Sunday, June 05, 2011


A history buff I am not. In fact, having spent my 3 long years at school learning all things about Britain/Ireland and how, depending on who you were reading, it was always the other one's fault that chaos ensued, I have, to be quite frank, blocked most of it from my consciousness and my brain instantly falls asleep when the words British or Irish history are mentioned. So it was with a little trepidation that I agreed to read this book when my friend offered to lend me it. Well, it was either that or the 6th Harry Potter book as I'm re-reading them between other offerings. Wedlock won once I read the punchline:
How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match
What's not to love?
Naturally, as a woman, when I hear of men getting their comeuppance, well, I can't help but smile mischieviously! Not that I'm some hardened feminist, but you know how it is...
As the punchline accurately describes what the book is about, I won't go into loads of detail. Needless to say, I am eternally grateful  that I wasn't born in that era and I think I was more shocked to discover that rape within marriage only became illegal in 1991, than the general goings on of the Georgian era.
Mary Eleanor Bowes, a privileged young woman, raised when men married for money and women married to ensure they stayed secure, made an ill matched first marriage at a young and impressionable age. However her problems only began after her husband died, leaving her a young widow. Having learned little from the experience, Mary went on to flirt and enjoy romances with several men at once which ultimately led to her downfall. As the tradition then was, Mary became the subject of a battle of honour. Andrew Robinson Stoney offered his life to fight for Mary and in doing so won her hand having won the fight. However, the fight was a sham and Mary became cleverly entrapped in a loveless, violent marriage. Spending all her money, beating her ruthlessly, fathering numerous children to various and many women, Mary's life became one of sheer misery, her every moment governed by her tyrannical husband. 
In a day when men very much had the upper hand, it seemed there was little Mary could do to change her fate. With her children from her first marriage governed by her late husband's brother, the law seemingly on her current husband's side as to his rights to her, it took all of Mary's courage to break free and win a longsuffering battle.
With the help of a maid, Mary managed to flee and began a long and tedious fight to divorce her husband, claim her money and be reunited with her children. Ever shrewd and clever, Stoney put up a tremendous fight. 
Obviously, Mary won the battle. Without explaining all,  it has to be said that the law has certainly turned somewhat today, with men having more trouble fighting for their children than mothers. Mary's fight was unprecedented and she certainly paved the way for the future.
The author does a great job of interweaving the facts of history with a narrative that keeps the reader's interest and enthusiasm. While there are a lot of history facts to keep the history buffs interested, the narrative is smooth enough for people like me, who simply enjoy a good read.
While the ending wasn't quite as shebang as I'd have liked, it has to be remembered that this is a true story and on the whole, given the circumstances, the best ending that could have been hoped for.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Why: This was much better than I had anticipated for a non-fiction book, definitely making me re-think my fiction only rule. Obviously the subject was one of interest for me which helped tremendously, but the beautifully written narrative, while peppered with historical facts, allows the story to flow seamlessly. However, unfortunately for me, I'm still not convinced I'm ready to become a history buff!
Recommendations: The TV Book Club Best Read, sponsored by Specsavers, Channel 4 and More 4.


UnCheyned said...

Haven't read this one, but I recently read The Princes of Ireland and LOVED it.

Book Bug said...

Well, it seems that now I have changed comments to full page rather than imbedded in post, I can comment! However you would need to do the same I think for it to work for me on yours! I think its something to do with 3rd Party Cookies - that's in Firefox but I don't see how to resolve in Google Chrome which is what I use!
Anyway! I haven't even heard of this book which is bad given that I live in Northern Ireland! Will have to check it out!