The Widow's War

The Widow's War

by Sally Cabot Gunning

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060791582
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/30/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 189,923
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Sally Gunning lives on Cape Cod with her husband.

Read an Excerpt

The Widow's War
A Novel

Chapter One

January 2, 1761

Lyddie Berry heard the clatter of the geese and knew something was coming—Cousin Betsey, Grandson Nate, another wolf, or, knowing those fool birds, a good gust of wind—but when she heard the door snap hard against the clapboards she discounted all four of them; she whirled with the wind already in her skirts to see the Indian, Sam Cowett, just ducking beneath the lintel. He had the height and width to crowd a room, and the black eyes—what was it about a pair of eyes you couldn't see through? She took a step back and was sorry she'd done it, but he'd not have noticed; already he'd looked past her, calling into the empty doorway behind, "Blackfish in the bay!" The words had been known to clear every man out of town meeting, so Lyddie wasn't surprised to hear the instant echo of Edward's boots or see the great sweep of arm that took up his coat and cap along with his breakfast. The bread went to pocket and the beer to mouth; he set back the mug and smiled at her; never mind it was a smile full of whales, not wife—she answered it, or would have if he'd stayed to see it—he was gone before her skirts had settled.

Lyddie ate her bread and drained her beer and stepped into her day, scouring down the pewter, building up the fire for the wash, shaving the soap into the kettle. At the first trip to the well she looked up at the trees and noted the wind, coming up brisk but constant in direction; by the fourth trip it had turned fickle, angling in first from the north, then the east, then the west, sometimes in a great gust and sometimes in a whisper. She went back inside andpounded out the shirts and shifts, tossing them into the pot to boil, all the while listening to the wind. She descended the ladder into the cellar to fetch the vegetables for the stew, and even there in the hollow dark she caught the echo; she climbed out and chopped turnips and listened, put the salt fish to soak and listened, trimmed and set the candles and listened, smoothed the bed feathers and listened. Once she'd hung the stew pot, poked the fire, and stirred up the clothes, she grabbed her cloak and cap off the peg and went out.

The winter had begun mild, and the ruts were deep and soft in the landing road; Lyddie was muddied to the tops of her boots by the time she took the rise at Robbin's hill and saw the ash-colored bay spotted all over with boats and foam. She leaned into the wind and soon had a clear view of the beach, blackened as far as her eye could see, by the whales, driven ashore by the men's oars beating against the water. It was a rich sight and one not seen in the bay for some years; Lyddie stood on the bluff wrapped tight in her cloak and gloried in the view, but she made no peace with the wind. It worried her around the ears, it heeled over the boats and slapped them back; it herded the waves far up the beach and left them to die among the whales. She looked for Edward's whaleboat, but they all looked the same, although she thought she picked out the great shape of the Indian. At length she gave up and let the wind push and pull her home.

On her return she put out her midday dinner of the stew and bread and beer. They'd finished the old loaf at breakfast, and she set out the new one with her usual satisfaction at the symmetry of its shape, the tight seal of the crust blocking out the petrifying air. She had only one moment of unease, that she should waste a fresh cut into a new loaf without Edward home to share, but the minute she'd heard the word blackfish she'd expected to take the midday meal alone, and it didn't trouble her long, wouldn't have troubled her, if it weren't for that wind. She hastened through the meal and put away the remains, wrapping the bread in the cloth with care. She washed her plate, hung the clothes in front of the fire, swept up the pieces of bark and dried leaves and pine needles that trailed everywhere on the heels of the firewood, scoured the floor with sand, watched the darkness lie down, and listened to the wind.

When was it that the sense of trouble grew to fear, the fear to certainty? When she sat down to another solitary supper of bread and beer and pickled cucumber? When she heard the second sounding of the geese? Or had she known that morning when she stepped outside and felt the wind? Might as well say she knew it when Edward took his first whaling trip to the Canada River, or when they married, or when, as a young girl, she stood on the beach and watched Edward bring about his father's boat in the Point of Rock channel. Whatever its begetting, when Edward's cousin Shubael Hopkins and his wife, Betsey, came through the door, they brought her no new grief, but an old acquaintance.

