Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"The Mistaken Wife"

Rose Melikan was born in Detroit, but since 1993 she has been a Fellow at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, where she teaches English legal history and British constitutional history. Her three “Mary Finch” novels are set during the French Revolutionary wars (1792-1802), and draw the heroine inexorably into the murky world of military espionage.

Melikan applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, The Mistaken Wife, and reported the following:
The Mistaken Wife takes place in the autumn of 1797. Great Britain has lost her remaining military ally and is desperate to prevent France from gaining a further strategic advantage. The imminent Franco-American negotiations, therefore, must be disrupted. With government agents in short supply, Mary Finch undertakes the assignment, and she travels to France as the wife of an American artist.

Page 69 records a conversation between Mary and her “husband”, Samuel Vangenzen, in which Vangenzen reveals that he is actually married to Minta, a woman of mixed race who had been enslaved in America. Mary is sympathetic to the couple’s plight and indignant that Vangenzen’s father should have used the Bible to justify slavery and segregation, but this kind of oppression is far less real to her than the consequences of a so-called “bad” marriage generally.
“The queen of Sheba was an African, was she not?” [asked Mary] “And a very worthy person.”

“As I daresay King David would have thought, so long as Solomon did not marry her!”

“Of course,” Mary acknowledged, “that was the root of the problem. Marriage is really a terrible business.”

“Indeed!” laughed Vangenzen, “I have not found it so.”

“But people have such different ideas of whom one ought to marry, and it is so easy to make a mistake.”
Mary’s attitude is not surprising in a young Englishwoman whose knowledge of slavery is limited to abolitionist pamphlets. Intellectually she knows that slavery is wrong, and later she will even investigate Minta’s legal status in France, partly with the aim of helping the Vangenzens and partly for her own purposes. Because her own view of Minta is colorblind, however, she does not really understand the emotional and psychological effect that slavery has had upon her. In consequence, Mary will find it difficult to determine whether the other woman is a friend or a foe, and this will prove crucial when Minta gains the power to send her friend to the guillotine.
Learn more about the book and author at Rose Melikan's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue