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A Respectable Trade [Paperback]

Philippa Gregory
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
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Book Description

16 Oct 2006

The devastating consequences of the slave trade in 18th century are explored through the powerful but impossible attraction of well-born Frances and her slave, Mehuru. From the bestselling author of The Other Boleyn Girl.

Bristol in 1787 is booming, from its stinking docks to its elegant new houses. Josiah Cole, a small dockside trader, is prepared to gamble everything to join the big players of the city. But he needs ready cash and a well-connected wife.

An arranged marriage to Frances Scott is a mutually convenient solution. Trading her social contacts for Josiah’s protection, Frances enters the world of the Bristol merchants and finds her life and fortune dependent on the respectable trade of sugar, rum and slaves.

Once again Philippa Gregory brings her unique combination of a vivid sense of history and inimitable storytelling skills to illuminate a complex period of our past. Powerful, haunting, intensely disturbing, this is a novel of desire and shame, of individuals, of a society, and of a whole continent devastated by the greed of others.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; New Ed edition (16 Oct 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006473377
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006473374
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gregory was an established historian and writer when she discovered her interest in the Tudor period and wrote the internationally bestselling novel The Other Boleyn Girl. Now she is looking at the family that preceded the Tudors: the magnificent Plantaganets, a family of complex rivalries, loves, and hatreds.

Her other great interest is the charity that she founded nearly twenty years ago: Gardens for The Gambia. She has raised funds and paid for 140 wells for the primary schools of this poor African country. www.PhilippaGregory.com

Product Description


‘The great roar and sweep of history is successfully braided into the intimate daily detail of this compelling and intelligent book’ Penny Perrick, THE TIMES

‘Philippa Gregory is a very good storyteller indeed’

‘Subtle and exciting.’ Daily Express

‘Written from instinct, not out of calculation, and it shows.’
Peter Ackroyd, The Times

From the Publisher

Author biography
Philippa Gregory is an established writer and broadcaster for radio and television. She went to school in Bristol, has a history degree from the University of Sussex and a PhD in Eighteenth-century literature from the University of Edinburgh. She has been widely praised for her historical novels, as well as for her works of contemporary suspense. The Other Boleyn Girl has been adapted for BBC television and is now a major film, starring Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman and Eric Bana. Philippa Gregory lives in the North of England with her family.
Other novels:
Philippa Gregory’s historical novels include The Other Boleyn Girl (developed into a BBC adaptation as well as a Hollywood film), The Queen’s Fool, The Virgin’s Lover, Earthly Joys and Virgin Earth.

Meharu woke at dawn with the air cool on his outstretched body. He opened his eyes in the half-darkness and sniffed the air as if the light wind might bring him some strange scent. His dream, an uneasy vision of a ship slipping her anchor in shadows and sailing quietly down a deep rocky gorge, was with him still.

He got up from his sleeping platform, wrapped a sheet around him and went quietly to the door. The city of Oyo was silent. He looked down his street; no light showed. Only in the massive palace wall could he see a moving light as a servant walked from room to room, the torch shining from each window he passed.

There was nothing to fear, there was nothing to make him uneasy, yet still he stood wakeful and listening as if the coop-coop-coop of the hunting owls or the little squeaks from the bats which clung around the stone towers of the palace might bring him a warning.

He gave a little shiver and turned from the doorway. The dream had been very clear – just one image of a looped rope dropping from a stone quayside and snaking through the water to the prow of a ship, whipping its way up the side as it was hauled in, and then the ship moving silently away from the land. There should be nothing to fear in such a sight but the dream had been darkened by a brooding sense of threat which lived with him still.

He called quietly for his slave boy, Siko, who slept at the foot of his bed. ‘Make tea,’ he said shortly as the boy appeared, rubbing his eyes.
‘It’s the middle of the night,’ the boy protested and then stopped when he saw Mehuru’s look. ‘Yes, master.’

Mehuru waited in the doorway until the boy put the little brass cup of mint tea into his hand. The sharp aromatic scent of it comforted him. There had been a stink in his dream, a stink of death and sickness. The ship which had left the land in darkness, trailing no wake in the oily water, had smelled as if it carried carrion.

The dream must mean something. Mehuru had trained as an obalawa – a priest – one of the highest priests in the land. He should be able to divine his own dreams.

Over the roofs of the city the sky was growing paler, shining like a pearl, striped with thin bands of clouds as fine as muslin. As he watched they melted away and the sky’s colour slowly deepened to grey and then a pale misty blue. On the eastern horizon the sun came up, a white disc burning.

Mehuru shook the dream from his head. He had a busy day before him: a meeting at the palace and an opportunity for him to show himself as a man of decision and ambition. He put the dream away from him. If it came back he would consider it then. It was a brilliant cream and white dawn, full of promise. Mehuru did not want such a day shadowed by the dark silhouette of a dreamed ship. He turned inside and called Siko to heat water for his wash and lay out his best clothes.

