Monday, 19 December 2011

Book Review: A Woman Of Substance - Barbara Taylor Bradford

Synopsis - In 1905 a young kitchen maid leaves Fairley Hall.  Emma Harte is sixteen, single and pregnant.

By 1968 she is one of the richest women in the world, ruler of a business empire stretching from Yorkshire to the glittering cities of America and the rugged vastness of Australia.

Review - I remember the TV series adapted from Barbara Taylor Bradford's novel with Jenny Seagrove in the lead role.  It was a good adaptation if memory serves correctly.  It is only now many years later that I have finally read the book.

For that time Emma Harte is something of a woman holding the fort in a man's world.  Yes, she had enemies but she had friends too who respected her brains, acute business acumen and sheer willpower.  In present day she could be compared to many successful businesswomen.  Born to a poor family, her father and older brother worked for the Fairley mills, her poorly mother lay dying while her aunt popped in to look after the younger brother.  Emma worked at the large mansion owned by the Fairley family.  Emma worked hard but was maltreated by the eldest son and the bullying butler Murgatroyd.  The younger son Edwin developed a soft spot for Emma but when she told him of her pregnancy he betrayed her and she was left to leave her employment and move on.  Emma had already made an acquaintance with Blackie the chimney sweep who lived in Leeds and worked with his Uncle Pat.  Emma left Fairley Hall and travelled to Leeds to find Blackie and make a life for herself.  Through Emma's kindness to a Jewish man Mr Kaminski, Emma was employed at his shop and showed such flair which was noticed by Mr Kaminski's eldest son David.  Together they went into partnership taking over the Kaminski business and designing a range of clothes as well as running cloth factories.  Emma was then in a financial position to rent a shop and sell home-made goods to the rich people of Armley.  Through her marriage to her landlord, on his death at war she inherited his properties which enabled her to build her empire.

On a personal note Emma's life did not fair so well.  She was not lucky in love and married for convenience.  On the death of her first husband, after a few years she married her solicitor's son and bore his twins.  This marriage was unsuccessful and ended in divorce.  When Emma did meet the man of her dreams, they could not marry and she was to lose her great love in tragic circumstances.  Through Emma's wise decisions to protect her first child and to be able to provide for them both she worked like a trojan, hence her daughter was sent to live with a cousin for a few years.  The relationship between Emma and her first daughter was not a happy one. Although her remaining four children seemed to be happy it was the daughter and youngest child by her only true love who Emma really favoured.  Later in life these resentments were to surface and once again the family were shown Emma's true single mindedness, scheming and iron will.

A story of power, greed, burning hatred for those who have harmed or hurt the Harte family and the vision of a woman to survive in a man's world of business by sheer hard work, brilliance of mind and forward thinking. 4*

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