The devastating consequences of the slave trade in 18th century are explored through the powerful but impossible attraction of well-born Frances and her slave, Mehuru. From the bestselling author of The Other Boleyn Girl.
Bristol in 1787 is booming, from its stinking docks to its elegant new houses. Josiah Cole, a small dockside trader, is prepared to gamble everything to join the big players of the city. But he needs ready cash and a well-connected wife.
An arranged marriage to Frances Scott is a mutually convenient solution. Trading her social contacts for Josiah’s protection, Frances enters the world of the Bristol merchants and finds her life and fortune dependent on the respectable trade of sugar, rum and slaves.
Once again Philippa Gregory brings her unique combination of a vivid sense of history and inimitable storytelling skills to illuminate a complex period of our past. Powerful, haunting, intensely disturbing, this is a novel of desire and shame, of individuals, of a society, and of a whole continent devastated by the greed of others.
Praise for Philippa Gregory:
‘Compelling… Philippa Gregory reigns supreme as the mistress of historical drama.’ Today
‘Subtle and exciting.’ Daily Express
‘Written from instinct, not out of calculation, and it shows.’
Peter Ackroyd, The Times
About the author
Philippa Gregory is an internationally renowned author of historical novels. She holds a PhD in eighteenth-century literature from the University of Edinburgh. Works that have been adapted for television include A Respectable Trade, The Other Boleyn Girl and The Queen's Fool. The Other Boleyn Girl became a major film, starring Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman and Eric Bana. Philippa Gregory lives in the North of England with her family.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Philippa Gregory's Inside Story: "I'm very, very proud of A Respectable Trade because, as far as I know, it was the first novel to talk about the black slave presence in England. It, in a sense, gave a whole history to the readership about black presence in England, which until that moment, was almost completely obscured. There was literally only one book about black presence in England before Windrush. And I wanted to say, 'No, there has been a presence of African-born people in England making an extraordinary contribution in all sorts of ways for centuries before we imagined.'
“I got this determination because there was something about a black character in my PhD work that I completed in 1984. I did some research and found absolutely nothing beyond this one book, which starts with the black centurion on Hadrian's Wall and goes right up to then the Liverpool race riots. So it seemed to me it was a story that really needed telling.
“Growing up in Bristol, the was a belief—a folkloric belief—that slaves were kept in the cliffs at Redcliffe, having been brought back from the West Indies and kept there and trained as slaves. There are lots of records of slavery in Bristol, in the newspapers, of runaway slaves. So clearly, they're there, but what everybody was very, very, very cautious about was believing that there were black slaves in England in any numbers because the traditional history was very strong on the fact that Lord Maunsell freed the slaves in 1833, and that was the end of slavery in England.
"But it actually wasn't the end of slavery in England. Lord Maunsell himself had a domestic slave in his house that he freed in his will, long after he had done the court ruling, which just freed one individual slave on a rare technicality. So, the whole anti-slavery society campaign in England wanted to believe that they had brought about the freedom of slaves in England, when in fact that didn't happen until an awful lot later."
This moral spellbinder, set in Bristol, England, in the slave-trading 1780s, is being freshly issued a decade after publication Although the sentences are not as fine as in Gregory's current work (The Other Boleyn Girl etc.), and the plot takes some awkward leaps, the book brilliantly shocks the conscience with its intimate and unsparing portrait of slavery. It's a romance, but not a sentimental one, built around the impossible love between white slave owner Frances Scott Cole and the black African Mehuru, a priest and adviser to his king before being kidnapped and designated as property. A strength of the book is that although Gregory, as usual, makes us feel the second-class status of 18th century women, she draws no cheap comparison between Frances's status as silk-clad chattel (to her gaspingly ambitious slave-trader husband, Josiah's) and the rigors and terrors of a black slave's life. Superb portraits abound, especially that of Josiah's sister, Sarah, a cranky spinster who makes poetry of her pride in being a member of the trading class, eagle-eyed at the account books. Gregory's vivid portrait leaves one feeling complicit; as the abolitionist Doctor Hadley notes: "the cruelty we have learned will poison us forever."