Shubael spoke. Lyddie heard that Edward's boat had gone over, that the four men with him had been fished out alive, that they had searched till dark but had found no sign of Edward; after that Lyddie heard nothing until she realized there was nothing to hear, that the three of them now stood in silence, that the candle had lost an inch of height.

She looked at Shubael. His coat was crusted with salt, his hair glued dark and wet below his cap.

"You were near when it happened?"

He dropped his eyes, shook his head. " 'Twas Sam Cowett got there first. He recovered them. All but—"

The Widow's War
A Novel
. Copyright © by Sally Gunning. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Reading Group Guide

When was it that the sense of trouble grew to fear, the fear to certainty? When she sat down to another solitary supper of bread and beer and pickled cucumber? When she heard the second sounding of the geese? Or had she known that morning when she stepped outside and felt the wind? Might as well say she knew it when Edward took his first whaling trip to the Canada River . . . .

When Lyddie Berry's husband is lost in a whaling disaster she finds that her status as a widow is vastly changed from that of respectable married woman. She is now classified as the dependent of her nearest male relative—a ruthless son-in-law—who sets out to strip her of everything she and her husband worked for. Refusing to bow to societal and legal pressures brought to bear on her, Lyddie finds that defying one rule emboldens her to defy another . . . and another. Ultimately outcast from family, friends, and neighbors, Lyddie discovers a deeper sense of self and, unexpectedly, one compassionate, enlightened man who will stand beside her.

Evocative and assured, The Widow's War is a stunning work of literary magic, a spellbinding tale from a gifted writer.

Questions for Discussion

• Lyddie Berry, a woman very much of her time, ends up making a series of choices that put her at odds with the social, legal, and religious strictures of her time. What external and internal events cause this transformation? Do you think other women of this time, facing the same series of events, would have evolved in this same way? If not, what characteristics make Lyddie unique to her situation?


• Are there other options that Lyddie ignores which might have peacefully achieved her goal of controlling her own destiny? If so, why do you think Lyddie ignores them?


• What factors draw Lyddie Berry and Sam Cowett into their relationship? What factors cause them to back away? What parallels or contrasts do you see in the relationship between Lyddie and Eben Freeman?


• Considering the time in which she lives, do you believe a long term relationship with Sam Cowett is a viable option for Lyddie? Does the relationship serve only as a source of physical comfort as Lyddie initially implies?


• At one point Lyddie Berry blames Sam Cowett for alienating her from her religion. How fair is this a statement?


• Considering the time in which he lives, do you believe Eben Freeman is forward thinking in regard to women?


• What factors shape Lyddie's relationship with her daughter? How might they have acted to better protect the mother/daughter bond? Why don't they?


• Sam Cowett claims that of the two Clarke brothers, Silas is the greater menace. Do you agree? Do you find any redeeming features in either brother?


• Considering the methods of travel and communication in 1761, how do limited access and long delays affect the characters and events in this novel?


• What is the actual significance of the Berry house in Lyddie's life? If the house had burned to the ground in the fire, do you think Lyddie would have been better able to accept living in her son-in-law's home?


• If you were Lyddie Berry, what options would you have considered and which would you have rejected in order to make your way? Has Lyddie fully explored all her options? If not, why not?


• Compare the political philosophies of Eben Freeman and James Otis. Who is the greater idealist? Is Lyddie an idealist or a realist?


• If you were alive in 1761 America, how would you have responded to the ideas of James Otis? How do you imagine today's politicians would have responded to them?


• How would you explain Lyddie's attitude toward Mercy Otis Warren and her accomplishments? How does her attitude define her times?

