4 out of 5 Dickensian stars
This lady really knows how to tell a story. I love it when you just fall between the pages. This had just the right touch of familiarity, for someone who reads Victorian fiction, either the original or the modern historical. And this is very Dickens – we know he visited the setting of the Foundling Home in the story, according to one of the teachers. What I mean is, it doesn’t take place in the parlors, but belowstairs, where the falls from grace were shorter, but the landing was much, much harder.
The story goes back and forth between two time periods. The older, 1876, is the story of Mary Finn. Her mother has died and her father marries a new wife, who is a harridan. Mary ends up leaving him to start working and get out from under the evil witch’s influence. The blurb more than suggests this, so I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that she makes the mistake of losing her “virtue” and winds up in the family way – only with no husband. The man in question is not really a man- both of them are only 15. He is, as she says, “A liar, a cheat and her heart’s delight”. By trade, he’s a groom for the army. We follow her story in London, through happiness and sadness – the story woven between the other time period. Mary’s roommate in the house is Eliza, and a far less amenable girl. She’s a liar and a hussy, to use the 19th century word, who can only see things from her own point of view. Being a liar and a flirt, she can’t see Mary any other way, and thinks that she’s there to steal Bates, the chauffeur who is no prize, away from her.
The other setting is 1884 and we follow James from Coram’s Foundling Home. When given up to the home, babies are sent out to the country, to a woman who already has a baby and enough milk to feed a second. The babies stay there until they are six and then return to the home to start their education. It’s sad, it’s a tough place, but it’s a lot better than the other option – the workhouse. It’s interesting that the home was a real place, which adds to the realism of the story.
This is only 250 pages and a fast read, with short chapters. The ending was abrupt but satisfying. If you like historical fiction, and don’t mind the grittier side of what life was like in London in the 1800’s, this is a good one.