The escapades of Tribulation Johnson by Karen Brooks

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Set in 17th century London, Karen Brooks’ latest novel vividly brings to life an era when women were chattels, their intelligence derided, and their best future prospect was to secure an advantageous marriage. Tribulation Johnson, however, manages to escape a hideous marriage proposal and is sent to stay with a cousin, a woman, who turns out to be an infamous writer of plays and tracts. And so Tribulation enters the sphere of Aphra Behn, an independent woman, who makes her living from her writings, an actual historical figure, who rightly should be credited with writing the first novel in English.

Tribulation enters the world of the theatre, at a time when women had just taken to the stage, though at cost to their personal reputations. It is a lusty bawdy world, and women have to manoeuvre the unwelcome attentions of both lords and drunkards. The streets of London are dark, full of stench and filth. Yet Tribulation relishes her freedom and the opportunity to learn from Aphra, her kind and caring mentor.

The subtitle ‘A woman writes back’ succinctly presents the main theme of the novel: women taking up the pen, and asserting their opinion, and themselves, in a way they hadn’t been able to before. Following Tribulation’s ‘escapades’ makes for an exciting ride: there are a number of mysteries to resolve, including a dark handsome stranger with his own secrets. Although the novel is long, at over 500 pages, the story rips along, with short chapters titled ‘scenes’ within the main Acts, making for the kind of book that is hard to put down. This is historical fiction at its best.

Themes: Historical fiction, Women, Writers, Theatre, Political intrigue.