The Bride's Farewell: A Novel [NOOK Book]


A young woman runs away from home and finds love in the most unexpected place

In Meg Rosoff's fourth novel, a young woman in 1850s rural England runs away from home on horseback the day she's to marry her childhood sweetheart. Pell is from a poor preacher's family and she's watched her mother suffer for years under the burden of caring for an ever-increasing number of ...
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The Bride's Farewell: A Novel

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A young woman runs away from home and finds love in the most unexpected place

In Meg Rosoff's fourth novel, a young woman in 1850s rural England runs away from home on horseback the day she's to marry her childhood sweetheart. Pell is from a poor preacher's family and she's watched her mother suffer for years under the burden of caring for an ever-increasing number of children. Pell yearns to escape the inevitable repetition of such a life.

She understands horses better than people and sets off for Salisbury Fair, where horse trading takes place, in the hope of finding work and buying herself some time. But as she rides farther away from home, Pell's feelings for her parents, her siblings, and her fiancé surprise her with their strength and alter the course of her travels. And her journey leads her to find love where she least expects it.

Rosoff's magical voice and her novel's ethereal setting will thrill her passionate longtime fans and garner her new ones.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Pell Ridley is the adventurous heroine in this serviceably told tale, the fourth novel for London-based Rosoff, who has written successfully for the YA market. On her wedding day, Pell leaves town on her faithful horse, Jack, grudgingly bringing along her mute younger brother, Bean. Pell shirks expectations and jilts her childhood beau, Birdie, with an oddly modern defiance of 1850s England convention. No matter that Birdie seems a nice enough man, unlike her abusive preacher father-Pell is stubborn in her desire to flee the domestic life in Nomansland that mires her mother in a sea of children and overwork. Pell arrives at the Salisbury horse fair and her adventures begin. She is separated from Bean and her horse but meets a poacher she dubs Dogman (he travels with a pack of dogs) and together they wander the countryside living on bread crusts and flickering hope. Pell's love and knowledge of horses factors largely in her fight for survival, but it's human love-romantic and familial-that drives plucky Pell and leads us to this simple but satisfying story's happy if unsurprising conclusion. (Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School—In rural 1850s England, a horse-mad young woman flees home on her wedding day. Fearful that her fiancé's promise of "a house full of children" will translate into a future of drudgery, Pell plans to visit the Salisbury Horse Fair. Her mute little brother insists on accompanying her, but when he and her horse disappear at the fair—along with the man for whom she's spent the day working and who still owes her money—Pell's vision of her future is drastically altered. The twists and turns along her new path bring her into contact with a wide variety of people, from the Gypsy family that helps her on her way to Dogman, to a taciturn poacher who becomes her savior. Rosoff's simple yet descriptive language paints a clear picture of a world both bleak and beautiful. Like the setting, the characters are many faceted. Nobody, including Pell, is entirely good or evil. Readers will appreciate her journey, both the external search for her brother and a place in the world for herself, and the internal pursuit of balance between familial responsibilities and personal satisfaction. Teens will relate to Pell's internal conflict and refusal to settle onto the path life seems intent to force upon her. Rosoff's first adult title is as finally crafted as her Printz Award-winning How I Live Now (Random, 2004).—Karen E. Brooks-Reese, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, PA
Kirkus Reviews
Two social outcasts find each other against a background of harsh social circumstances in a sorrowful tale from Carnegie Medal winner Rosoff (What I Was, 2008, etc.). There's a flavor of Thomas Hardy to the British novelist's story of survival and suffering in mid-19th-century southern England. Rosoff, author of several books for children and young adults, plunges readers straight into the story of Pell Ridley, whose impoverished family is dominated by her alcoholic, violent father. Accompanied by her mute stepbrother Bean, both of them riding on her horse Jack, Pell is fleeing the prospect of a loveless marriage to the simple-hearted boy next door. She has a gift for horses and wants better for herself. At Salisbury Fair, a horse-buyer, assisted by a poacher, offers cash in exchange for Pell's advice, but in the process she loses Bean, Jack and the money. Nevertheless, alone and on the road, Pell remains indefatigable and fortunate. A gypsy named Esther and her family offer advice, sustenance and a dog. Eventually Pell finds the poacher, a man of few words, who becomes her lover. Later she learns her parents have been killed in a fire; she must rescue her sisters from the workhouse. There's a blissful period while Pell works as a groom, but she can't rest until she finds both Bean and Jack. Fragmented and overloaded with coincidences, but emotionally engaging, treading the line between YA and adult fiction.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101105405
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/6/2009
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 854,483
  • File size: 221 KB

Meet the Author

Meg Rosoff was born in Boston, USA. She has worked in publishing, public relations and most recently advertising, but thinks the best job in the world would be head gardener for Regents Park. Meg lives in Highbury, North London. She is the author of Just in Case, What I Was and How I Live Now.
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Read an Excerpt


On the morning of August the twelfth, eighteen hundred and fifty something, on the day she was to be married, Pell Ridley crept up from her bed in the dark, kissed her sisters goodbye, fetched Jack in from the wind and rain on the heath, and told him they were leaving. Not that he was likely to offer any objections, being a horse.

