Henrietta Ainesworth grew up in the shadows of the dreamy spires of Oxford, her world filled with black-robed scholars, ageless buildings, and her father’s steadfast conviction that the world was as stable and unchanging as the manuscripts over which he presided at the Bodleian Library. Like her father, Henrietta harbored no longings, no burning ambitions, no restless desire to see the world. She was content with the life she had been given in England, happy with a book to read, a family circle for companionship, a familiar church liturgy on Sundays, and a savory joint of beef on special occasions.
Then into her life walked Julien Beauchene, handsome and energetic heir to a cotton empire in Charleston, South Carolina, and everything changed. Julien charmed her with his attention, swept her off her feet, challenged her conscience to reconsider its assumptions about the South, convinced her to explore the world beyond Oxford, and lured her into an adventure she could never have imagined.
Could this sheltered young English woman adapt to life in America, where economic interests took precedence over humanitarian values? Could she function as the wife of an ambitious and hard-driving businessman in a country where she knew no one? Could she fit into a social circle that valued old blood and did not welcome Could she handle the unfamiliar dangers of strange diseases, hurricanes, and devastating fires that plagued Charleston in the 1830s? Could she reconcile her belief in the value of every individual with the realities of a society built on the peculiar institution of slavery? And what would she do when she found that her marriage had entangled her in a web of lies, seduction, murder, opium addiction, and kidnapping?
Henrietta came into this strange alien world with her innocence intact, but the realities of Southern society soon opened her eyes. She was surrounded by slaves, whether she approved of slavery or not. Her every act was scrutinized by disapproving family members and neighbors whose suspicions were based on the fact that she wasn’t “from here”. She was shocked to discover that South Carolina law denied women the basic rights of personhood she had always taken for granted—things like the right to hold property, to express her opinions, and to make independent decisions. For the first time, she was learning the real meaning of a commonplace rule: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” She had always respected the law because she assumed it valued justice; now she was living in a land where laws had the power to overrule justice—and did so without remorse.
To what lengths would Henrietta go to “Do as the Romans do?” And where would she draw the line?