Friday, August 29, 2014

The Wives of Henry Oades

Our latest book club read was The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran.

An interesting easy read, some of which is set in early settler Wellington in New Zealand and some in America.

In 1890, Henry Oades accepts an accountancy post in New Zealand and undertakes the arduous sea voyage from England to New Zealand in order to further his family's fortunes. When Henry, his wife, Margaret, and their children follow him to exotic Wellington they desire to live further out from the city. But while Henry is an adventurer, Margaret is not. Here they settled on the lush but wild coast where their new home is rougher and more rustic than they expected. It wasn't long before disaster struck in the most unexpected of ways. One night of tragedy shatters the family when a local native Maori tribe stage an uprising, incensed at their treatment at the hands of the settlers. They kidnap Mrs Oades, her four children and a young boy who was visiting with his mother at the time, and vanished into the rugged hills surrounding the town while Henry is away.

For months Henry, at first refusing to believe his wife could be dead, scours the surrounding wilderness, until all hope is lost and his wife and children are presumed dead. Having searched ceaselessly for his family, two grief-stricken years later he is forced to conclude that they must be dead. Henry books a passage to California and in his despair he ships out to San Francisco to start over. There he marries Nancy Foreland, a young widow who's husband died while trying to save their fortune of savings in a jar from their burning house. Nancy was pregnant with their first baby, and when she has given birth Henry takes pity on her and marries her, even though he had declined a previous proposal from a housekeeper who lived in the home of his benefactor. It seems they’ve both found happiness in the midst of their mourning—until in 1899, Henry’s first wife and children show up, alive and having finally escaped captivity.

Unbeknown to Henry all but one of his family have survived the abduction and Margaret Oades and her children were leading a miserable existence, enslaved to the local tribe. Margaret also cared for a family friend's son who had also been caught up in the abduction. His mother's remains were finally announced to be the charred body that was buried by the burnt out home of the Oades when their home was first discovered in ruins. When they contracted smallpox after five years of captivity they were cast out and are finally let free. Ill and footsore, they make their way back to town, years after they were presumed dead. Discovering that Henry was now half a world away, they were determined to rejoin him. Leaving the boy she had cared for with his father in New Zealand they sail as workers on a boat to pay for their passage and months later they arrived on Henry's doorstep in America and Henry Oades discovered that he had two wives and many dilemmas.

Margaret is quite determined to some how have her husband reunited with her and the children but although Henry says he has loved her he shows no passion and is devoted to his new wife. So as not to abandon any of them they proceed to live in the same homestead on the ranch he inherited from the owner he had worked for after arriving in America.

Narrated primarily by the two wives, and based on a real-life legal case, The Wives of Henry Oades is the riveting story of what happens when Henry, Margaret, and Nancy face persecution for bigamy. Exploring the intricacies of marriage, the construction of family, the changing world of the late 1800s, and the strength of two remarkable women, Johanna Moran turns this unusual family’s story into an unforgettable page-turning drama.

This is a darkly comic but moving historical fiction debut about love and family, based on a controversial court case from the early 1900s.

I found Henry quite annoying in the end.
I felt he should have left the second wife and renewed his marriage with his first wife Margaret and the children. Margaret had done so much with and for him and the children over the years. Even though he had moved on from the grief of believing in the end that she was dead, her escaping and following him to America showed her love for him. She longed for him to embrace her and comfort her at times. He seemed obsessed with Nancy the new wife and it would appear from the story that her youth and beauty caused him to lust for her. She in turn seemed quite naive and silly at times. It was mentioned once that her mother was the same age as Margaret. The disarray of these relationships caused his son to fall by the way and behave in ways he may not have, had he had a good solid example to follow in his parents.

Johanna believes the story is based on a true article her mother had been given by her father but an article in the Herald on Sunday questions this.

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