There wasn’t much to take. Bread and cheese and a bottle of ale, a clean apron, a rope for Jack, and a book belonging to Mam with pictures of birds drawn in soft pencil, which no one ever looked at but her.

The dress in which she was to be married she left untouched, spread over a dusty chair. Then she felt carefully inside the best teapot for the coins put away for her dowry, slipped the rope around Jack’s neck and turned to go.

Head down, squinting into the rain, she stopped short at the sight of a ghostly figure in the path. It had as little substance as a moth, but its eyes burned a hole in the dark.

“Go back to bed, Bean.”

It didn’t budge.

She sighed, noticing how the pale oval of a face remained stubbornly set.

“Please, Bean. Go home.” Oh God, she thought, no. But it was no use appealing to God about something already decided.

Without waiting to be invited, the boy scrambled up onto Jack, and with no other option she pulled herself up behind him, feeling the warmth of his thin body against her own. And so it was, with a resigned chirrup to Jack and no tear in her eye, that they set off down the hill, heading north, which at that moment appeared to be the exact direction in which lay the rest of the world.

“I’m sorry,Birdie,” whispered the girl, with a final thought for the husband that should have been. Perhaps at the last minute he would find another bride. Perhaps he would marry Lou. Anyone will do, she thought. As long as it isn’t me.
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Reading Group Guide

On the day of her wedding, a young woman slips out of bed and runs away with only her beloved horse and mute brother for company. Fortified by her resolve not to marry—an unlikely decision in rural England in the 1850s—Pell forges her way across the Salisbury Plain, facing prejudice and poverty.

An outcast by choice, Pell has watched her mother raise a brood of children and grow “worn and shapeless” in the process. Observing the unchanging monotony, unending hopelessness, and grinding disappointment, Pell knows she must escape the prospect of “toil and hardship and a clamor of mouths to feed.” She leaves behind an alcoholic father, her sisters, and her fiancé, Birdie, a young man who loves Pell’s spirit as much as her ability to shoe a horse and birth a foal.

Together with Bean, her frail, mute brother, Pell rides her horse, Jack, to the Salisbury Fair, an annual horse-trading event. She hopes to find work but instead she meets a cast of characters, many of whom will heed or hinder her travels. There is Esther, a gypsy with five children whose generosity and kindness belie the prejudices Pell has been taught from her childhood; Harris, a shifty horse trader who strikes a bargain with Pell, only to cheat her; and Dogman, who fascinates her with his glittering eyes and his two shaggy deerhounds who never leave his side.

When Bean and Jack go missing, Pell sets out to find them. She journeys alone across the Salisbury Plain, working itinerant jobs, and is regarded with suspicion by most people she encounters. When she comes across Dogman again, Pell settles into his life for a while, threading her routine around his nocturnal poaching schedule. But the pull to find Bean consumes Pell, and eventually she leaves the comfort of Dogman’s home to continue her search. While Pell begins to lose hope, Bean is in fact still alive, though hungry, neglected, and struggling to survive in a workhouse. The grim conditions he faces offer a glimpse into the bleak lives of the period’s destitute citizens who had no choice but to endure squalor and cruelty.

Eventually, Pell finds her way back to the home that she had rejected. Expecting a hero’s welcome, she is shocked by what she discovers and is forced to face the consequences of her own actions. Throughout the book, Pell feels burdened by the responsibilities of love and attachment. Yet, in the end, it is this love and attachment to her family that pulls Pell forward throughout all her travails until she is able to create happiness for herself.


Meg Rosoff is the author of the internationally bestselling novel How I Live Now, as well as Just in Case, which won the Carnegie Medal, and What I Was. She lives in London, England.

Q. In many ways, this is a book about outcasts. Bean, Dogman, and Pell all make their way through the world alone, whether by choice or circumstance. What attracted you to their itinerant stories?

