A Woman of Substance

A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford

I have a fondness for Emma Harte, the heroine of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s sweeping rags-to-riches ‘70’s blockbuster, which is to say, I like a woman who grabs the world by the balls and hangs on for dear life.

A Woman of Substance begins with a nearly eighty year old Emma perched on her corporate throne. Her children, she’s learned, are no better than a pit of treacherous vipers waiting to sink their fangs into Hart Enterprises. When Emma succumbs to pneumonia, her children waits with glee for her death.  So Emma, like Yours Truly, has sworn to live forever and wills herself not to die. She recovers in three days. She rings up her lawyer and draws up a new will which would nullify the old will and presumably, piss a lot of people off.

On the eve before the reading of her new will, Emma stares longingly into the fireplace and embarks on a seven hundred page flashback. It’s 1905 and fifteen year old Emma is a plucky parlor maid at Fairly Hall. Her father toils in a mill owned by Lord Fairly, her mother is an invalid hacking up a lung from consumption. At work, the Fairlys are an odd assortment of Discontent Master, Looney Mistress, Fat Son, Hot Son.

I don’t need to tell you that Emma and Hot Son have their sexy times in a cave during a thunderstorm. That’s a given, so is this line spoken by Edwin Fairly: “Oh dear, my trousers are damp. I must take them off…” You’ve just witnessed a smooth operator in action.

Suffice to say, Emma gets pregnant and Edwin, out a strict adherence to the class system, refuses to marry her. Emma tells him where to stick it and stomps off to Leeds to make her fortune and plan her revenge. Several hundred pages, several husbands, and two world wars later, Emma is rich and her shoulder pads are the broadest I’ve seen since Working Girl and I am exhausted because “holyshit this book, like this sentence, is too long!” YET I am satisfied because “woot woot! Girl power!”

As far as memorable heroines goes, Emma Harte ranks just below Scarlet O’Hara, though, I’d like to see them duke it out for the title of “most driven.”



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