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February 9, 2010

Johanna Moran: The Wives of Henry Oades

Posted by webmaster
In today's post, guest blogger and author Johanna Moran talks about the origins of her new book THE WIVES OF HENRY OADES. Based on a real life legal case, the interest in the story was for all intents and purposes passed down by her parents.
More than a half-century ago, my father, a law professor, came across an abstract on the Oades case, and brought it home to my mother, who was attempting to write short fiction in her nonexistent spare time.

Henry Oades was an Englishman who’d come to California from New Zealand, where his wife and children had been abducted, and in time given up for dead. Many years later, Oades remarried in America. When his first wife showed up, alive, on his doorstep, he was tried not once, but three times for bigamy.

My mother was intrigued and gave thought to fleshing out the principals, but that’s as far as she got. She might have had three kids down with mumps that week or a spectacular birthday party to host. In any event, writing and five children never did mesh. She squirreled the abstract away, perhaps thinking she’d get to it eventually. She gave it to me about ten years ago, saying, “Daddy always thought it would make a good story.”

What I discovered upon reading it was that the abstract did not delve into the interior life of either wife, and I was glad. I had my own vision almost immediately.

To start, I considered my own marriage. It’s my first, but it’s my husband’s second. How outraged would I have been in wife number one’s shoes, how confused in number two’s? I imagined dutifully accompanying my husband halfway around the world, enduring and surviving horrific hardship once there, only to ultimately discover that he had “moved on.” I pictured, too, opening the door to find my husband’s long-thought-dead wife standing there, fully prepared to push me aside and resume her position.

Over the years, my mother, two sisters, and I have hashed out the issues in The Wives of Henry Oades at length, revealing much about ourselves at the same time. Marriage, I found, is a delicious subject to anatomize, particularly aloud with others. I’d love to be a fly on the wall—better yet, a participant in a chair, at every book club discussion—to hear what choices other women would make when faced with the same situation.

--Johanna Moran, The Wives of Henry Oades