Barbara Taylor Bradford’s ‘A Woman of Substance’ is easily one of the most vivid and poignant books I’ve ever read – irrespective of what happens later in the series and how it seems to endlessly drag on after a point. All this, nonetheless, takes away nothing from the story of Emma Harte, the girl from a poor Yorkshire family who indelibly etches her name in history.
The story opens with Emma Harte, a woman no less than a force of nature and one of the most successful women of the world as she looks back on her very eventful life. And as we go back in time with her, her memory brings to life the windblown crags of Yorkshire where she lives with her family, too young but forced to shoulder the burden of the household after her mother dies. We can see the luxurious halls of Fairley, rising above the misery of the men on whose shoulders it’s built and their desolate lives in the mines, through the eyes of a servant girl; a servant girl who commits the foolishness of falling in love with the heir to the fortune and the unforgivable crime of mistaking his besotted lust for love.
It’s not that Emma pictures herself as mistress of Fairley Hall. But like so many other young girls, she falls in love with the wrong boy and believes, with all the hope of her young love-blinded heart, that love will, indeed, be enough. But this foolishness is one Emma pays dearly for and its consequences, just like the cloying smell of roses, haunt her all her life. Heartbroken and pregnant at 15, Emma runs away from home to make a life for herself and her child.
Pretending to be a young widow, Emma sets out to eke out a living and there’s nothing the world can do to stop her as she begins to take it over bit by bit. But along the way there are fights and struggles and tribulations … and the wolf to be kept at bay. And Emma finds herself frequently married and then either widowed or divorced.
But it’s strange how things play out, isn’t it? How the one person you give up everything for one day turns into a mirror of all the mistakes you’ve ever made. Close to the end of her life, Emma now has to face the ultimate betrayal. The knowledge that her own children, including the firstborn she gave up everything for, seek to unseat her and take away Harte Enterprises from her. However, much as her children are spineless, she has a spine of steel and she finds a way to cleverly cut the ground out from under their feet. Fortunately for her, her grandchildren are a lot more like her than her children ever will be, and she knows Harte Enterprises as well as her dynasty will go into the right hands.
The spectacular story of this woman’s journey from hard poverty and betrayal to the veritable top of the world and true love is the premise of A Woman of Substance.
It’s a masterfully told story as it seems to bend and mould, almost as if of its own volition, independent of its maker. And those are the best kinds, aren’t they!
Truly worthy of a 6/5!