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A Factory of Cunningby Philippa Stockley
Synopses & Reviews
Set in late eighteenth-century England, Philippa Stockley's American debut gives us a wickedly delightful but deadly serious battle of the wills and the sexes. It begins with the arrival in London of the mysterious Mrs. Fox. On the run from a scandalous French past, she takes on a new identity, determined to rehabilitate herself. To do so she must pit her formidable skills for revenge against Earl Much, a British aristocrat with no less notorious a past and easily her match in sinfulness and intrigue. Between these two swirls a story featuring venal lords, wronged maidens, and reprobate clergymen, transporting readers from bawdy houses to country estates — places where the pleasures of the flesh are both high comedy and serious business.
A Factory of Cunning takes readers to the world immortalized in Dangerous Liaisons. And, like Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White, the vividly rendered setting and characters give the thrill of a fresh discovery.
"'Cunning' is an apt word for the plot of Stockley's (The Edge of Pleasure) intriguing historical novel, set in 18th-century England; 'devilishly clever' would be even more appropriate. The truth about any character or event is never what one expects, despite arch foreshadowing, and the reader is unprepared for the shocking denouement, which carries echoes of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and the Grand Guignol. A beautiful 29-year-old Parisian aristocrat arrives in London in 1784, fleeing a scandal and the pursuit of a vengeful victim. On the surface, the penniless woman, who adopts the name Mrs. Fox, makes admirable efforts to establish herself in English society. Sharp-tongued and arrogant, she doesn't hide the fact that during a sojourn in Holland, she was the madam of a whorehouse, or that she is coolly manipulative, or that she is voracious for money. She meets her match in the mysterious Earl Much, a man who oozes malevolence and power. Their battle to the death involves a large cast of Dickensian characters, each one of whom hides his or her true identity. Narrated with wit and sexually provocative detail, the novel portrays London as a pit of licentiousness, amorality, greed and deceit. It's entertaining and suspenseful, and the most monstrous characters are those who wear the facade of moneyed respectability." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[R]eaders...are...rewarded with a compellingly complex tale of seduction, betrayal, and manipulation that holds their attention until the last surprising moment." Library Journal
"Polished, clever, and really quite shocking." Kirkus Reviews
"Readers will eagerly turn the pages of this epistolary novel, chortling at the dalliances and gasping at the machinations, anticipating the delicious moment when Mrs. Fox's house of cards collapses." Booklist
Set in late 18th-century England, Stockley's American debut transports readers to the world immortalized in Dangerous Liaisons.
Philippa Stockley's heroine is a gloriously scheming and amoral French aristocrat, who goes by her nom de plume of Mrs Fox. Arriving in London with only a handful of gold and her loyal maidservant she sets about establishing herself with the high society. Mrs Fox is on the run from her past - and is being sought by a nameless would-be avenger - and her wish is to create a new, safe identity for herself as well as make lots of money, by whatever means possible.
Here are evil Earls, virginal lasses, bawdy clerics and a plot full complex twists and turns all told in an extraordinarily accurate 18th Century voice. The World of DANGEROUS LIAISONS is brilliantly bought to life in a swaggering, bawdy and very funny novel.
'I let my hand fall into my lap so woefully that Daneacre snatched it up again, creeping a little closer, his moleskin breeches denting my skirts. Now that he felt me to be unprotected I was fair game, as easy a prospect as a summer spinney stocked with pheasants to a seasoned poacher. Before I knew it he would be striding in knee deep.'
About the Author
Philippa Stockley is a deputy editor at the Evening Standard newspaper and also works as an artist and illustrator. She lives in London.
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