Synopses & Reviews
"Wonderfully detailed and keenly researched, it is a moving portrait of a courageous woman caught between a disastrous affair with a charismatic revolutionary and the draconian laws of the land that would put her to death because of it."—Kathleen Kent
"Dangerous Liaisons: A seventeenth-century heroine for our times . . . [A] delightfully seditious heroine...Proof that a historical novel can be educational and entertaining, and nothing like homework."—O, The Oprah Magazine
London, 1649: King Charles has been beheaded for treason, Cromwell is in power, the Levelers are demanding rights for the people, and a new law targeting unwed mothers presumes anyone who conceals the death of her illegitimate child is guilty of murder.
Glovemaker Rachel Lockyer is locked in a secret affair. But while her lover is imprisoned in the Tower, a child is found buried in the woods. Rachel is arrested. So comes an investigation, a trial, and an extraordinary cast of characters all brought to reckon for this one life. Spinning within is a remarkable love story and evidence that miracles come to even the commonest lives.
“The best kind of historical fiction--a combination of love story and murder mystery, with a sprinkling of intriguing historical snippets and wonderful writing.”—Library Journal, starred review
"[A] marvelous story written in searing prose. Don't miss it!"—Sheri Holman
"Heart-poundingly vivid [and] intellectually provocative . . . A romping good read . . . Historical fiction at its best."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"This book rocks, from the title on." USA Today
From Emma Donoghue, the national bestselling author of Room, Slammerkin is a] colorful romp of a novel (The New York Times Book Review) following one woman's journey of self-discovery and survival at the dawn of the industrial revolution in eighteenth century England.
Slammerkin: A loose gown; a loose woman.
Born to rough cloth in Hogarth's London, but longing for silk, Mary Saunders's eye for a shiny red ribbon leads her to prostitution at a young age. A dangerous misstep sends her fleeing to Monmouth, and the position of household seamstress, the ordinary life of an ordinary girl with no expectations.
But Mary has known freedom, and having never known love, it is freedom that motivates her. Mary asks herself if the prostitute who hires out her body is more or less free than the honest woman locked into marriage, or the servant who runs a household not her own? And is either as free as a man? Ultimately, Mary remains true only to the three rules she learned on the streets: Never give up your liberty. Clothes make the woman. Clothes are the greatest lie ever told.
Born to rough cloth in working-class London in 1748, Mary Saunders hungers for linen and lace. Her lust for a shiny red ribbon leads her to a life of prostitution at a young age, where she encounters a freedom unknown to virtuous young women. But a dangerous misstep sends her fleeing to Monmouth and the refuge of the middle-class household of Mrs. Jones, to become the seamstress her mother always expected her to be and to live the ordinary life of an ordinary girl. Although Mary becomes a close confidante of Mrs. Jones, her desire for a better life leads her back to prostitution. She remains true only to the three rules she learned on the streets of London: Never give up your liberty; Clothes make the woman; Clothes are the greatest lie ever told. In the end, it is clothes, their splendor and their deception, that lead Mary to disaster.
Emma Donoghue's daring, sensually charged prose casts a new sheen on the squalor and glamour of eighteenth-century England. Accurate, masterfully written, and infused with themes that still bedevil us today, Slammerkin is historical fiction for all readers.
The story of an unmarried tradeswoman in London during the Puritan Revolution (1649-1650) whose passionate love affair leads to a trial for murder.
Rachel Lockyer is under investigation for murder.
It is 1649. King Charles has been beheaded for treason. Amid civil war, Cromwell's army is running the country. The Levellers, a small faction of political agitators, are calling for rights to the people. And a new law targeting unwed mothers and “lewd women” presumes anyone who conceals the death of her illegitimate child is guilty of murder.
Rachel Lockyer, unmarried glove maker, and William Walwyn, Leveller hero, are locked in a secret affair. But while William is imprisoned in the Tower, a child is found buried in the woods and Rachel is arrested.
So comes an investigation, public trial, and a cast of extraordinary characters made up of ordinary Londoners: gouty investigator Thomas Bartwain, fiery Elizabeth Lilburne and her revolution-chasing husband, Huguenot glover Mary Du Gard, a lawyer for the prosecution hell-bent on making an example of Rachel, and others. Spinning within are Rachel and William, their remarkable love story, and the miracles that come to even the commonest lives.
Accidents of Providence is absorbing historical fiction for fans of Fingersmith and The Dress Lodger. And Rachel Lockyer, a woman wronged by her time, is a character neither history, nor we, will ever again forget.
Praised by the likes of Margaret George, Kathleen Kent, and Sheri Holman, who calls it a "marvelous story written in searing prose," Accidents of Providence takes us into the streets of 1649 London and the story of an unmarried woman, a glovemaker, whose passionate love affair leads to a trial for murder
: A loose gown; a loose woman.
