Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bargain Bride--Evelyn Sibley Lampman

This book sparked my interest in the westward expansion and the suffragette movement as a kid. I found a copy of it at the big Case book sale several years ago and bought it immediately to see if it held up. It's not an ambitious or great book, but an enjoyable read and good for Women's History Month.

The story opens on Ginny Mayhew's 15th birthday, the day her husband comes to collect her. Ginny was married off to him at the age of 10 after her parents died on the trip out west to Oregon. See, the homesteading laws gave twice the acreage to married couples as it would to a single man, and with very few single women out in the territory they'd marry off girls as young as 5. And those girls' share of land would belong to their husband due to the property laws of the time. Nice. Selling Ginny to Stephen Mayhew paid for her cousins' farm, and ironically she's better off with a husband in his 40's who she barely knows. He's a successful farmer, and even built her a real house. He also dies of a stroke when they get to the farm (convenient!)

Ginny takes advantage of her independence as a widow to break ties with her cousin and take in Nona, the Indian "wife" of her nearest neighbor who has been set aside with their baby after his legal marriage to a white woman. Notice a theme here? This requires lots of lying to the neighbors because a teenage widow living out on a farm with an Indian woman is NOT DONE. Together they make it through the winter and into the courting season, as the gentlemen show up to court Ginny and are equally interested in her body and her land. The book peters out about halfway through the winter, and wraps up quickly in a perfunctory manner, but eh. What else can you do stuck out on a farm in the Oregon Territory?

Quick aside--I sold my copy on this week to someone with a userid that indicates she might be part of the Quiverfull movement, and I just found it funny as I am one of those secular feminist types with an interest in women's issues spurred in part by this book and well, it just takes all kinds, let's say.

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