The Brideship Wife by Leslie Howard
Publication Date: May 5th, 2020
Publisher: Simon Schuster
Genre: Historical Fiction
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.
As a Canadian, it is very interesting to hear about a side of your history that you hadn’t known about before and the story behind The Brideship Wife was what drew me to pick it up. I was unaware of the women who traveled from England to British Columbia in search of a new life whether it was for their benefit or not.
Within the first couple of chapters of this novel, I found myself appreciating the fact that Leslie Howard decided to write a heroine who abides by her ‘station’ as best to her ability and not making her a ‘modern woman’ who fights tooth and nail against her lot in life. Charlotte tries her best to be what her sister needs her to be and, even when she is put in a situation that will bring her reputation into question, she abides by the rules of the time and does everything she can to keep things swept under the rug. While I enjoyed this aspect, I could not help but curse the time period and how this was more commonly how women were expected to act.
It is made clear that Charlotte has aspirations for her life that would go against her life in England and I like that her character did have some drive in that regard. Her interests somewhat follow her through her journey in some form or another and you do hope that she gets to live her own life eventually.
Unfortunately, that was the height of my enjoyment while reading this book.
While there were some historical name-drops and some interesting potential plots, the execution was extremely lacking. It seemed that there were too few ideas and too much time to cover so the main points occurred randomly and it was hard to discern the passage of time. There was also a lack of subtlety in major plot points, the introduction of the doctor on the boat and Harriet’s issues, the romance, the landing in BC… it just wasn’t a well-woven story for me which was disappointing. I would have much preferred some nuance to be added along with more focus being placed on Charlotte’s growth and not simply her reactions to situations that drop in her lap.
It is clear that this is a debut novel and it would have been worthwhile for her to have been given more direction in terms of plotting but I do appreciate the idea.