Aren’t all writers interested in outcasts? In The Bride’s Farewell, Pell rejects the life she has inherited and sets out in search of something better. It’s the start of her journey to find a more suitable fit in the world, a life that accommodates her particular gifts and desires. Of course there’s a reason that the journey is such a classic literary form—it comes with a beginning, middle, and end; it usually starts with a crisis, and if you’re lucky, you get some sort of hopeful resolution at the end. And, of course, it mirrors the psychological journey of growing up, leaving home, establishing an independent identity. To say that I identify with Pell’s journey may be stating the obvious. I think most people struggle over a matter of years to find a satisfying way to live.

Q. What inspired you about the Salisbury Plain in the 1850s? How did the setting and time period affect the development of the main characters and their stories?

During the industrial revolution in England the vast majority of the population shifted from rural (in 1800) to urban (in 1900). One of the images that this shift suggests is a countryside marked by abandoned and empty buildings, generations of rural families and communities broken apart as villagers headed to the cities for factory jobs. This economic and social mobility caused a huge upset in family life and traditional gender roles. Maverick Victorian women are well known as explorers and writers, but they mainly came from the comfortable middle classes. For a semi-educated girl like Pell, life as a farmer’s wife would have been stifling, but there wasn’t much in the way of an acceptable alternative. So she would have been left to forge her own path in life, with very little encouragement (and quite a lot of suspicion) from society.

For any Thomas Hardy fans, Salisbury Plain will ring bells as the setting for Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Tess’s miserable short life always depressed me greatly. I thought I needed to offer a better ending for an intelligent, independent girl.

Q. Many of your novels feature teenage protagonists around the same age as Pell. Yet, in the 1850s, Pell would have been considered an adult. While writing this book, did you think of her more as an adult or teen? How did you balance your modern perceptions of age and maturity with those of the period?

Pell would certainly have been considered a young woman rather than a child. By the time a girl looked like a woman (certainly by fifteen or so), she would have been marriageable, and she would have been expected to contribute to the financial well-being of the family from a much earlier age. Exploring the transition from childhood to adulthood applies as much to Pell as to any of my earlier teen characters, as Pell would have been grappling with all the same issues—love, work, independence, identity, family—albeit with a good deal less financial and social freedom.

Q. Pell’s love of horses is evident and her knowledge of them encyclopedic. Was her passion inspired by your own?

I’m afraid so. I loved horses and horse books as a child. Horses were the only part of the novel I didn’t need to research, having my own built-in encyclopedic knowledge. I have a comparable knowledge of dogs and dog breeds from the reading I did as a frustrated suburban child desperate for a large white horse and a dog or two. Writing this book inspired me to start riding again after a thirty-five year break, and the passion has returned. I spend far too much time on horseback these days—and have discovered a whole secret society of horsey writers (besides Jane Smiley).

Q. The female struggle for equality is present throughout the book, though it is not labeled as feminism. And certainly supporters of the 1850s women’s movement were more widespread among the wealthy. Why was it important for you to examine the unspoken feelings of repression and dissatisfaction among working class women of the period? In your opinion, what similar challenges—if any—are faced by women today?

Men dominated rural life in the nineteenth century. Sons were preferred over daughters, women rarely owned land or ran businesses, they were paid far less for the grueling domestic work they did, and they were vulnerable (along with their children) to economic ruin if a father or husband became ill or died. An intelligent girl with brothers (who would inherit the family farm) would have no choice but to marry as well as possible from a very limited range of local suitors and make the best of a life of hard work and difficult childbearing. To reject this life would have required great strength of character and a good deal of desperation. I suspect strong character and desperation have been prime motivators of maverick women throughout history.

I’d like to think life has improved since 1850, despite the long hours we all seem to spend slaving over hot computers, but the psychological journeys remain the same—the search for love, identity, a meaningful place in the world.

Q. The concept of luck appears several times throughout the book. In the end, Pell decides she is “finished with luck.” Do you believe our lives can be influenced by good or bad luck?

Every life is hugely influenced by luck—over which we have limited influence (you have to be lucky enough not to be struck by lightning, but can’t go through life avoiding the sort of place it might strike). Fate is different—the individual’s power to change his or her fate is where things get really interesting. Whether it’s for the better or worse, you change your fate every time you choose a different path in life or do something unexpected, brave, or absurd. It doesn’t always work out the way you might have hoped, but at least the story changes.

Q. Did you know how the novel would end while writing it? Were you certain that Pell would find contentment with Dogman?

I definitely set out to give Pell a better future than Tess had, but I have a bit of trouble with happily-ever-after. A little ambiguity seems to be the happy medium. Does Pell find contentment with Dogman? I’d like to think she does. When my husband read the book, he wasn’t so sure.

Q. This is your fourth book, but your first historical novel. Was it more or less challenging writing a book set in the past?

Writing this one didn’t feel any different. I had to do a bit more reading and research, but that’s the price you pay if you don’t want your characters to be text messaging each other all the time.

