The Book Maven's Reviews > A Respectable Trade

A Respectable Trade by Philippa Gregory
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Aug 24, 13

bookshelves: read-historical-fiction, read-18th-century-historical-ficti
Read in June, 2007

Frances is a poor little rich girl--orphaned by her clergyman father, but niece to a titled lord, she stands to inherit nothing, but refuses to live as a charity case with her aunt and cousins. And yet, she was raised to be a lady--so what course of action is open to her?

She chooses governess work as her means of living (duh) but hates it. And then, when she applies for a new position, the man who interviews her instead decides that she would make a better wife. He is an ambitious merchant, and she is a lady with connections...a lovely business arrangement. But who was it that he wanted her to teach?

Frances soon discovers: her new husband and spinster sister-in-law are merchants of human flesh. They have devised a scheme by which they will churn out African slaves transformed into civilized--and enslaved--English servants, and they want Frances to teach them English. Up until now, Frances has never had a problem with the slave trade, but as she watches her new family's callous treatment of their slaves, and the cruelty that the slaves slowly succomb to, she begins to change her mind. But it isn't until she falls in love with Mehuru, a once proud and magnificent African man brought low by his new lot in life, that she feels compelled to change.

Okay, my personal opinion? Half of the book sucked--and that half were the characters of Frances, her husband Josiah, and sister-in-law Sarah. Frances is weak and wishy-washy; Josiah is spineless, greedy, and fickle, and Sarah is cruel, mean-spirited, and a reverse snob. When the doo-doo hits the fan, Josiah easily blames Frances, instead of his own greed and social climbing, and Sarah easily convinces him that France can be abandoned. And Frances? Falling in love with a slave yet still deny him his freedom? Lame!

The other half of the story--some of the other characters, the setting, and the storyline--were very well-rendered. It is very easy for the reader to see, and empathize with, the plight of the slaves, as they are free one day and then captured, beaten, starved, raped, torn from their families, made to live in filth, and worked to death the next. You see them as humans first, reduced to socially-despised property. It's a painful transformation to witness, but it brings history alive.
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