Synopses & Reviews
"An inspired dance on the narrow and exhilarating cliff-edge of art."
-THE WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD
EM M A D O N O G H U E , celebrated author of Slammerkin, vividly
animates hidden scraps of the past in this remarkable collection. An
engraving of a woman giving birth to rabbits, a plague ballad, theological
pamphlets, and an articulated skeleton are ingeniously fleshed out
into rollicking tales. Whether she's spinning the tale of a soldier tricked
into marrying a dowdy spinster, or a Victorian surgeon's attempts to
"improve" women, Donoghue fills us with the sights and smells of the
period as she summons the ghosts of ordinary people, bringing them to
unforgettable life in fiction.
"Sprightly prose. Transcends the usual limitations of historical fiction."
-THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
"Remarkably vivid, inventive scenes give life to each story
and make the collection absorbing." -THE VILLAGE VOICE
"Earthy, exhilarating tales." -ELLE
A SELECTION OF THE BOOK-OF-THE-MONTH CLUB
AND THE QUALITY PAPERBACK BOOK CLUB
EMMA DONOGHUE, born in 1969, is an Irish novelist,
playwright, and historian who lives in Canada. Her novel
Slammerkin was named a notable book of the year by the New
York Times and the Washington Post.
"Each portrait is so strikingly original and so utterly convincing that readers will be hard pressed to believe the story could have happened any other way. Enthusiastically recommended." Library Journal
"An inspired dance on the narrow and exhilarating cliff-edge of art." The Washington Post Book World
"Sprightly prose. Transcends the usual limitations of historical fiction." The New York Times Book Review
"Earthy, exhilarating tales." Elle
"The only problem with Emma Donoghue's collection, The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits
, is that it's hard to stop yourself from skipping to the end of each story. There readers will find a note from Donoghue explaining the historical background of the juicy tale they've just read, whether it's the sailor who was drugged into marrying a spinster or the woman who, yes, faked the births of over a dozen dead rabbits....Her endeavor results in the intimate kind of history we often crave, allowing us to be privy to the terrifying, scandalous or heartbreaking conversations that history books usually leave to our imaginations....Donoghue animates these obscure pieces of the past with often humorous dialogue and surprising emotional invention." Suzy Hansen, Salon.com
(read the entire Salon review
Donoghue finds her inspiration for these wry, robust tales in obscure scraps of historical records: an engraving of a woman giving birth to rabbits; a plague ballad; surgical case notes; theological pamphlets; an articulated skeleton. Here kings, surgeons, soldiers, and ladies of leisure rub shoulders with cross-dressers, cult leaders, poisoners, and arsonists.
Whether she's spinning the tale of an Irish soldier tricked into marrying a dowdy spinster, a Victorian surgeon's attempts to "improve" women, a seventeenth-century countess who ran away to Italy disguised as a man, or an "undead" murderess returning for the maid she left behind to be executed in her place, Emma Donoghue brings to her stories an "elegant, colorful prose filled with unforgettable sights, sounds and smells" (Elle). Here she summons the ghosts of those women who counted for nothing in their own day, but who come to unforgettable life in fiction.
Donoghue vividly brings to life stories inspired by her discoveries of fascinating, hidden scraps of the past. She brings to her tales a colorful, elegant prose filled with the sights and smells and sounds of the period. She summons the ghosts of those men and women who counted for nothing in their own day and brings them to unforgettable life in fiction.
Over the last ten years, Emma Donoghue has written stories about peculiar incidents in British and Irish history, combining the historian's question, 'What really happened?', with the novelist's, 'What if?' In The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits
, the famous (kings, writers, poisoners) rub shoulders with those were written off as 'children, cripples, half-breeds, freaks and nobodies'. Donoghue resurrects buried scandals, audacious hoaxes and private tragedies, giving voice to those who were never asked for their side of the story.
'The Last Rabbit' tells the story of Mary Toft, who in 1720s Surrey managed to hoax all of England by claiming to be 'the woman who gave birth to rabbits'.
In 'Acts of Union', set in Mayo in the early 1800s, an army officer is tricked into a fraudulent marriage.
'The Fox on the Line', set in London in the 1870s, is about the moment when two women almost managed to get vivisection banned.
'Account' is about a king's mistress who died mysteriously in 1490s Scotland.
'Revelations', narrated by a maverick Presbyterian minister, is the story of a Scottish cult's attempt to fast for forty days in Dumfriesshire in 1786.
'b', set in Donegal in 1824, is about a blind girl who fought for the right to educate herself.
Inspired by an old folksong, 'Ballad' is about war and plague in Methven, Scotland in 1645.
'Come, Gentle Night' is a painful comedy about the wedding night of John Ruskin and Effie Gray in Scotland in 1848.
'Salvage' is set on the storm-swept Norfolk Coast in 1823, when a crippled lady scholar of Anglo-Saxon intervened to save drowning sailors.
'Cured' is based on the case notes of the controversial surgeon Isaac Baker Brown in 1860s London.
Set in Genoa in 1632, 'Figures of Speech' is about an Irish countess, facing childbirth, who looks back at her turbulent past.
'Words for Things' is set in Cork in 1786: a teenage girl forms a complex bond with her governess, one Miss Mary Wollstonecraft.
'How a Lady Dies' is about a consumptive gentlewoman with a death-wish in 1759 Bath.
'A Short Story' is about the brief life of the world's shortest girl a popular freak-show attraction until her death in London in 1823.
In 'Dido', set in Hampstead in the 1770s, a mixed-race girl, raised by her great-uncle Lord Mansfield, discovers what life is like outside the garden wall.
'The Necessity of Burning' is about a female brewer who gets caught up in the Peasants Revolt in Cambridge in the 1380s.
Finally, 'Looking for Petronilla' is a story about a contemporary woman who goes to Kilkenny in search of traces of Petronilla de Meath, the fourteenth-century maid of Ireland's most famous witch.
In these seventeen robust tales Emma Donoghue vividly brings to life the strangely exhilerating sideshows of humanity lost to traditional history over the last seven hundred years. The obscure records she stumbled across--an engraving of a woman giving birth to rabbits; a plague ballad; surgical case notes; theological pamphlets; an articulated skeleton--are ingeniously expanded into rollicking, full bodied fictions. Here kings, surgeons, soldiers, and ladies of leisure rub soldiers with cross-dressers, cult leaders, pioneers, and arsonists.
Whether she's spinning the tale of an Irish soldier tricked into marrying a dowdy spinster, a Victorian surgeon's attempts to "improve" women, a seventeenth century countess who ran away to Italy disguised as a man, or an "undead" murderess returning for the maid she left behind to be executed in her place, Emma Donoghue brings to her tales a colorful, elegant prose filled with the sights and smells and sounds of the period. She summons the ghosts of those women who counted for nothing in their own day and brings them to unforgettable life in fiction.
About the Author
was born in Dublin in 1969 and earned her Ph.D. in eighteenth-century fiction at Cambridge. She is the author of three novels, a book of fairy tales, and several works of literary history. She lives in Ontario, Canada. For further information and current news, go to www.EmmaDonoghue.com
Table of Contents
Preface o xi
Acknowledgments o xiii
The Last Rabbit o 1
Acts of Union o 17
The Fox on the Line o 33
Account o 47
Revelations o 53
Night Vision o 75
Ballad o 87
Come, Gentle Night o 99
Salvage o 115
Cured o 129
Figures of Speech o 151
Words for Things o 159
How a Lady Dies o 175
A Short Story o 195
Dido o 205
The Necessity of Burning o 221
Looking for Petronilla o 241