Wideacre, Philippa Gregory, 1987

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Wideacre is a dark, twisted and uncompromising tale of grand estate life back in 18th century Sussex, England. The debut novel by Philippa Gregory, acclaimed British writer of historical fiction and non-fiction, was first published 30 years ago and has since become sort of cult favorite among literary fans, there has also been lingering rumors and demand for a movie version throughout the years.

Wideacre is a fictional mansion in the English countryside that includes a vast area of land, green fields, forests, meadows and a village called Acre where everyone lives as tenants of Sir Harold Lacey, the lord of Wideacre. The heroine of the book, if you can call her such, is Sir Harold’s eldest and only daughter, beautiful and spirited Miss Beatrice Lacey, favoured child of her father who taught her to ride in age of four and throughout the years she grew up to be a brisk outdoors woman and valuable help for her father in matters of farming and forestry.

However, soon enough Beatrice realizes being in a receiving end of destiny’s cruel joke. Despite being first born child and much more worthy and capable heir than her weak younger brother Harry, as a woman she can never inherit and run Wideacre, that is enforced by the law. Beatrice can only expect an arranged marriage somewhere far away from the land she loves so passionately but she decides to defy the law and the destiny.

This sounds like a commendable effort of a woman seeking her lawful rights in a time that would likely have suffragettes hang in public but it is something quite different. For Beatrice, the end justifies any means and I do mean ANY. She stoops into fraud, adultery, being grossly indifferent to people of Acre, murder, accessory to murder and perhaps most notoriously, incest. And she almost wins, however it is a Pyrrhic victory as during the process she has sullied and ruined everything she held dear at first place.

The immense unlikeableness of Beatrice is both the strength and weakness of Widecare, she certainly makes a memorable main character but distracts the reader from enjoying this well written and researched novel because one is too eager to see Beatrice getting her comeuppance. Despite the lurid aspects, I still recommend this to anyone with interest and fondness for English mansions and life in them as Wideacre tells and describes the everyday life and work in mansions and what role these places played in economy and society at the time. This is the first part of a¬†trilogy and I have never read the second and third book, Favoured Child and Meridon¬†but apparently, Beatrice’s wicked witchery proved ongoing.