Sunday, April 11, 2010

Book 20- The Wives of Henry Oades

The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran is an interesting tale, and could even be considered by some to be a modern day morality tale. Should Mr. Oades have two wives, because of the odd circumstances?

The beginning of the book find a young Henry Oades and his young family, leaving their London home to set sail for New Zealand so he may take a fancy post in this foreign land, as an accountant for Her Majesty The Queen. Without asking his wife, as it was during the latter part of the 1800s, the endured a terrible sailing vessel to bring them to their new life. Their new home and its land was harder on Margaret (Meg), Henry's wife. It didn't live up to the privileged standards she had grown accustom whilst living in London.

After settling in, having twins, now bringing their count of children up to four, they lived in a quaint cottage. Margaret and the children finally found some peace and Henry was doing quite well for himself in his accounting position. Until one day he came home and found his house burned to the ground, a charred body, and his children gone; the cannibals had come and made off with his family.

For three years he hunted and searched the wilds of New Zealand, many thinking him mad. He left the country, alone, thinking he was a widower, one who lost not only his beloved wife, but their four children. He boarded passage to California, coming to work as a hired hand on a dairy farm in Berkley.

Through unusual circumstances, he came a proper and well respected dairyman and in time, took a young wife, Nancy, who herself was a very young widow with a baby.

Then, six years after their disappearance, his first wife and children show up, alive, having escaped captivity.

The story then unfolds as to what happens with two wives and Henry and the children. Their story was publicized by an angry and scathing newspaper account, bringing them into the eyes of the law. Then they suffer through countless legal situations and trials, on the charges of bigamy.

This story weaves the lives of the women, of the man they both love, defining what if family and what is marriage, all at the turn of the century America.

I liked this story very much. The characters of Meg and Nancy are the heart of this tale, with Henry only being peripheral, believe it or not. It's really a story of two women and their endurance. What an interesting idea and a great book.

What I enjoyed most is the strength of Margaret. While I didn't always find her to be likable, I like that the author made her strong. There was not dwelling on the captivity they endured, no yammering about and crying about what happened, to whining about all that was lost, not tantrums, no post-traumatic stress disorder, no manipulation. It was just a fabulous story of a strong woman dealing the cards she was dealt and figuring out how to get on with her life, for the sake of her children, more than anything else.

I give high praise for this novel.