For most, the early times of this country evokes romantic images of quaint log cabins, tricorn hats, and patriotic idealism. However, the reality that most of the early colonists faced was far different from that romantic image. Settlers confronted adversity everywhere, often contending with new diseases, lack of medicine, hostile relations with the Native Americans, starvation, and isolation.
In Deanne Gist’s debut novel, A Bride Most Begrudging, the reader is transported to 1643 and follows the path of Lady Constance Morrow who, in the beginning of the novel, is attempting to say farewell to an uncle who is to be deported for loyalties to the King. England is in the beginning grip of the Civil War, and royalist sentiments are squelched with ferocious authority. But before Constance is able to leave the ship, she is abducted by the captain, a practice not uncommon in the day, and is forced to become a “tobacco bride” - a woman sold to a male colonist as a bride for 150 pounds of tobacco.
The practice of tobacco brides was implemented to solve the problem of populating the colonies. Most women refused the travel and labor hard to start a settlement in the colonies, with good reason. The journey often lasted three months, and many died from ship-borne diseases such as scurv, and lack of fresh provisions. After arriving, most colonists had no horses, cows, or other livestock to aid in farming, most being too large to transport. In addition, settlements were often placed near water to aid in shipping, but this practice often led to airborne diseases like malaria, which wiped out many of the colonists during the lean months when food and water were difficult to obtain. Other diseases the colonists faced were caused by the ignorance regarding irrigation and septic, which often led to cholera and dysentery. Food poisoning was often also a cause of death because most colonists were unfamiliar with available edible food.
For Constance, the journey is horrendous, as she is chained in the hold of the ship with the other tobacco brides, female felons who are deported to the colonies for various crimes. After arriving in Virginia, she is separated from the others because of her social status, more because the captain hopes to gain a larger fee for her than for any other reason. She and the other women are then auctioned off one by one. Constance is finally bought by a man for 200 pounds of tobacco but is then lost to another when she is used as pot money in a bet.
Her new owner, Drew O’Connor, doesn’t want nor need a bride as he has already purchased a woman to help run his household and refuses to marry after losing his beloved to an influenza epidemic. There is much tension between Constance and Drew when Constance, the daughter of an Earl, refuses to act as servant and defer to Drew as master. Constance, as a lady of privilege, has little knowledge of how to run a household and proves to be of little use to anyone. Drew, however, refusing to sell any of his hard-earned property, puts her in charge of his young sister, Sally. Beyond that, Constance does little to help run the household.
But given the law of the land, Drew is confronted with the settlement council, and forced to marry Constance to preserve peace among his neighbors who developed a rule that there should be no unmarried women in the settlement, which has a male to female population ratio of nearly twenty to one. The match is more than a little improbable as Constance is a highborn lady and educated, focusing most of her energy on solving mathematical word problems. Drew, a colonist his entire life and the eldest surviving child, takes the responsibility of caring for his family very seriously and has attempted to close off his emotions so as not to bear the feelings of grief should he lose one.
Once Drew and Constance are married, the novel turns more into a romance than an historical, focusing more on the relationship between Drew and Constance than their relationship with the birthing of this new country. Constance does little household care as Mary, the other woman purchased by Drew, cleans, cooks, and watches over the household. Constance, for herself, spends most of her time mooning over Drew and Drew spends most of his time attempting not to show his desire for his new wife.
Bride is also an inspirational novel, and Gist is subtle in her attempt to bring faith into the book. Those readers uncomfortable with inspirational novels would not have objections with the language and presentation of the novel.
While the relationship might be a bit more believable in an era when there are more conveniences available and servants more populous, here in this era, Constance’s inactivity is unlikely and therefore causes the reader to commit a leap of faith that is difficult to render. The setting and peripheral characterization is pushed to the background as Gist attempts to follow a very modern romance in am old-fashioned era. In addition, the plot line following Constance’s fascination with all this mathematical is used more as a courting exercise than to prove Constance’s intelligence.
Gist’s use of history gives some credence to the novel but is ultimately weak. The trials faced by the early colonists are only briefly touched upon. Disease is in the background, as are the relations with the Native Americans. It is almost a surprise when Gist introduces the massacre of 1644, an introduction to the Anglo-Powhatan War, as a backdrop for the novel’s end and the reader is left wondering what has happened to cause such bloodshed. Gist is, however, able to show the helplessness and, often, hopelessness of the situation when lack of medicine, food, and good drinking water killed as many as seventy-five percent of the early colonists.
Ultimately, Bride is a romance novel with a smattering of history thrown in to give the novel some background. However, it is the characterization that keeps the reader engaged. We become attached to Constance because of her passionate nature and mind, which is so similar to the modern-day audience reading the novel; we want her to succeed in her new environment because if she can, than perhaps we could have too.