In the Bristol roads – where salt water meets fresh in the Bristol channel – the slaving ship Daisy paid off the pilot who had guided her down the treacherously narrow Avon gorge and cast off the barges which had towed her safely out to sea. She put on sail as the sun rose and a light wind got up, blowing from the west. Captain Lisle drew his charts towards him and set his course for the Guinea coast of Africa. The cabin boy had laid out a clean shirt for him and poured water for him to wash. He poured it back into the jug, holding the china ewer carefully in grubby callused hands. It would be two months at least before they made landfall in Africa and Captain Lisle was not a man to waste clean water.

Cole and Sons,
Redclift Dock,

Monday 15th September 1787

Dear Miss Scott,
I write to you Direct on a delicate matter which Perhaps should best be address to his lordship. However since I have not Yet his lordship’s Acquaintance, and since you indicated to me that you have to make your Own Way in the World, perhaps I May be forgiven for my Presumption.
I was Delighted to meet you at my Warehouse when you applied for the Post of Governess, but your Family Connexions and own Demeanour convinced me that I could Never think of You as an Employee of mine. It was that Realisation which prompted me to draw the interview to a close.
I had an idea Then which I now Communicate to you: Namely that I wish that I might think of you as a Wife.
Some might say that as a Bristol Merchant I am overly Ambitious in wishing to Ally myself with your Family. But you say Yourself that your circumstances do not permit the Luxury of Choice. And tho’ I am in business – in ‘Trade’ as I daresay his lordship might say – it is a ‘Respectable’ Trade with Good prospects.
You will be Concerned as to the House you would occupy as my wife. You saw Only my Warehouse apartment and I assure you that I am moving Shortly, with my Sister who will remain living with Me, to a Commodious and Elegant house in the best Part of town, namely Queens Square, which his lordship may know.
As to Settlements and Dowry – these certainly should be Arranged between his lordship and myself – but may I Assure you that you will find me Generous if you are Kind enough to look on my Proposal with favour.
I am Sensible of the Honour you would do me, Madam, and Conscious of the Advantage your connexion would bring me. But may I also hope that this Proposal of mine will Preserve you from a lifetime of employment to which your Delicate talents and Aristocratic Connexions must render you unfit?
I remain, your most obedient servant,
Josiah Cole

Back Cover copy
Bristol in 1787 is booming, a city where power beckons those who dare to take risks. Josiah Cole, a small dockside trader, is prepared to gamble everything to join the big players of the city. But he needs capital and a well-connected wife.

Marriage to Frances Scott is a mutually convenient solution. Trading her social contacts for Josiah’s protection, Frances finds her life and fortune dependent on the respectable trade of sugar, rum and slaves.

Into her new life comes Mehuru, once a priest in the ancient African kingdom of Yoruba. From opposite ends of the earth, despite the enmity of slavery, Mehuru and Frances confront each other and their need for love and liberty.

‘The great roar and sweep of history is successfully braided into the intimate daily detail of this compelling and intelligent book’
Penny Perrick, THE TIMES

‘Philippa Gregory is a very good storyteller indeed’

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
83 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars powerful 21 Nov 2007
By Nadia
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This novel by Philippa Gregory takes a look at the slave trade in the period leading up to the abolition.
It tells the story of Mahuru, a high priest taken as a slave, and Francis Scott, the wife of the merchant who owns the slave ship that took him.
In an effort to increase his wealth, Francis's husband wishes to train the slaves as servants to be sold to wealthy families, and to Francis falls the task of teaching them English customs.
The characterisation in this novel is very superior. Mahuru is a kind, intelligent man who quickly masters the English language, but never loses sight of his heritage. But perhaps the most developed character is Francis, as she struggles between the ways of the English aristocrat that have been drilled in to her since childhood, and her growing empathy with those she must teach. Philippa Gregory handles this with skill, and those who have criticised Francis for wanting the best of both worlds, forget that far from being a woman ahead of her time, Philippa Gregory has taken the more original step of creating a woman very much of her time.
Her descriptions of the brutality the slaves had to endure are poignant and all the more disturbing for their accuracy. It is right that the story does not gloss over the behaviour of our ancestors, as a less dedicated writer of historical fiction might be tempted to do. This novel has the Philippa Gregory trade mark attention to detail and thorough painstaking research. I was quite moved to tears by the end.
A haunting novel well worth reading and rereading.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars for what it is, it's good 12 Jan 2011
I'm not going to say I expected or hoped for a sensible novel on slavery, because I've read enough Philippa Gregory novels to know that's not her thing. Gregory prefers forbidden passions and crushing sorrow and harsh times. This, although no less absorbing than any other of her novels, does of course focus on a love affair (or at least, mainly the leading up to it) between a privileged but unhappy woman and an oppressed African slave. One has to suspend belief more than a little, but then what does one expect? I didn't mind too much.