Customer Reviews

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The Widow's War 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 250 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sally Gunning's The Widow's War places the reader in an historical time that we all think we know about, (18th Century New England - specifically, Cape Cod), since so many of us had years of American History in school and had possibly visted myriad historical sites with classmates and/or family. This novel, however, brings an intimacy with the times, which may have been lacking in history classes, that not only makes the time period live, but makes the characters interesting and worthy of our compassion. It is not a 'Woman's' book. At a recent meeting of my book club, we were fortunate to have Sally Gunning as a guest who shared much of her detailed research, historical models for her characters, and why she turned from writing mysteries to penning an historical novel. She mentioned that men who had read the book were clear that they felt it was not a feminine read. It is for anyone who enjoys an engaging story steeped in historical fact. The characters, the place (Brewster, Cape Cod, Massachusetts), 18th Century mores, and the smells and textures of a community that depended on whaling, are drawn so vividly that details are immediately turned into pictures in the reader's mind. Lyddie, the main character, is like no other 18th century woman that I've ever read about--she is so real and vibrant. The dialogue is rich and the vocabulary full of 18th century meanings. But you won't need a glossary of terms. You'll learn, for example, what a 'necessary' was in those days. The relationship between Native Americans and colonists, the role of law in the society, and a strong hint of the burgeoning idea of freedom from England in the person of an historically accurate James Otis, all contribute to this engaging novel. It is a window into one woman's world, that in its detail gives an encompassing view of part of the 18th Century, in New England, in all of its complexities and richness.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked this book so much, I have started giving it to my friends for a birthday present. I have gotten more ''thank you''s for The Widow's War, than from any other present I've given.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoy historical fiction very much and this ranks with the best of them. Lyddie could be any woman, any era. She is strong, frank and forthright about her concerns and decisions. The issue of racial prejudice was handled with wonderful candor and honesty. The conclusion of the story made sense, without giving us a fairy tale ending. This would be a great discussion book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Stunning (the story, not the setting) historical novel of a women fighting for her human rights in extremely hard times with rigid rules. Don't forget to read the Historical Notes at the end of the book. In fact, read them first.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I've read in awhile. Bravo!
Too_Busy_Reading_To_Write More than 1 year ago
I read this hoping for a good historical fiction, however, other than references to some political going-ons of the day, the point of view of the main character had little to do with the 1700s. A pet peeve of mine is when "historical fiction" is infused with 21st century thoughts and ideas which usually take the characters down a road of "sexual liberation" and 20th century feminism. The main character was not believable and I found most of the supporting characters to be flat and caricature-like. I also did not feel invested in any of the relationships, except maybe the widow's relationship to her dead husband.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great read - engaging, enlightening and thoroughly enjoyable. Leaves a 'good taste'.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book. The strong female character was refreshing and the way she managed her struggles was inspiring. There were even a few chuckles to be had.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I totally enjoyed this book and realize much appreciation of our present day situations regarding property and widowhood. Women have come quite a long way since the days of this character. Great weaving of the tale; I wanted to cheer this widow on!
BrenW More than 1 year ago
Interesting how little value women had in the early days of America. I usually avoid books that are focused on women's issues as the story is lost in the political stuff. But this one is very good, with focus on history and the character.
suztales on LibraryThing 9 months ago