Q. Many of the book’s details—such as the Ridley’s sod house, or Pell sleeping in the hollow, fire-warmed walls of a kitchen garden—are so vivid. How did you research the period?

Although I’ve lived in England for more than twenty years, I still have a foreigner’s passion for all the details of English history and rural life. Every time I visit a Georgian country house or walk through a Victorian village, the historical details are all still there—the walled gardens and thatched cottages, old barns, little houses that are three hundred years old, even the trees and the wild flowers. Very little of this living history is self-consciously preserved. It all exists more or less as it always has, so all you have to do is to keep your eyes open. And read lots of Dickens, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy of course.


  • Pell shrinks from the burdens of attachment. Whether Bean, her family, Dogman, John Kirby, or Birdie, she feels the responsibilities of love clawing at her heart. How do you feel about her perceptions of love?
  • Until the 19th century, Salisbury Plain was one of the wealthiest regions of England thanks to its wool and cloth industry. But during the 1850s, it suffered a steep decline, eventually becoming one of the poorest areas in the country. How does this setting affect the story?
  • Early on, Pell declares, “I will never ever marry,” and she remains steadfast to this decision throughout the book. Why is she against marriage? Could a young woman today share her reasons? Why or why not?
  • Many of the characters have unusual names, but Dogman is the only one without a real moniker—we know him only by the name that Pell gives him. Why do you think the author made this decision? What do the names of people and places signify in the book?
  • Pell, Dogman, Esther, and her family all choose to buck societal expectations, yet to our modern eyes their choices don’t seem shocking. What does it mean to be an “outcast” in the 21st century?
  • What role do social class and hierarchy play in the book?
  • Early in the book, Pell thinks about “everything she loved and longed to escape” before making the decision to leave her home, family, and fiancé. Do you admire her decision? What would her life have been like if she had stayed?
  • Does Pell have a greater connection with horses than with people? How does her affinity for animals affect her relationships with humans?
  • Why do you think the author decided to make Bean mute? How do you think his experiences in the workhouse affect his ultimate decision to stay with Esmé?
  • What qualities do Pell and Dogman share? Why are they drawn to one another?
  • Were you surprised by Esther’s connection to Pell’s father? To Bean? Do you think Esther’s decision to start the fire was merited? How do you think Pell would react to the truth about the fire?
  • Pell manages to escape “the grinding disappointment, the drudgery, the changelessness” of life in Nomansland. But her path forward is very rocky. Does she ultimately find a better existence?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2009


    This book was like a rainy, gloomy day with no sunshine in sight. Every page was more depressing than the page before.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 27, 2012

    more from this reviewer


    Strong-willed and more knowledgeable than most everyone when it comes to horses, Pell Ridley cannot reconcile herself to the stifling life of a married woman--not after seeing the endless monotony of poverty, child birth, and death played out in her own parents' household. Desperate for something more, Pell does the only thing she can. She leaves.

    Meg Rosoff's The Bride's Farewell (2009) starts on August twelfth, eighteen hundred and fifty something, the day Pell is to be married. She gets out of bed, kisses her sisters goodbye and goes outside to tell her horse, Jack, that they are leaving in the hopes of finding work at Salisbury Fair with one of the numerous horse merchants.

    The sudden decision of a young boy named Bean to accompany her does not change Pell's resolve though it will dramatically change her journey and force her to reconsider everything she thought she was running from.

    I really hated Rosoff's earlier novel How I Live Now and still don't entirely understand how it won the Printz Award in 2005 when, to me, it barely felt like a YA novel. I picked up The Bride's Farewell because the plot and the time period intrigued me. While I was surprised to find this novel not being marketed as a Young Adult title (it seems more YA than How I Live Now frankly), I am happy to say I was not disappointed.

    Short chapters tell the story of Pell's present departure as well as the story of Pell's past that led to her momentous decision. Rosoff's writing is sparse and somewhat utilitarian, a fitting style for a book set at a time when England was still reeling from the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution.

    Equally fitting to the period, perhaps, is the fact that parts of this novel are bleak and miserable to the point of being excessive. Except that, for real people of the time, such events often comprised everyday life. Without saying too much, the ending made such parts bearable.

    Pell spends much of the book wandering the English countryside at a time when communication and transportation between towns were minimal. Rosoff conveys this haunting sense of vastness and space with surprising vividness.

    The Bride's Farewell is intricately structured with characters and events intertwining in unexpected ways. As a result the book is filled with surprising twists that, by its conclusion, make perfect sense as parts of the whole.

    Possible Pairings: Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Hard Times by Charles Dickens

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