Born to rough cloth in Hogarth's London, but longing for silk, Mary Saunders's eye for a shiny red ribbon leads her to prostitution at a young age. A dangerous misstep sends her fleeing to Monmouth, and the position of household seamstress, the ordinary life of an ordinary girl with no expectations. But Mary has known freedom, and having never known love, it is freedom that motivates her. Mary asks herself if the prostitute who hires out her body is more or less free than the "honest woman" locked into marriage, or the servant who runs a household not her own? And is either as free as a man? Ultimately, Mary remains true only to the three rules she learned on the streets: Never give up your liberty. Clothes make the woman. Clothes are the greatest lie ever told.
About the Author
Stacia M. Brown holds graduate degrees in religion and historical theology from Emory University. She began writing Accidents of Providence from research conducted for her dissertation on martyrs in seventeenth century England. This is her first novel.
Reading Group Guide
Q> Slammerkin is based on a real case of a girl who killed her employer in 1763. How do you think this factual basis has affected Emma Donoghue's writing of the novel? If you had not known that it was based on fact, would you have read Slammerkin differently? Q> Why do you think an author would choose to set a novel in the past rather than the present? Should novels like Slammerkin be put in the category of historical fiction, or does that make them sound formulaic? Does a story set in the past have to be absolutely true to the facts of history? Which aspects are most important for a realistic writer to get 'right': the physical surroundings, the dates of events or inventions, the dialogue, the mindset of the characters? Might those also be the ones that have been the least documented? Q> As authors often do, Donoghue has created a protagonist with many unlikeable qualities. What did you find hardest to tolerate about Mary Saunders? What about her character or situation made you keep reading? Q> According to one of Donoghue's sources, the real Mary Saunders killed for the sake of 'fine clothes'. In the novel, two of the whores' rules are about dress: 'Clothes make the woman,' and 'Clothes are the greatest lie ever told.' Explore the different things clothes mean to people in Slammerkin. Q> It could be said that Slammerkin is an archetypal story about the longing for, and the killing of, the mother. Do you agree? Compare the kinds of 'mothering' Mary gets from Susan Digot, Doll Higgins, and Jane Jones. Q> Slammerkin contains some graphic sex scenes. Did these add to or detract from your enjoyment of the book? How did prostitution compare to the other ways women earned a living? Do you think Mary's prostitution is crucial to the story, or could Donoghue have chosen some other 'trade' for her heroine? Q> In the eighteenth century, the word 'family' could mean the whole household, servants included. From Chapter Four on, Slammerkin is told from the points of view of six different members of the Jones's household. Why do you think Donoghue has done this? How did this broadened focus affect your reading of the second half of the book? Did it make you see Mary differently? Q> Although American historical novels often include black characters, Slammerkin is unusual in this respect. Why do you think Donoghue gave Abi such a central role in the story? What effect does she have on the other characters' behaviour, and on how we judge them? Q> Mary Saunders's trade has made her suspicious of men. Think about how the men she gets to know in Monmouth (Mr. Jones, Daffy, Cadwaladyr) relate to her. Which of them sees her most clearly? Which of them does most to make her question her own hostility? Q> Is Slammerkin a woman's story, or an exploration of powerlessness in all its forms? Try to arrange the members of the Jones's household in a hierarchy, paying attention to their gender, race, age, physical ability, legal position, wealth, and job status. Can you draw a line between the haves and the have-nots? Who is least free, most free? Q> When Mary Saunders moves from London to the Welsh Borders, she is startled by the many pagan traditions that have survived there. Is this just 'local colour', or does the clash between urban London and traditional Welsh culture play an important part in Mary's story? Q> When do you think Mary's downfall begins: when she starts whoring for Cadwaladyr's customers? When she breaks off her engagement to Daffy? When she refuses to lend Abi the money? Ultimately, why do you think she kills Mrs. Jones? Is it her choice, or her fate? Q> It is sometimes said that a novel should only be set in a past era if its story grows out of the specific realities of that era, rather than being a story that could have happened anytime. Do you agree? How much is Mary Saunders a product, or a victim, of her historical moment? How much of your character depends on the circumstances of your upbringing? Q> Unlike the majority of films and novels, Slammerkin offers no happy ending. Did you find it depressing? What kind of pleasures can be gained from reading about suffering? Could you imagine a plausible 'happy ending' for Mary Saunders, before the murder, or even after it? Q> Slammerkin, set in an era of high birth and mortality rates, is full of dead parents and dead children. With life expectancy in developed nations now in the 70s or 80s, and the birth rate very low, what has changed in the way family members tend to relate to each other today? Q> Does a historical novel have to comment obliquely on modern life? A century and a half after the murder of Mrs. Jones, how relevant are the novel's issues (for instance, class, prostitution, slave labour, rural versus urban life, the criminal justice system) to the society we live in now? How much has changed, how much has stayed the same? Does reading Slammerkin make you relieved to be living now rather than then, or is there anything remarkable about that period you feel we have lost?
Copyright (c) 2002. Published by Harcourt, Inc.