I loved this book. From the beginning I could feel what it was like for a new widow to wander down that street, alone and lonely. In defiance of all that was acceptable by her peers, she was determined to hold on to what she and her husband had held dear, what he had taught her to believe in. Go, Lyddie, go, I kept saying as the doors closed against her. I was disappointed when the story ended, not wishing for more so much as an alternate resolution. After consideration, however, I realized the author had chosen an obvious and predictible way for Lyddie's battles against the inequities of a widow's fate in pre-revolutionary New England to end. Perhaps any other conclusion would have strayed too far from the reality of the times. (This was the first book I read on my Kindle--when I finished, I was wishing I held a book in my hands, not a device.)
brainella on LibraryThing 9 months ago
Lyddie Berry is widowed early in the book. Her former husband encouraged her to speak her mind but in 18th Century Massachusetts, it's a rare man who does that. She is thrust into the home of her daughter and son-in-law who must now take care of her. Lyddie hates it and Nathan, her son-in-law, resents it. Lyddie, encouraged by an attorney friend, refuses to sign-over her dower rights and tries to retain her old home and life. Set in a time of religion intolerance, bigotry and women's subservience -- this book is rather intriguing. To attempt to keep all that she had was unheard of. Strength and courage were all Ms. Berry had and she used them to guide her way. Very interesting story.
Princetonbookreview on LibraryThing 9 months ago
This is well-researched and informative historical fiction. It takes place in Cape Cod in the year 1761 and follows the travails of Lyddie Berry, who is recently widowed. As is typical in this time period, when her husband drowns in a boating accident, Lyddie is entitled to use of one third of her husband¿s estate, with the remaining going to the nearest male heir, which for Lyddie is her less than stellar son-in-law. Gunning creates a strong believable character in Lyddie and one I found myself rooting for. I think what I found so appealing about this woman and what made her so human, was that she tried to do what society expected of her, but in the end followed her heart, challenging the strict code of mores and fundamental views of the time. I truly appreciate the contribution that women like Lyddie have made to the freedoms today¿s women enjoy and never tire of reading of their personal journeys. In summary, a must read for historical fiction aficionados or those who enjoy books about strong women who put up a good fight for what feels right to them, regardless of what society thinks.
Kathryn.Roach on LibraryThing 9 months ago
A slow start but got better and better with a very satisfying ending...I like heroine struggles and finally overcomes type books and this is a good one.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing 9 months ago
Great read - compelling, page-turning historical fiction with a romantic triangle twist, yet so very LITerary too.I found this book because the jacket copy in another more recent book, John Smolens' THE SCHOOLMASTER'S DAUGHTER, compared that book to Gunning's. I'm so glad I followed through on that comparison. I tore through this story, although I wanted to savor it. It was that good, so good you hate to put it down because you can't wait to see what happens next. It's a 1760s tale from colonial Massachusetts, set in a tiny fishing village on Cape Cod. Lydia Berry is widowed by a fishing accident in which her husband of 20 years is drowned. Only then does she begin to realize her vassal-like state, as attempts are made to have her sign away all rights to the home her husband had built and where she had given birth to her daughter and her stillborn and short-lived sons. Henceforth she is to be called Widow Berry and is expected to live in a spare room of her daughter's house under the sufferance of her onerous son-in-law, who naturally expects to take over everything that once belonged to Lyddie. She rebels, and refuses to sign the necessary papers that would leave her homeless and beggarly. A local lawyer takes an interest in Lyddie, and in more than a legal manner. So too does her nearest neighbor, known mostly as "the Indian,". He gives her employment, first nursing his sick wife, then (after the wife dies) as a domestic, but this begins to develop into something deeper, although a lifetime of racial predjudice against blacks and "Indians" doesn't just melt away for Lydia. Eyebrows are raised and tongues wag in the community at this reversal of roles and the delicious possiblity of miscegenation. Lyddie Berry brought to mind another fictional Lydia, the heroine of Molly Gloss's fine novel, THE JUMP-OFF CREEK, set in frontier Oregon in the 1800s. Both are extremely strong and independent characters, despite the separation of an entire continent and more than a hundred years. All of the principals of THE WIDOW'S WAR are many-dimensional and intriguingly human, but Sally Gunning's heroine Lyddie Berry is a character you won't soon forget. If you want a good read that will immediately catch you up, I can't recommend this book highly enough. Go for it!
hobbitprincess on LibraryThing 9 months ago
