Selected by The Times as a History Book of the Year 2017 and The Tablet as a Book of the Year 2017
The voyage of the Mayflower and the founding of Plymouth Colony is one of the seminal events in world history. But the poorly-equipped group of English Puritans who ventured across the Atlantic in the early autumn of 1620 had no sense they would pass into legend. They had eighty casks of butter and two dogs but no cattle for milk, meat, or ploughing. They were ill-prepared for the brutal journey and the new land that few of them could comprehend. But the Mayflower story did not end with these Pilgrims’ arrival on the coast of New England or their first uncertain years as settlers. Rebecca Fraser traces two generations of one ordinary family and their extraordinary response to the challenges of life in America.
Edward Winslow, an apprentice printer born in Worcestershire, fled England and then Holland for a life of religious freedom and opportunity. Despite the intense physical trials of settlement, he found America exotic, enticing, and endlessly interesting. He built a home and a family, and his remarkable friendship with King Massassoit, Chief of the Wampanoags, is part of the legend of Thanksgiving. Yet, fifty years later, Edward’s son Josiah was commanding the New England militias against Massassoit’s son in King Philip’s War.
The Mayflower Generation is an intensely human portrait of the Winslow family written with the pace of an epic. Rebecca Fraser details domestic life in the seventeenth century, the histories of brave and vocal Puritan women and the contradictions between generations as fathers and sons made the painful decisions which determined their future in America.
'If men could see us as we really are, they would be amazed', wrote Charlotte Brontë, the outwardly conventional parson's daughter who had rarely met any men beyond those of the church or classroom by the time Jane Eyre was published in 1847.
From the landscape of the Yorkshire moors, an appalling childhood and a family decimated by consumption, Jane Eyre came as an instant literary sensation. It also brought Charlotte Brontë the notoriety that was to remain with her for the rest of her short and tragic life.
Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte's first biographer, attempted to clear Charlotte of the charges of passionate immorality that were levelled at a woman author - and an unmarried one at that. Rebecca Fraser, 130 years later, placed Charlotte's life within the perceptual framework of contemporary attitudes to women. Her biography is an invaluable contribution to Brontë scholarship, which shares her admiration for a woman prepared to stand out against some of the cruelest Victorian ideas about her sex.
Rebecca Fraser is a writer and broadcaster whose work includes a biography of Charlotte Brontë which examines her life in the context of contemporary attitudes to women. President of the Brontë Society for many years, she wrote the introductions to the Everyman editions of Shirley and The Professor and is a contributor to the BBC History website. Her most recent book, A People’s History of Britain, is a highly readable account of British history. It has been described as ‘an elegantly written, impressively well-informed single-volume history of how England was governed during the past 2000 years.’