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Carpe Librum

Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.


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Historical Novel Society

The Handfasted Wife by Carol McGrath

The Handfasted Wife - Carol McGrath

The Handfasted Wife is the story of Edith (Elditha as she is called in this novel), the first wife of Harold Godwinson. Since this book starts with King Edward near death and Harold soon follows him, the focus is on Elditha as she is forced to decide what to do as Norman invaders swarm through England.

The premise of this novel is certainly interesting. Little is known of what happened to Harold's wives and children after his death. Obviously, disappearing was the best way to save their own skin, so most of this novel is fictional creation loosely wrapped in factual settings. My biggest problem is that I couldn't admire Elditha or even understand her.

The plot followed Elditha through her wanderings and poor decisions made in an effort to escape England before King William could force her into a future she did not want. Little concern seems to cross her conscious for those who risk and give their lives to protect her. Her children's fate also seems to be little more than an afterthought to her. She doesn't seem to have any actual goal, as

once she does get away, she simply goes back.

(show spoiler)

The detail of everyday life is exceptionally done in this novel. Women embroidering, dividing up rations during a siege, and other routine tasks are described in detail that some readers will appreciate. I felt a little inundated with the ordinary when I knew epic battles were happening outside the scene I was presented with.

Maybe it was because I read this at the same time as The Norman Conquest by Marc Morris that I just couldn't be content with the simple tale that was being spun.