Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Best of The Review: Favorite Posts From the First Half Year (Volume I)

The Women of the Lost  Colony~Jenny Barden

Chosen for the enduring mystery of the lost Roanoke settlement, this blog indeed calls up the tragedy and ongoing interest in what became of these people. With its photos of reconstructed elements and scattered clues, it is almost as if we are wading through the scene of the women's disappearance ourselves. Haunting, it captivates us.

Amongst the ‘Lost Colonists’ who attempted to found the first permanent English settlement in America were at least seventeen women. What would life have been like for these women, some of them pregnant, at least one of them with a baby at the breast, who left everything familiar in England to begin life afresh in a strange raw land? They would have faced the threat of native hostility, witnessed the aftermath of a horrific murder soon after arrival, and untold hardship at a time of famine. We’ll never know for certain what happened to them. The Colony’s Governor left to summon help barely six weeks after the Colonists were set down on Roanoke Island in the ‘new found land’ of Virginia in the summer of 1587. When he returned, three years later, all the Colonists had disappeared leaving only a few enigmatic clues as to where they might have gone.  

The reconstruction ‘Elizabeth’ at Roanoke. The ship that brought the Lost Colonists from England would have looked much the same

We know the names of the women from a list drawn up by the Governor, John White, which was given to Richard Hakluyt and later included in his account of the enterprise. From the evidence of surnames shared with some of the male Colonists, we can deduce that eleven of the women were married and two travelled with children. Two of the very bravest women embarked on the voyage in an advanced state of pregnancy to be later delivered of their babies in the New World. One of these was the Governor’s daughter, Eleanor (recorded as ‘Elyoner’), who gave birth to a girl, Virginia Dare, the first child of English parents to be born on American soil. At a time when childbirth was likely to be difficult, dangerous and painful for any woman, this must have taken courage indeed. Eleanor Dare chanced everything to accompany her husband and father in their quest to establish the City of Raleigh in the New World and make a home there. She probably marvelled at first at the land’s wild beauty, but she must have been terrified by the brutal death of one of the Governor’s Assistants, George Howe, only a few days after reaching Roanoke. His end came as he was out wading, looking for crabs, no doubt enjoying the feel of mud and sand between his toes, alone, defenceless and unsuspecting. Howe’s body was found shot through with arrows and his head smashed to a pulp. He left a young orphaned son. What must that boy have felt? The women surely would have comforted him with rising fear in their hearts.
                        This is how Roanoke would have appeared to the Lost Colonists on first arrival

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A Newfound Land by Anna Belfrage~

This intriguing review indeed prods readers to discover The Graham Saga for themselves. Like many others who have told us they read the novel as a stand alone but were so drawn to the story they had to read all the others in the series, we are pretty confident you, too, will want to catch up with the Grahams. 

A Newfound Land is Anna’s fourth book in the time-slip series of The Graham Saga. The story continues, and although is complete in itself, Anna weaves the salient points from the other three books seamlessly into this one so that the reader is kept fully up to date of past events. Having said this, I was so involved with the story that when I had finished I just had to buy the other three books just to flesh out those episodes alluded to in the fourth book.

First of all I would like to say that I like the cover to A Newfound Land. The font looks as though it has been written with a quill pen or a dip-pen, and the background picture shows arrows, feathers, and to the top a shadow of a map of what I suspect to be of ‘the new country’ all in sepia tones as if aged. Book covers matter and should be relevant to the book, and this one is perfect, as with all Anna’s covers.

The story starts with the Grahams in the ‘new country,’ having left Scotland because of religious persecution. Matthew is devastated at having to leave Hillview in Ayrshire, the family homestead for generations. Their new home, after nearly four years, is still incomplete, a work in progress. Their nearest neighbour is ‘well over an hour’s ride away.’ The Grahams have been here since 1668 cutting down virgin forest to build a home and make ‘several sizeable fields and pastures, a respectable kitchen garden…’ Anna has a special way of describing the surroundings for the Grahams so that the reader can be placed right beside them. So much so that you feel almost like you are eavesdropping on their private lives in the telling of the story. 

I like the way that Anna has Alex using her 21st century language with Matthew; for example from the very beginning there is the use of the word ‘okay’ which eventually the family uses as common parlance. At one point in the story Alex says, ‘I feel like a teenager…’ and it is only then that you realise that it is an alien expression for that era. When I realised this I had to look it up and found that the word was not really in existence or use until the early 1940s as sited in The Popular Science Monthly in the United States. 

1941 Pop. Sci. Monthly Apr. 223/2, I never knew teen-agers could be so serious. (Taken from the Internet). 

It’s this kind of detail that makes Anna Belfrage’s novels work so well. Time-slip is a fanciful thing, but her book challenges your thinking on this and makes it totally believable. She makes the reader aware of the uncertainties, the traumas, the loneliness that comes with populating a ‘New World’. For all that, you find yourself admiring the tenacity of the Grahams to carve out a home and a life for themselves and their children. I also like the way that Alex’s free modern day thinking is challenged by Matthew, as it is only he who can name each child that they have. It is he who is in charge of their spiritual life. 

Matthew has a clergyman temporarily staying in their home to teach their children the Bible and general education. Alex is put out by this, especially when the clergyman, Richard Campbell, belittles her in front of her husband and children after she tells Campbell that he is wrong. He then tells the children, ‘Your mother has no idea what she’s talking about; she’s a woman.’ And, ‘Man is set to rule over woman on account of his intellect and spiritual strength. Women are more prone to be taken over by the devil, seeing as they’re weaker souls.’ This causes a rift between Alex and Matthew as he doesn’t defend her. We feel her betrayal as Matthew refuses to back her up in front of their children. Will they ever heal their rift?

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1 comment:

  1. I had a really hard time with Matthew's reluctance to defend Alex against this misogynistic clergyman.. How could he be so blinded by the man's cant??