The Brief and True Report of Temperance Flowerdew

Written by Denise Heinze
Review by Xina Marie Uhl

A historical woman with the delightful name of Temperance Flowerdew played a crucial role in the early colony of Jamestown, Virginia. She married three times in her life, twice to governors of Virginia. Unlike 90 percent of the inhabitants of the winter of 1609/1610, she survived.

The novel traces Temperance’s journey from England to America in the company of her devoted maid, Lily. While Temperance knows how to read and perform the duties of a lady, she’s incompetent when it comes to pioneer existence. She relies on Lily’s friendship, knowledge, and ingenuity to survive. Lily’s psychic gifts caused her to run from home, but they also help her and Temperance navigate terrible storms at sea and the unrelenting harshness of the approaching winter. Dangerous Indian attacks and starvation loom over the colony and the lives of the two protagonists as winter unfolds.

While told mainly in narrative, Temperance’s diary entries compose part of the book. She is determined to unveil Lily’s remarkable life to future generations. The novel celebrates the power and worth of women with beautiful writing, vivid scene-setting, and a compelling, bittersweet tale. Women’s experiences in early America have yet to be fully explored, and this work is a worthy attempt to fill that gap.

Lily’s character is almost superhumanly prescient and self-sacrificing. Temperance treats her as an equal, a state of affairs that seems unlikely due to their class differences. Despite these minor complaints, the story author Heinze weaves here is as important as it is haunting.