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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Book Review: Wild Romance by Chloë Schama

Wild Romance: A Victorian Story of a Marriage, a Trial, and a Self-Made Woman by Chloë Schama
Hardcover, 272 pages
Walker & Company
March 16, 2010
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Genre: Historical Non-Fiction/Biography

Source: Received from publicist for review
“On a steamer passage from France to England in 1852, nineteen-year-old Theresa Longworth met William Charles Yelverton, a soldier destined to become the Viscount Avonmore. A flirtation began that soon blossomed into a clandestine, epistolary affair, ranging from the shores of England to the battlefields of the Crimean War. Five years after their first meeting they married secretly in Edinburgh, and then, at Theresa’s urging, they married again that summer in Dublin—or did they?

Separated by circumstance soon after they were wed, the two would never again live together as man and wife. When Yelverton left Theresa to marry another woman, Theresa found herself having to prove that their marriage had ever existed. Multiple trials ensued, in Ireland, England, and Scotland, and for months their scandal captivated each nation. Newspapers broadcast each detail of the proceedings, songwriters dedicated ballads to Theresa, and novelists such as Wilkie Collins borrowed the courtroom melodrama for their plots. Over the course of the very public ordeal, Theresa lost any chance of a private married life.

In this brilliant debut, Chloë Schama portrays a woman at the forefront of changes that the twentieth century would bring to women’s lives everywhere. Theresa’s story is both a courtroom drama full of steamy intrigue and the chronicle of how one woman made a life for herself as an unmarried author and public speaker in a society that had little space for either. Thrust into the spotlight, Theresa reincarnated herself as “Teresina Peregrina,” traversing the globe and writing about her journeys: she visited the Mormons in the American West, crossed paths with John Muir in Yosemite, and ventured into the far reaches of Asia and Africa, where she spent the last years of her life. Events beyond her control forced Theresa to become a woman of the world, when she would have settled for a world defined by her husband.

In Wild Romance, Chloë Schama unearths the inspiring tale of a woman who held onto her ideals of independence, of self-reliance, and—despite everything—of love, and who never gave up.”
I decided to read/review this book because the title of the book screams SCANDAL – and everyone loves to read about a good scandal!  This was certainly quite the scandal, but the book overall didn’t quite pan out that way I would have liked.

The first half of the book focuses on detailing Theresa’s relationship with Yelverton and then going into the various trials that ensued in Scotland, Ireland and England that were to prove whether these two were actually married or not.  This section of the book I found the most interesting.  Most striking were the legal rights and the differences between a married, single, or an abandoned woman.  Theresa had to tread carefully along these lines in carrying out her case.  The mental characters that I created of Yelverton and Theresa is that they were both, to some degree, crazy.  Theresa was fixated on Yelverton and I wouldn’t put it past her to have made up some things as she went along.  Yelverton, on the other hand, would constantly verbally push Theresa away, but he would always keep coming back – talk about mixed messages!  Reading about these two people kept me glued to the first portion of the book.

The second half I didn’t love much at all and I lost a lot of interest.  The second half focuses primarily on Theresa as a Victorian travel writer following the outcome of her trials.  We follow her through the US National Parks and meet John Muir (as my father would say, the man with the trees!).  I know that travel writing became a big thing in the Victorian days and the idea is somewhat interesting to me, but I think the execution wasn’t spot on here.  The transition from the trial to the travel writing was somewhat awkward and not nearly as exciting.  It also was dominated by more of a description of women travel writers than specifically about Theresa’s travels.  I just found this portion to be more dry and stuffy than the first, which was exciting.

On a side note – there were pictures scattered throughout the book that really helped to break up the text and were much appreciated.

The paperback edition will be released in the UK in April 2011 – no date is set yet for US release but you can pre-order it on Amazon.

You can watch the video below where Chloe talks about the book

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Find Chloe Schama: Website | Twitter 

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Sounds interesting. Lovely cover. It is unfortunate that more of here life isn't told in detail, but getting a good view of the life of a Victorian travel writer should be interesting.
    It must have been wonderful for women to have such opportunities opening up for them.

  2. Librarypat - I like the cover too - much better than the paperback cover that is coming out.


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