Author: Jane Eagland
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Release Date: 6 September 2010
Date Finished: 4 November 2010
Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid
Challenges: 100+ Reading, Hogwarts Reading Challenge, Young Adult Reading, GLBT Challenge,
The Short and Sweet of It
Louisa Cosgrove arrived at Wildthorn in a horse-drawn carriage unhappy but safe. Minutes later she is stripped of her clothing, told her name is Lucy Childs, and committed to the asylum. Shaken, she struggles to maintain her identity as she reflects on the events leading up to her involuntary and unexpected imprisonment.
A Bit of a Ramble
Reading this book was a very enjoyable experience, in no small part because it kept reminding me of Sarah Waters' Fingersmith which I adored. A Victorian setting, highlighting a young lesbian fighting to be an independent woman... carriages, corsets, asylums, forbidden love, horrid nurses, tortured souls.... how can one not enjoy a book like this?
As always I am horrified and completely intrigued by the Victorian views on mental health. There is something at once sickening and morbidly pleasurable in reading about the incarceration of women for no good reason (by today's standards) and in seeing the wretched way the patients were treated. I'm convinced this is normal; that it does not, in fact, make me a bad person. It's like staring at a car crash or being fascinated by horror films or enjoying reality television.
I get the most joy out of the wonderful reasons Victorian women were committed. Here's a quick compilation of the reasons Louisa is thought mad:
An interest in medical matters inappropriate for one of her age and sex
Excessive book-reading and study leading to a weakening of the mind
Desiring to ape men by nursing an ambition to be a doctor
Self-assertiveness in the face of male authority
Obstinacy and displays of temper
Going about unchaperoned
Well holy heavens Batman, someone needs to come lock me up. My "excessive book-reading" alone is probably enough damning evidence to have them lock me up and throw away the key. The Victorian sensibility both supported and damned independent women, as is the way in transitory times. But back to the book...
I thought the book very delicately paced. The present tense accounting of Louisa's time in the asylum manages to be tense without being hurried, mimicking a sense of the unbearable oppression Louisa felt. Interspersed in this narrative are flashbacks to Louisa's past, incidents which come together to offer a picture of a family at once appropriately loving, wracked by jealousy, and struggling to understand each other.
If you have not yet picked this one up, head to the nearest book store or library.
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