It would have been brilliant if Gregory had taken this further. I wish she had done away with the sticky imagery and somersaulting emotions, and produced a raw piece of fiction. I believe it would have been better had Francis and Mehuru's love for one another been not the gooey sort of love that the historical fiction genre spews, but rather a more angry, uncertain, unconsummated love. Not falling into a bed scattered with petals (I tell you, it's true.)

But I won't slate Gregory, no I shan't. She was brave to take on a topic like this, and incorporate it into one of her fizzling romances. And she did well, I don't think there is any doubt, in painting Francis' husband, a slave-owner and profiteer of the 'respectable' trade of the title, not as a wicked man but as a foolish one, a product of his time, of the same misguided and shuttered politics many shared. As well as this, it was a grand idea to contrast Francis' power over Mehuru, with men's had power over women in the 18th century.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You can always depend on a Gregory 9 Mar 2007
Cracking, self-contained adventure that is informative and entertaining throughout. A rollercoaster ride towards doom, you might think, and although most of your worst fears are realised by the end of the book, Gregory gives Josiah Cole a way out with the suggested formation of a bank. Though most people know about the American slave trade, Britain's part in this disgraceful business is not always so well covered. Thank heavens for Wilberforce.
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous 15 Feb 2004
By Merry R
This is a book i have come back to again and again. The period of history it covers is fascinating and was relatively unknown to me and the empathy with the characters is enormous. It is beautifully and skillfully written.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book, but... 20 Dec 2007
By Deb
I'll echo the reviews by others, but I want to add a note of warning for anyone purchasing a copy - I have an copy, bought new, that sat unread for far too long on my bookshelves. The pages from 417 to 464 are missing and it seems that these include the crux of the tale. (Examining the book, this looks like a printers error rather than pages falling out as the book is in A1 condition.) A huge disappointment!

If you are picking up a second hand copy, avoid ISBN 0 00 647337 7 published in 1996.
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64 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well researched 6 July 2002
By A Customer
I love Philippa Gregory's books, but I found myself worrying a little too much about the fate of the characters to really enjoy this novel. I felt sorry for the slaves that were kidnapped in Africa and brought to England and also for the disgusting way in which they were treated. However I also felt so sorry for Josiah, a small businessman-trader who owns a couple of small trading ships, who tries to better himself by marrying the niece of a titled gentleman. In order to be able to enjoy the privileges given to the bigger businessmen he joins their elite association and is eventually forced to turn to the slave trade to in the hope of increasing his profits. However, his wife pushes for greater riches and a bigger house and poor Josiah has to borrow more and more money against his small trading ships, even when he is not sure whether the return against them will be enough to cover his debts. Torn in two by his status-hungry wife and his business-headed sister, Josiah is led into a trap set for him by the rich tradesmen that he has come to trust, whereby he stands to lose everything he has striven to achieve. I had a knot in my stomach for most of the time that I was reading this book and I wanted to scream out a warning to Josiah, because I could foresee his potential downfall. The author has obviously well-researched the history of the slave trade and is able to make the atmosphere come alive. This book is very well written - so well written, in fact, that the fate of Josiah and his family became almost real! Engrossing!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Enjoyable easy read.
Published 2 days ago by CB
5.0 out of 5 stars ... Philippa Gregory has brought history alive in a very easy to read...
Once again Philippa Gregory has brought history alive in a very easy to read way.
Published 6 days ago by Traveller
5.0 out of 5 stars Kept my interest
A good read but a bit of a weak finish. Will read more from this author very soon I hope
Published 13 days ago by D A BAKER
5.0 out of 5 stars Love gained and lost
The knowledge to me gained of the slave trade hitherto unknown was fascinating and appalling at the same time. Read more
Published 17 days ago by Zita
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Storyteller
What a master of historical fiction. Good plot that develops effortlessly. Excellent characters too. Not my usual genre but I really enjoyed this book.
Published 19 days ago by Lynnewrite
5.0 out of 5 stars Book review
One of the Phillipa Gregory series. Bought for the dear wife. Well packed and quickly sent - very very pleased.
Published 27 days ago by S. J. Waterhouse
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and thought provoking read
Gave much insight into the horrendous slave trade and its impact on Africa. An immensely readable and ' un put downable' book which I thoroughly enjoyed although perhaps to say... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Poppyfields
5.0 out of 5 stars Bristol reader
As you can see I live in Bristol, so the descriptions of areas in the city are particularly interesting. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Janet browning
5.0 out of 5 stars Another good Philippa Gregory
I have read a lot of Philippa Gregory books (the oldie ones) and have not been disappointed. This one is no different.
Published 1 month ago by Purple
5.0 out of 5 stars great read
I love the way Philippa Gregory writes I have read many of her books and the stories never repeat themselves.
Published 1 month ago by marianneunwin
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