THE SPOILS OF EDEN by Robert H. Fowler


Email this review


An even-handed, muscular historical novel about sugar-plantation life in 17th century Barbados--focusing, like Fowler's Jason McGee (1979), on the tragic consequences of ethnic hatreds. Lively, educated Charlotte Faxley, though locally and suitably engaged, is handily seduced by Royalist houseguest Richard Bolton--former indentured servant on a Roundhead's Barbados plantation, now (thanks to the Restoration) owner of his own plantation. Charlotte and Richard wed, departing for Barbados; during the voyage she befriends a father-son pair of Quakers (they're being ""Barbadosed"" for sedition); she meets Dr. David Higgan-botham, who agrees to help the younger Quaker. And, once arrived, Charlotte adjusts to English-planter society--learning about the complex sugar-cane industry (with its absolute dependence on slave labor), suppressing her reactions against the slave traffic. (After all, Richard is ""just"" in his slave-handling, keeping flogging to a minimum despite the overseer's protests.) True, there are shocks ahead: the knowledge that the slave housekeeper was once Richard's mistress; the call for Richard to join two military expeditions against the Dutch (wily Charlotte prevents Richard's departure through secret negotiations); and Richard's accelerating ambition--which takes him to London to campaign for the governorship. But Charlotte, still in love, becomes more or less at ease with the fact of slavery, even treating her maid as callously as Richard treats his former mistress. Then, however, comes a slave uprising--followed by the death of proud black men in a terrible orgy of sadistic executions. And Charlotte, witness to this horror, is propelled into sour disillusionment and frenzied adultery. . . with a finale that includes a hurricane, widowhood, and an idealistic new beginning. Stolid and predictable, but able and active: a firmly researched, decent-hearted historical, giving equal attention to the oppressed and the oppressors.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1985
Publisher: Dodd, Mead