Synopses & Reviews
When Henry Oades accepts an accountancy post in New Zealand, his wife, Margaret, and their children follow him to exotic Wellington. But while Henry is an adventurer, Margaret is not. Their new home is rougher and more rustic than they expected—and a single night of tragedy shatters the family when the native Maori stage an uprising, kidnapping Margaret and her children.
For months, Henry scours the surrounding wilderness, until all hope is lost and his wife and children are presumed dead. Grief-stricken, he books passage to California. There he marries Nancy Foreland, a young widow with a new baby, and it seems they’ve both found happiness in the midst of their mourning—until Henry’s first wife and children show up, alive and having finally escaped captivity.
Narrated primarily by the two wives, and based on a real-life legal case, The Wives of Henry Oades is the riveting story of what happens when Henry, Margaret, and Nancy face persecution for bigamy. Exploring the intricacies of marriage, the construction of family, the changing world of the late 1800s, and the strength of two remarkable women, Johanna Moran turns this unusual family’s story into an unforgettable page-turning drama.
"An English accountant and his two wives are the subject of this intriguing and evocative debut novel based on a real-life 19th-century California bigamy case. A loving husband and attentive father, Henry Oades assures his wife, Margaret, that his posting to New Zealand will be temporary and the family makes the difficult journey. But during a Maori uprising, Margaret and her four children are kidnapped and the Oades's house is torched. Convinced his family is dead, Henry relocates to California and marries Nancy, a sad 20-year-old pregnant widow. When Margaret and the children escape, eventually making their way to California and Henry's doorstep, he does the decent thing by being a husband to both wives and father to all their offspring, a situation deemed indecent by the Berkeley Daughters of Decency. Moran presents Henry's story as if making a case in court, facts methodically revealed with just enough detail for the reader to form an independent opinion. But it's Margaret surviving the wilderness, Nancy overcoming grief and the two women bonding that give the book its heart and should make this a book group winner." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Johanna Moran comes from a long line of writers and lawyers. She lives on the west coast of Florida with her husband, John. The Wives of Henry Oades is her first novel.
Reading Group Guide
1. On the voyage to New Zealand, Mrs. Randolph, a fellow passenger, cares for Margaret as she miscarries. Later, when Margaret tries to explain her grief over her new friend’s death to Henry, she thinks, “the small transactions between women, particularly mothers, cannot adequately be explained to a man. Some, like hers with Mrs. Randolph, will bind women for life.” Do you agree with Margaret? Can a strong relationship between women be forged in a matter of hours? With whom have you felt this connection?
2. Why do you think Mr. Oades misidentified Mim Bell as his wife? How could he have made such a grievous error?
3. Margaret refers to the quid pro quo of her faith: “One takes communion every single Sunday for thirty- odd years. One humbles herself, embraces every last dogmatic note, and no good comes of it, no help when one needs it most.” Nancy, too, feels as though she has been cheated. Have people’s expectations of contemporary Christianity changed?
4. Margaret teaches her children lessons every evening: grammar, mathematics, and etiquette. “It was her duty to prepare them for their return. She refused to accept the possibility that they might grow old and die a natural death here. Margaret never once considered setting her children free to be slaves.” She refuses to allow her children to live the life before them, planning, instead, for the life she hopes they will claim. Why does Margaret remain so steadfast during their captivity?
5. Henry finally accepts that his loved ones are dead, and eventually he marries another woman. What is the catalyst for this turning point? Do you agree with his actions?
6. Why do Margaret and the children receive such a chilly welcome when they finally return to the village from the Maori camp?
7. Several matches proposed in this book seem made for convenience: Portia and Henry, Margaret and Captain Fisk of the Sacramento, and even Nancy and Henry, at least in the beginning. Do you agree? If so, why do you think that is?
8. At what point do Margaret and Nancy start to get along? What sparks their friendship?
9. Though it’s a wretched situation for everyone involved, which Mrs. Oades do you think suffers most? With which woman do you most identify?
10. Was there a better solution for Mr. Oades and his non - traditional family? Or did they make the best possible choice? Would there be a better solution today? What would it be?
11. The claims of the Daughters of Decency seem ridiculous to modern ears. Can you think of any recent court battles that might seem as hysteric and unnecessary a century from now?
12. Consider the Maori premonition in the beginning of the book. How does it relate to the story?
13. What, in the end, do you think was the main theme of this book? Were you surprised?