Never has a book inspired so much emotional feeling and admiration for basic human determination. I know this sounds a bit exaggerated, but it's true. A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford is one of those rare books that holds a person completely spellbound, and utterly amazed. To be honest, it inspired a great deal in me. While this book is fiction, the premise is very real and quite possible. A young girl rises from the ashes of poverty and becomes one of the richest and most powerful businesswomen in the world. All of the people who took advantage of her, or abused her as a child, are paid back with all the cold vengeance that Emma possessed as she grew more powerful. Bradford's writing is exceptional and follows the twists and turns of her character, Emma Harte, with fascinating detail. If you are a woman especially, this book makes you feel that anything is possible. You can be as low as you can possibly be at some point in your life, but there is a way out, and you can realize your dreams.
A Woman of Substance is a perfect example of personal courage, determination, ambition and success. You won't want this book to end, even when it does. The only consolation is the anticipation of reading the two sequels already published, Hold the Dream and To Be the Best.
"A Woman of Substance" - The Story:
Emma Harte was born in poverty in Yorkshire, England. As she enters her teens, she is a maid at Fairley House, the home of the local gentry. Emma's mother, Elizabeth, has been deathly ill and unable to leave her bed for some years. However, every week Emma must leave her and return to the manor where she works. Her toil there is extremely grueling and inhuman, and he is abused by not only the "butler" Murgatoyd, but members of the Fairley family as well. Emma serves the lady of the house, Adele Fairley, who is mentally unbalanced, but she strikes up a friendship with Edwin, her son. She also makes a lifelong friend in Blackie O'Neill, another hired worker at the manor.
Emma's relationship with Edwin blooms as a first love for both of them, but when Emma becomes pregnant, Edwin acts the cad and makes it clear he cannot marry her. This turns Emma cold, and she is determined to get away from Fairley and begin her life anew. Having painstakingly saved money from her work (and extra chores sewing in the manor), Emma embarks on her plan with a capital "P." She travels to Leeds and decides to find work there and have her baby, fabricating a husband in the Navy. Blackie O'Neill helps her, but after the birth of her daughter, Edwina, Emma Harte starts her quest for financial independence and holds onto her hateful grudge against the Fairley's. She wants them to suffer for what Edwin Fairley has done to her, and she doesn't care if this takes years to accomplish.
Emma begins with one food shop, which soon sprouts into two, three and four shops. She marries two men she does not love (Joe Lowther and Arthur Ainsley), mainly to achieve their protection, as well as their names. When Emma falls in love with the already-married Paul McGill, she is beyond even caring about propriety with her alcoholic husband, Ainsley. However, Emma would go on to have many happy years with Paul McGill before his tragic ending.
Through all the personal pitfalls and setbacks, Emma never loses faith in herself and her dreams. She does revenge herself on the Fairley's by finally taking over everything they have owned, including the manor house she had toiled in as a young girl. Satisfied that she has ruined the family she has hated for so many years, Emma feels as if she has at last forced this miserable family into the same depths of despair they had caused her so long ago.
One of my favorite parts of this book is the part when Edwin Fairley comes to Emma's London department store - many years after he had rejected her and their child - and he is almost glad that she has become the success she has. It's as if the guilt had been eating away at him all along, and he knew Emma would be the only woman he would ever truly love. Below are a few short excerpts:
Edwin Fairley loitered outside Harte's department store, gazing into one of the windows, trying to summon up enough courage to go inside. It was always like this when he arrived on the doorstep. His nerve inevitably failed him for ten minutes or so, and sometimes altogether.
Once inside the store, Edwin finally sees Emma:
And it was then that Edwin saw her.
He had not set eyes on Emma Harte for nine years, but now, to Edwin, it might have only been yesterday that he had held her in his arms in the cave on the moors. He longed to rush over to her, to beg her forgiveness, to ask about their child. He dare not. He knew, with a sickening sense of despair, that she would repudiate him just as surely as he had repudiated her so long ago on that ghastly morning in the rose garden.
A Woman of Substance is rich in detail, dialog and dramatic scenes. You feel as if you are really there with Emma, through every low and high point in her life. Her will and determination to succeed will spurn you on from one chapter to the next, filling you with amazement as you go. Emma Harte's dreams come to fruition, making her the epitome of A Woman of Substance.