A Respectable Trade by Philippa Gregory

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I first came across Philippa Gregory when my then best friend read “Wideacre” way back in the 1980s, but for some reason I’d never read “A Respectable Trade”, first published in 1995, until now. It tells the story of a group of slaves brought from Africa to Bristol in the 1790s, and the relationship between one of the slaves and his white, upper-class English mistress, married to a Bristol slave trader who invested unwisely and ended up losing all his money. Novels which concentrate on slavery within Britain are unusual, and novels which show a relationship between a male slave and a mistress even more so … it doesn’t seem particularly realistic, but then a novel about a relationship between a female slave and a master would seem realistic enough.

It was an interesting story, well told. The disappointment was the ending. Our Heroine had “delicate” health, consisting of “weak lungs” and a “weak heart”, and conveniently died whilst giving birth to her lover’s child. All that vague “delicate health” stuff, and conveniently dying rather than dealing with social ruin, is very Victorian – it doesn’t work so well in a novel set in the 1780s and written in the 1990s!

Good book – shame about the ending, though!

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