The Good Wife of Bath is a retelling of a section of Chaucer’s famous work, The Canterbury Tales. Brooks gives the wife of Bath, Eleanor, her own voice as she navigates life as a woman in the 14th century. One component of Chaucer’s tale that I have always loved is being able to hear the stories of real-life people. Often stories from the medieval period focus on only the wealthy and powerful and the life of laypeople are ignored. The Good Wife of Bath picks up with this theme of Chaucer as you follow Eleanor through the many locations, periods, and social standings of her life.
The book begins with Eleanor as a servant in Lady Clarise’s household where, after she is caught in a compromising position with a priest (totally his fault if I am taking sides), she is married off to her first husband Fulk Bigod. It is with Fulk that Eleanor grows into a woman. She is twelve when she is first married, so she has much to learn about caring for a household and being a wife. It is also with Fulk where Eleanor meets her longtime best-friend/stepdaughter/Godsib, Alyson and her new cousin Geoffrey Chaucer. Eleanor uses her wits to expand her husband’s business and improve the lives of everyone around her.
Eleanor’s tale continues…through four more husbands. At each husband and bend in her story, Eleanor becomes a stronger woman and learns how to exert her power during a time when women had such little rights or authority of any kind. I loved seeing the progression of Eleanor and how she was able to continuously press boundaries to earn her own standing in society and make the lives better for all of those in her service. Brooks gave such a realistic account of 14th century England that you could feel the environment of the characters and feel fully immersed in their stories. The book was a little long (and there were some husbands that I wish had died a little sooner), but the writing was very easy to read. Great medieval historical fiction from a woman’s perspective!
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