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The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History    by Linda Colley order for
Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh
by Linda Colley
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2008 (2007)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh by Linda Colley (Shelby M. C. Davis 1958 Professor of History at Princeton University), is more a history of the era in which Elizabeth Marsh lived than a biography of a very unusual and independent woman for her times.

Elizabeth was born in 1735 and died in 1785. Conceived in Jamaica, sailing in utero to London, she lived her early life traveling between Portsmouth and Chatham in Royal Navy war ships. Her family's fortunes were deeply imbedded in the sea. Her marriage to James Crisp was at first a very prosperous union. Unfortunately their world fell into bankruptcy. Losing everything changed the marriage, but the pair slowly worked their way up the ladder again.

Traveling by sea, Elizabeth was captured and held captive by the sultan of Morocco. After eighteen months, she talked her way out of that situation and continued her own way of life, exploiting her connections in the Royal Navy to broaden her horizons. And, possibly, to keep a distance between herself and James Crisp, with whom she did have two children.

She was involved in land speculation in Florida, international smuggling, and in three different slave systems. What is as interesting as the woman herself is the history of the years she lived through. Life could never have been boring for a person of her caliber. Too much was going on in the world and she became a part of it to her own advantage.

The years encompassing her lifetime are covered in history books. Colley succinctly describes the politics of these turbulent times as well as the manner of living for both the impoverished and the well-to-do. This makes us realize how lucky we are to be living today - the depiction of a mastectomy being performed without anesthesia horrified me.

Though I truly enjoyed this book because history has always fascinated me, I found the title a little misleading. The main thrust of the book is history rather than the woman. That suited me but maybe not everyone. The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh (one of the New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of the Year) is a thoroughly researched and documented epic a masterpiece for the historian and a delight for the history lover.

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