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A Respectable Trade

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Philippa Gregory is clearly aware of her reputation for embroidering the facts. She stated that she had never before felt the need to write an author's note for her novels, but that,


But what she doesn't know is that Josiah is in his fever to land a rich wife and progress in trade is dealing in uninsured trips to "acquire" slaves. Admittedly, I was most interested in what was happening whenever Josiah was interacting with the Merchant Venturers, or even when Frances was "entertaining" because I'm just fascinated by the social norms of this time period but I agree with a lot of readers who said that the book could've done without the romance. It absolutely could've. It made me despise Frances and made me incredibly irritated with Mehuru. To the point that the ending was kind of a relief for me. Because it meant that Frances couldn't treat Mehuru like shit anymore, nor continue to take him for granted.Frances and Mehuru are the main characters, but we also follow the Cole family's story. Josiah Cole is gullible and ambitious. Unlike Frances, he is morally ambivalent, desperate for ready cash, and prepared to gamble everything to join the big players of the city. But both he and his sister had very humble beginnings. Their father was a collier, and his older sister Sarah has worked hard all her life to establish a firm base for their trade, Fans of Ms Gregory's phenomenally successful Tudor novels will encounter a more somber, pensive writer in A Respectable Trade. Re-issued by Touchstone, this novel set in 18th century Bristol offers a painful glimpse into the flourishing slave trade of the era, which enabled the majority of England's enterprising merchants and the nation at large to amass fortunes at the cost of unimaginable human suffering. The institution of slavery is thus at the heart of this story, and all the characters in the novel are involved in the trade, or profiting from it - either directly or indirectly. In one way or another, slavery drives all their actions. The novel mainly concerns Frances Scott, an orphan who is living on the kindness of her aunt and uncle, Lord and Lady Scott, and working unhappily as a governess. She sees an advertisement for a new position advertised by Josiah Cole, a merchant involved in the slave trade. Frances has always known about slavery but only in a distant way,

A Respectable Trade (Historical Novels) Kindle Edition A Respectable Trade (Historical Novels) Kindle Edition

There was nothing to fear, there was nothing to make him uneasy, yet still he stood wakeful and listening as if the coop-coop-coop of the hunting owls or the little squeaks from the bats which clung around the stone towers of the palace might bring him a warning.

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It was a life that turned in tune with the earth, that followed the rains, that chimed with the seasons. It was as alien to slavery as a silver-winged flight of cattle egrets to a moulting hen in a coop." That being said, the criticism some readers have made about the way Frances’s moral quandry is resolved in the final chapter is pretty valid. Rather than have Frances be brave and confront injustice and live bravely for her convictions, she gets to…die. Kind of a cop-out on Gregory’s part, though it’s possibly preferable to France and Mehuru sailing off to Sierra Leone to live happily together forever and ever. But like I said, this is still a Philippa Gregory book. Mehuru was a priest and a nobleman in his native Africa and as he comes to terms with his new situation in life, he shows readers what slaverly was like in 1700s England. Thru his eyes, the cruelty, the sorry living conditions, and the frustrations of being another's property is unveiled.

A Respectable Trade by Philippa Gregory | Goodreads A Respectable Trade by Philippa Gregory | Goodreads

As to Settlements and Dowry – these certainly should be Arranged between his lordship and myself – but may I Assure you that you will find me Generous if you are Kind enough to look on my Proposal with favour. The dream must mean something. Mehuru had trained as an obalawa – a priest – one of the highest priests in the land. He should be able to divine his own dreams. Philippa Gregory’s historical novels include The Other Boleyn Girl (developed into a BBC adaptation as well as a Hollywood film), The Queen’s Fool, The Virgin’s Lover, Earthly Joys and Virgin Earth.

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The storyline is an interesting one, and Philippa Gregory has some skill in conveying both a strong sense of place and the immediacy of the moment. The first two thirds of the book are highly enjoyable as a fictionalised account, of a possible scenario, in a very real snapshot of part of England's shameful history. However, a plot development had been signalled very early on, and the final chapters sacrifice much for this particular plotline. A romantic element is only a part of a strong story such as this. It is always in danger of overwhelming the text, as it does here.

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