The Widow’s Fire


a novel by Paul Butler

Print: 978-1-77133-405-1 – $22.95
ePUB: 978-1-77133-406-8 – $11.99
PDF: 978-1-77133-408-2 – $11.99

248 Pages
May 24, 2017

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The Widow’s Fire explores the shadow side of Jane Austen’s final novel Persuasion, disrupting its happy ending and throwing moral certainties off balance. We join the action close to the moment when Austen draws away for the last time and discretely gives an overview of the oncoming marriage between heroine Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. This, it transpires in The Widow’s Fire, is merely the beginning of a journey. Soon dark undercurrents disturb the order and symmetry of Austen’s world. The gothic flavor of the period, usually satirized by Austen, begins to assert itself. Characters far below the notice of Anne, a baronet’s daughter, have agendas of their own. Before long, we enter into the realm of scandal and blackmail. Anne Elliot must come to recognize the subversive power of those who have been hitherto invisible to her — servants, maids and attendants — before she can defend her fiancé from an accusation too dreadful to be named. Captain Wentworth himself must learn the skills of living on land; the code of honour and secrecy which has protected him on deck no longer applies on the streets of Bath.

The Widow’s Fire is a wonderfully subversive, well-aimed take on Jane Austen’s delicate moral patterns. An intriguing read.”

—Donna Morrissey, author of the national best-selling novel, The Fortunate Brother

The Widow’s Fire is an intriguing revisioning of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, told from several points of view: the narrators are Mrs. Smith, Nurse Rooke, Captain Wentworth, and, interestingly, a freed slave, Plato, who is not ‘seen’ in Austen’s novel (though indeed he may be in attendance, in livery, in the Assembly Rooms). The setting is Bath, principally in the Westgate rooms of Mrs. Smith, shortly before the wedding of Frederick Wentworth and Anne Elliot, which is to take place at Kellynch. It is difficult to discuss the action of the novel because to do so would spoil its many surprises.  Suffice it to say that they are worth waiting for. Sinister motives emerge, and the union of Frederick and Anne is gravely threatened. What makes The Widow’s Fire of particular value is the light shed on the characters of Wentworth and Anne. Frederick is a hero at sea, but an innocent on land, who must learn to accept his weaknesses, while Anne gradually and firmly emerges as a strong, principled, compassionate woman who establishes the novel’s moral basis. Butler has given us a well-crafted piece of work, clever and thoughtful, provocative. One wonders, of course, what Austen would have thought of Butler’s version. Read it and decide for yourself.”

—Frances Beer, Professor Emerita, Graduate Program in English, York University, and author of Pilgrims in Love


Paul Butler is the author of nine novels, the most recent of which is The Good Doctor (2014). His work has appeared on the judges’ lists of Canada Reads, the Newfoundland and Labrador Book Awards shortlists, and he was on the Relit Longlist for three consecutive years. Between 2003 and 2008, he won the annual Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Awards four times and was subsequently invited to be first literary representative and then chair on the Arts and Letters committee. He currently lives and works in Lethbridge, Alberta.

The carriage crunches to a halt by the white pillars and the headmaster bolts into the chilled air with rare alacrity to greet the occupants. Emerging first is a stately woman of bearing and grace. But this is not the one for whom you are waiting. A little more time. A few obsequious bows and gestures from the headmaster to the lady ― inquiries about the journey perhaps, requests to join him for tea ― and then out she comes, a delicate, dark-eyed girl of fourteen.

Her mother having passed just a few months ago, she is in the black of mourning. Her cloak and the unnatural paleness of her hands and face give you the fleeting sense of a young magpie fallen from its nest.

One for sorrow.

This, dear reader, is Anne Elliot, daughter of the baronet Sir Walter. She who is watching from the upstairs landing is myself, Harriet Hamilton, still a pupil at seventeen but soon to be put in charge of the younger girls. The financial ruin of my parents and a rich but distant uncle has dictated my course. I have no income and will receive no dowry so must either learn how to make myself useful to some unambitious husband or else starve.

As soon as I heard she was coming, I picked out Anne Elliot as a future companion. I knew the hunger of grief, how it longed to be filled, and how the deepest of cravings rarely questioned the methods of their alleviation. I would offer kindness and friendship to the new girl and she would take it without hesitation. The self-interest of my attentions would not occur to her. Even at this young age, I knew that the higher one is in rank, the blinder one remains to the motivations of one’s companions. One sees the world clearly only from the gutter. To this shy, delicate, wounded bird, her future standing in society, and how it affected the behaviour of those around her, would be quite invisible.


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