and the details of the brideship program than I got; however, I did appreciate the history that was included, and it made me curious enough to explore more on my own.  This sweeping, Victorian-era novel is sure to be loved by anyone looking for a story about strong, independent women.

 

About the Author:  Leslie Howard grew up in Penticton, British Columbia, where she developed a passion for the province’s history. A graduate of Ottawa’s Carleton University in economics and political science, she now divides her time between Vancouver and Penticton, where she and her husband grow cider apples. The Brideship Wife is her debut novel. Connect with her on Twitter @AuthorLeslieH or on her website LeslieHoward.ca.

 

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