Sunday, 28 February 2016

The Crimson Petal and the White Read-along: Week 2 - Chapters 8 to 12


One day soon I might post about something that isn't The Crimson Petal and the White but today is not that day.  Well, I might write about something else today but you won't see the post today.  I'd hoped that I'd be able to mix up posts during the read-along and not just write about Victorian prostitutes but I haven't.  Mainly because I've got a new job and resigning from my current employer has been...awkward and distracting.

Anyway, Victorian prostitutes!

The Prompts

Readers who haven't read the book be warned - there are some spoilers in the questions this week so you might want to look away now.  My answers are at the bottom of this post, as is the linky for fellow read-alongers.

1)  The first 150 pages were a runaway read-along success.  Has anybody's opinions changed at all or are we all still in love?

2)  William seems transformed from moany idler to committed businessman.  Has the change improved anybody's opinion of him?  How long do you think it will last?

3)  We've spent more time with Henry Rackham and Emmeline Fox this week.  What do you think of their respective efforts to save the poor?

4)  There is a quote from The Guardian on the back of my edition that describes the book as "The novel that Dickens might have written had he been allowed to speak freely".  Thoughts?

5)  The final chapter of this week's reading saw Sugar moved to a new home and declare herself 'free'.  What do you think about her newfound freedom - real or illusory?

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My Musings

1)  The first 150 pages were a runaway read-along success.  Has anybody's opinions changed at all or are we all still in love?


I *love* this book.  As I'm writing this on Sunday evening, I'm actually most of the way through this week's reading.  It's just so hard to stop and pick up something else when I'm enjoying this so much!  I don't feel at all as though I'm plodding through a long book; the pages are flying by and I'm so happy that I still have another 450 pages or so to spend with these characters.

2)  William seems transformed from moany idler to committed businessman.  Has the change improved anybody's opinion of him?  How long do you think it will last?


I find myself a bit conflicted over William now.  On the one hand, he's still the man that was moping around just hoping that he would get a great pile of cash from his father without having to lift a finger working for it.  On the other, though, I do feel as though his commitment to the business is real and I want to give him a second chance.  I think it was Hanna that pointed out last week that he could have sent Agnes off to an asylum never to be heard from again and he hasn't.  

So sure, he's taken a mistress and rented her a house and is paying for her to live comfortably while he has a wife at home who clearly needs him to pay more attention to her but is he so terrible when compared with wealthy Victorian men generally?  I'm not sure.  It certainly seems as though he's trying at the moment, which is a million miles away from his lackadaisical approach to the world at the beginning.  I think what I'm saying is that I don't hate him any more, which is unsettling. 

3)  We've spent more time with Henry Rackham and Emmeline Fox this week.  What do you think of their respective efforts to save the poor?


I really like Emmeline Fox, which is a shame because I'm pretty sure that she's not long for the world.  What I love about her efforts to help "fallen women" is that they seem more genuinely useful than Henry's.  I also love how she refuses to conform to society's ideals of what a woman should or shouldn't be in a quiet, dignified way:
"In Mrs Fox's parlour, Mrs Fox is doing a rather impolite thing in plain view of her visitor.  She is folding sheets of paper from a stack in her lap, inserting them in envelopes, and licking the edges, all the while continuing her conversation.  The first time Henry Rackham witnessed this, months ago, he was no less taken aback than if she'd raised a mirror to her face and begun picking her teeth; now, he's used to it.  There are simply not enough hours in the day for all of her activities, so some must be performed simultaneously" [Page 256]
Henry does my head in.  He's chosen to dedicate his life to more 'worthy' pursuits than business and money, which is obviously great but for the fact that he doesn't seem to be doing much of anything other than mooning about after Mrs Fox.  He talks the talk but is more concerned about repressing his feelings than actually doing anything more meaningful than flashing some coins about occasionally.

4)  There is a quote from The Guardian on the back of my edition that describes the book as "The novel that Dickens might have written had he been allowed to speak freely".  Thoughts?


One of the things that I love the most about this book is how the writing does feel authentic, albeit with a twist when the narrator is speaking and acknowledging that readers are looking at events from a different time entirely.  My experience with Dickens has always been a bit hit and miss but I do think that this kind of unflinching look at prostitution and social inequality would have been right up his street if he'd been able to write in more of a candid way without both probably being slightly repressed himself and also without the risk of scandalising his readers to the point of ruining his reputation.  Not necessarily about prostitution maybe but definitely about the divide between those selling themselves and those buying.

5)  The final chapter of this week's reading saw Sugar moved to a new home and declare herself 'free'.  What do you think about her newfound freedom - real or illusory?


The chapter where William Rackham goes to 'acquire' Sugar and have her passed into his ownership really made me cross.  That a man could wander into a business and buy a woman without her having any say in it is truly appalling.  That Sugar sees being effectively owned by a man and completely dependent on his whims for everything down to the food that she eats as being 'free' is unbearably sad.  I get that it's comparatively luxurious and that she has more power in her "relationship" with William than she ever would have had working at Mrs Castaway's and being sold to multiple men but it's not freedom by any measure I'd recognise.  She might have more time to herself and be living in more comfortable surroundings but she seems to own even less than before and she's far more reliant on William than she ever seemed on her previous madam.  It's tragic but it does raise an interesting question about what freedom women ever really had in the late nineteenth century.  

I'm hoping that she proves stronger and smarter than William and is able to secure some measure of actual freedom eventually.

See you next week for Chapters 13 to 18, friends!


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