From the desk of Katie Jackson:
An outspoken bluestocking lady in Regency England, unless independently wealthy, was most likely to be shunned by Society into involuntary spinsterhood and poverty. Suitable husbands were difficult enough to come by, but for a lady with a clever mind and vibrant opinions, her options were fewer still. Desperation led many a spurned lady onto a ship bound for India in search of Englishmen with lower standards and plentiful wealth. That long and arduous journey is depicted in author Julie Wright’s latest Proper Romance, A Captain for Caroline Gray.
Miss Caroline Gray’s unconventional education at the behest of her well-meaning parents had included “politics, science, and literature” (99) and none of the silly arts of flirtation that might have secured her future. Consequently, she had endured three London Seasons where the gentlemen “all liked her well enough before she opened her mouth. Conversation with her led them from interest to wariness. And when they’d discovered that she was often found at public lecture courses on physics, their wariness turned to outright disdain.” (182)
Living with her widowed mother on the family estate, Caroline is not prepared for the sudden news that her cousin—her father’s heir—has decided to marry and claim his inheritance, thus displacing Caroline and her mother. Her future looks bleak indeed as her mother asks if she wishes to see herself passed around by their relations like an unwanted parcel, a perpetual nursemaid or caregiver, husbandless and childless. The reality of their economic situation was that “all of her prospects hinged on marrying. Without marrying, she had no possibilities. No prospects. No choices.” (168) Caroline berates herself for her inability to make a match but quickly realizes that she could have been nobody but herself. And “did she truly want to cheat some man out of genuine happiness by making him believe her to be what she was not?” (210)
An opportunity arises in the form of an offer from her mother’s acquaintance. Mrs. Barritt’s third son has a purchased commission as a captain in the army is making his own fortune in India, and is looking for a pretty and proper English wife. She will pay half of Caroline’s passage to India in exchange for Caroline’s obligation to spend some time with her son, Captain Nicholas Barritt. Caroline is determined “to pretend she felt some excitement. She would pretend to thrill at the adventure of it all. She would pretend that her heart was not breaking at the thought of leaving her family and her beloved England.” (192)
And so it is that determined Miss Caroline Gray steps onto the ship named Persistence, bound for a foreign land and an uncertain future. “She knew all about seasickness but now wondered if perhaps it wasn’t the voyage that made people ill. Perhaps illness stemmed from the reasons that necessitated the voyage.” (242)
Ever the inquisitive scholar and conversationalist, Caroline quickly makes her mark on the crew and other passengers, drawing the attention of the ship’s captain, Thomas Scott, and the ire of the other husband-hunting ladies. Captain Scott is intrigued by the fact that she is “not a silly woman lacking in wit or wisdom” (397), and the ladies feel “she could be a threat. A woman of position, mind, and beauty.” (411) Literal and figurative storms are brewing as they sail across the vast sea in search of elusive dreams.
The dangerous journey that unmarried Englishwomen made to India did not end when the ship finally docked in port. Their trials were only just beginning. I found the historical details of the voyage quite interesting, and the stark reality, once they arrived, was just as fascinating. The gently bred women—vastly outnumbered and with limited knowledge of the world—were being thrown to the tigers, not only real ones but also those in the form of the often cruel and corrupt Englishmen they were destined to wed. It took immense courage for those ladies to endure all they did, especially when all they had to live on was hope.
The pace of the story was a bit uneven, starting slowly and then racing to the finish. I found myself easily able to put it down for the first half, then suddenly I was staying awake into the wee hours. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next to the admirable heroine, who was bright and brave, but also relatable in her self-recriminations.
A Captain for Caroline Gray is a tale about courageously facing formidable foes, both real and imagined, without losing one’s soul in the battle.
4 out of 5 Stars
- A Captain for Caroline Gray: Proper Romance Regency, by Julie Wright
- Shadow Mountain Publishing (March 2, 2021)
- Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (336) pages
- ISBN: 978-1629728469
- Genre: Regency Romance, Inspirational Fiction
We received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Shadow Mountain Publishing © 2021; text Katie Jackson © 2021, austenprose.com.