I have been reading several of Philippa Gregory’s books recently, enjoying her historical fiction. A Respectable Trade, though, is much more than just historical fiction. It is an introduction into the harsh realities of the slave trade and it’s economic, social and moral consequences, good and bad, for all those involved, whether willingly or not.
Chronicling the lives of one household in Bristol, England, A Respectable Trade illustrates how the slave trade of the late 1700s affected all of society. The story begins in 1787 and brings together Frances Scott, the impoverished niece of a peer of the realm, Josiah Cole, a small-time trader with ambitions to better his station in life, and Mehuru, a priest from Africa who has been enslaved. We experience only two years of their lives, but during that time we see how each member of the family confronts the issues of the slave trade (a respectable trade) and we learn how the slave trade has become an integral part of England’s economic success. We also get a glimpse, albeit brief, of how the slave trade affected the ancient societies in Africa for generations to come; the strife and civil wars taking place there today are likely only one of the most evident results.
I highly recommend A Respectable Trade to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and to anyone looking for something a bit pithier than Gregory’s usual novels. And you might also want to check out her Gardens For Gambia program:
Gardens for The Gambia is a charity set up by author Philippa Gregory to provide water for wells in the gardens of rural schools in The Gambia.