Title: Wild Romance
Author: Chloe Schama
No. of Pages: 249
First Released: 2010
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “What started as a friendly conversation between a young girl, Theresa Longworth, and an army officer, William Charles Yelverton, on a steamer bound from France to England in 1852 would culminate nearly a decade later in one of the biggest public scandals the era had witnessed, with enormous implications for society at large. Seized upon by the Victorian press, the trials to legitimize Longworth’s marriage to Yelverton before the law courts of Ireland, Scotland, and England brought to the fore several of the most disconcerting matters in the Victorian era: the inadequacies of female education, prejudice against single women, and problems with marriage law.
When Theresa Yelverton emerged victorious from her legal battles, she was paraded through Dublin’s streets like a queen. Her victory, though, was short-lived, as she learned that life as a single woman?even the life of a well-known writer and traveler, as she became?would always be hard. Theresa Yelverton became an unwitting harbinger of the turmoil of her era and evoked timeless fears and fascinations: the fantasy of romance, the grip of obsession, the plight of unrequited love, the fear of abandonment. Chloe Schama brilliantly recaptures an ordinary woman caught up in an extraordinary affair, catapulted into fame and notoriety, forcing her society to confront some of its most unsettling issues.”
Comments and Critique: This is such a difficult book to review; through the use of personal letters, newspaper articles, and court documents, Wild Romance has the feel of a memoir. However, Ms. Schama’s use of Theresa’s experiences also makes Wild Romance a social commentary. A reader feels this dual nature of the book via his or her feelings towards Theresa and Yelverton. Theresa comes across as needy, clingy, conceited and very self-absorbed, while Yelverton appears as a cold-hearted womanizer. Yet, while neither is the most likable of characters, the reader remains sympathetic to their individual plights. Yelverton was put into a situation by Theresa that was completely out of his control, while Theresa was born into her situation solely by being a female with more modern thoughts and opinions. Neither one is completely innocent, yet no one is completely guilty for their individual fates and notoriety their court dramas caused.
Ms. Schama, through Theresa’s experiences after the trials, showcases her arguments about marriage and women’s rights during the Victorian era. Many of these arguments and social values are no longer popular in the western world, thank goodness. However, Theresa’s fate was more common than the newspapers might have one believe. Marriage was the end goal for females, and any female who felt otherwise was shunned and ridiculed while scandalizing society.. Theresa, with her unique background and modern viewpoints, had to carve her niche in the world using whatever means she could find. Ms. Schama capitalizes on Theresa’s articles and personal letters to show the struggle Theresa faced to remain independent during a time when unmarried women had very few options and when married women had absolutely no options.
Overall, Wild Romance is well-researched and easy to read. The story itself is compelling and reads like a modern-day soap opera, complete with lust, adultery, and scandal. Given the popularity of the scandal, it is surprising that Theresa and Yelverton’s story is not more well-known today, especially as Theresa’s plight paved the way for marriage law reforms and feminism. Ms. Schama does a great job of exposing this drama to modern readers and makes for a great debut. I recommend this to history lovers and feminists to get a glimpse of what Victorian era women had to overcome.
I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Readers program. Thank you to Bloomsbury USA for the review copy!