Mary Saunders, born in 1748 into Hogarth's working class-London, yearns for a better life. At the age of fourteen, she loses her virginity in return for a shiny red ribbon. A few months later, pregnant, Mary is turned out of the house by her mother. Shortly afterwards, Doll Higgins, a sharp-tongued young prostitute, takes Mary under her wing and teaches her how to survive on the rough streets of London's red light district. Mary relishes the liberty her prostitution provides and her ability to acquire colourful clothes, while readers wince at the awfulness of the world she inhabits with its dirt and disease, and wonder how long Mary can survive in this world. Mary's call of `fourteen and clean' can only be temporary, surely.
`Slammerkin. A loose dress for a loose woman.'
Following a period in the Magdalen (a hospital that looks after prostitutes who claim they are willing to repent), Mary needs to flee London for the country. She travels to Monmouth, where her parents once lived. There, in service to Mrs Jones (her mother's friend), she works as a dressmaker's assistant. Mary has a natural skill with the needle, and quickly becomes indispensable to Mrs Jones. But Mary is restless; she still desires a different life and can see herself wearing the sort of finery that she has to labour over for others. And this restlessness proves tragic.
`A whore's life was made up of fragments of other people's.'
This is a black and bleak story, inspired by a murder that took place in the Welsh Borders in September 1763. I didn't so much enjoy this novel as get tangled up in it. Few facts have survived about the real Mary Saunders, but Emma Donghue's imagined Mary seems very real for much of the novel. Hogarthian London is uncomfortable: the brutality, poverty and pain is distressing. And Monmouth? If only Mary could have settled. If only.
`Clothes outlived people, she knew that.'
- Hardcover: 432 pages
- Publisher: Virago; 1 edition (31 July 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1844088200
- ISBN-13: 978-1844088201
- Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 3.7 x 20.5 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 581 g
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