Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wendy Moore's "Wedlock"

Wendy Moore is a writer and journalist. Her work has been published in a range of newspapers and magazines, including the Guardian, the Observer and the British Medical Journal and has won several awards. Her first book, The Knife Man, was published to great critical acclaim.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Wedlock: The True Story of the Disastrous Marriage and Remarkable Divorce of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore, and reported the following:
As a British author, having published my book Wedlock both in the UK and US, the p. 99 test presents me with an enviable dilemma: I have two p. 99s to choose from.

Both refer rather pleasingly to a key theme in the story – sex and scandal – so content-wise the book certainly passes the p. 99 test. Stylistically, the American p. 99 probably best epitomises my efforts to combine narrative drive and historical fact as seamlessly as possible. And both pages, since they are relatively close together, describe a turning point in the plot at a crucial moment in the life of the main character.

Wedlock tells the story of Mary Eleanor Bowes, the Countess of Strathmore, whose first marriage to John Lyon, the 9th Earl of Strathmore, created the Bowes Lyon name. Her third son, Thomas, would become great-great-great-grandfather of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth. Born in 1749, the only daughter of an immensely wealthy coalowner in north-east England, Mary Eleanor enjoyed a pampered and privileged upbringing. When her father died in 1760, when she was 11, she became the richest heiress in Britain. Pursued by a bevy of suitors, at 18 she married the handsome but aloof Earl of Strathmore. It was not an ideal match and when he died, of TB, nine years later, Mary wept few tears.

By p. 99, or pp. 99s to be precise, Mary has reached a pivotal point in her life. A merry young widow, with a large fortune and five young children to consider, Mary has every chance of making a successful second marriage. Instead she becomes mired in sexual scandal and wrecks her chances of happiness. Having taken a lover just before her husband’s death, Mary has just discovered herself pregnant with her lover’s child. So p. 99 finds her in mourning costume, contemplating an abortion. Her account of her abortion attempts – not just once but four times – is a rare chronicle of such an event in history. But at this very same moment, a charming Irish adventurer, who calls himself ‘Captain’ Andrew Robinson Stoney, breezes into town on the lookout for a rich heiress to ensnare. Torn between two suitors, Mary makes a disastrous choice.
Read an excerpt from Wedlock, and visit Wendy Moore's website.

--Marshal Zeringue