If you enjoy American historical fiction, you will enjoy this book. Lyddie's husband is a whaler in New England in the 1700s and dies at sea. Lyddie is not content with the way she is treated as a widow when it comes to her possessions, her home, her daughter, and her friendships. She fights for what is rightfully hers, going against the norms of society at the time. You will like Lyddie and her spunk. This is NOT a YA novel because there are some steamy scenes in it.
bacreads on LibraryThing 9 months ago
I enjoyed the history but did not think exceptionally well written; plot a bit predictable and sometimes plodding. Characters almost one dimensional, not much development. Needed more pre-info as to town, and Lydia's place in "society' before death of Edward.
lindymc on LibraryThing 9 months ago
A great novel, set on Cape Cod Bay, 1761. Lyddie, recently widowed, refuses to accept that she must give up all independence, live with her overbearing son-in-law, and allow him to make all decisions. Her widow's share is one-third of her husbands's real estate - life use thereof. Instead of allowing the son-in-law to sell her home, give her one-third of the proceeds, and live under his roof, she insists on living in her one-third "corner" of her home. Struggling to have some income, Lyddie does some cooking and house keeping for a single Indian friend, creating rumors and disapproval. The local attorney sympathizes with her situation, but even he has trouble accepting Lyddie's unconventional behavior. My, how far we, as women, have traveled.
Fourpawz2 on LibraryThing 9 months ago
I think that this might be my second favorite book of the year. Set in 18th century Brewster, MA (then called Sautucket Village) it is the story of Lyddie Berry who is unexpectedly widowed when her husband drowns while whaling. With Edward¿s death, her circumstances become extremely complicated ¿ essentially she loses her house to her son in law, Nathan Clarke - all very legally - and takes, as her portion of the estate, one-third. As the house must be sold in order that Nathan Clarke can get his part of the estate, she cannot live there and must move in with Mehitable, her daughter and only child, , Nathan, his three children by two previous wives and two ¿servants¿. With the exception of her clothes and whatever household goods she brought to the marriage, she loses all of her belongings in the process.Her son in law ¿ always referred to by Lyddie and everyone as else as her son (as she is called Mother by him) ¿ is a completely disagreeable character. He comes across as greedy and uncaring, but I think his attitude toward Lyddie and the property was probably the usual one by both men and women in this time ¿ she is a woman alone and hence, by definition, helpless and incompetent concerning anything outside of a woman¿s sphere. The problem for all is that Lyddie is a thinking woman and she, after all is said and done, does not want to give up her house and her life in it. There is a good deal of wrangling back and forth, over what is to be done with the house. There is a buyer, but Lyddie does not cooperate, exasperating Nathan and her only child, Mehitable and most other people in the village. Her only ally is her lawyer and friend Eben Freeman and her neighbor, the Indian, Sam Cowett. Much of the book is taken up with how Lyddie adjusts to her widowed state, how she is to support herself in spite of the many difficulties and obstacles put in her way and the men who come into her life romantically (not going to tell you who they are) and how it all works out. The author is a native Cape Codder, and I think she is dead on with her portrayal of the place and time. I¿ve lived in the Bay State all of my life and this village and society smelled just right to me.
bigmoose on LibraryThing 9 months ago
This was discussed in a book club at our library, and I sat in to learn more about such discussions. It caused me to want to read the book, which I enjoyed. The pace is so fast that I wanted more when it ended, which surprised me since it was billed as historical fiction. The characters developed quickly however and the story draws the reader immediately. The main character faces cultural challenges that she overcomes by sheer will and determination. The story deals with family relationships, 18th century colonial America, protestant mores, and early American (or 18th century English) attitudes towards the rights of women and Native Americans.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
clg1982 More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. The historical elements were very interesting. The characters and the setting were engrossing. A really enjoyable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Elwhy More than 1 year ago
Fascinating and a good read; very different and yet kept me spell-bound the entire book. I was sorry to come to the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's been a long time since I read a book I had trouble putting down. Thanks to Sally Gunning for a fascinating story.