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Il petalo cremisi e il bianco by Faber…
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Il petalo cremisi e il bianco (2002)

by Faber Michel, Parwschi Monica (Translator), Dal Pra Elena (Translator)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,142167870 (3.88)1 / 359
Member:saintwo2005
Title:Il petalo cremisi e il bianco
Authors:Faber Michel
Other authors:Parwschi Monica (Translator), Dal Pra Elena (Translator)
Info:Einaudi
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:2000, romanzo storico

Work details

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber (Author) (2002)

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English (158)  Dutch (4)  Italian (2)  German (2)  French (1)  All languages (167)
Showing 1-5 of 158 (next | show all)
Victorian-era novels—those British classics from the 19th century—certainly have their appeal. I immediately think of the Bronte sisters, Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, and, of course, Charles Dickens. Michel Faber’s throwback to the Victorian novel upholds that tradition but also subverts it in clever ways. At the outset, The Crimson Petal and the White seems like it might faithfully evoke that classic Victorian novel, but it quickly becomes apparent that this isn’t going to be that kind of book.

From the very beginning, we’re warned by our mysterious tour guide-narrator that we need to leave our preconceptions behind: “You have not been here before. You may imagine, from other stories you’ve read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged. The truth is that you are an alien from another time and another place altogether.” The warning has important implications for what’s to come.

From the start, we’re made aware that we’re not going to be charmed the way we might be reading a quaint novel set in Victorian England. But it’s still a seduction, albeit a perverse one, a sort of tourism in a way, where we can gawk and stare in shock at the real goings-on of Victorian London. Faber lures us in, beckons us to take this journey through the dark alleyways and filthy streets, and yet he does this while also alienating us.

I’ll say upfront that I really enjoyed The Crimson Petal. I was drawn in, and I compulsively devoured this like some addictive draught. But there were several aspects that disappointed.

First, there is the plain-jane story arc. Our goodwill ambassador to this underbelly of a world is Sugar, a prostitute who has earned herself a legendary reputation. She is congenial and charming. She has the conversational skills and wit of a courtesan, and she will do anything you ask of her in bed and still appear as an angel. William Rackham, the heir to a perfume business, tracks her down one night. She fulfills a dirty sexual fantasy (interestingly enough, never revealed to the reader, though all other sex acts are described in detail). Sugar apparently works her magic on sexually jaded William because he is utterly besotted. William soon becomes so obsessed with her that he ‘buys’ her from the brothel and gains exclusive rights, propping her up in their own love nest in the city. Eventually, Sugar ingratiates herself into Williams’s affairs—both business and domestic. She becomes a kind of intimate and confidante to him, and he relies heavily on her for her business acumen. Later, when the opportunity comes up, Sugar suggests she become the governess in his home to his daughter, Sophie. Meanwhile, hovering in the background like a wraith is Agnes, William’s mentally ill wife who lives like a recluse and shuns her own daughter.

When it all boils down, this is pretty much a well-trodden plot arc—just darker, more perverse, and saturated with more female angst, desire, and rage.

Sugar, bless her, is what redeems the boilerplate plot. Her rise and fall (and eventual escape/retaliation), and the shifting sands of her fortune as they relate to William, her john/lover/boss/redeemer/exploiter, was a taut drama. But, in the end, she was still too trope-y for me—the shrewd and ambitious sex worker who strives to remake herself in the face of overwhelming social injustice.

Sure, there was much to admire about Sugar. She was compelling to watch. But for all the excellent world-building in The Crimson Petal, Faber never really reveals to us what’s in her heart. Sure, there are some revelations and insights—the grisly revenge-fantasy novel she’s writing is a riot; her memories of her childhood and sexual initiation are horrifying—but I wanted a more in-depth look into her mind and soul as a woman—not just Sugar, the sex worker. She’s almost like an archetype, a Dido-ish figure consumed in the hot blaze of her personal demons and desperate maneuverings to keep William’s favor and interest. And it never strays far from that.

The best example of this ham-fisted character development occurs in the latter half of the book, around the time Sugar is finally installed in William’s house as the governess. Sugar discovers she’s pregnant and tries several times to force a miscarriage. (She eventually loses the baby, though seemingly by accident). It’s graphic. It’s lurid. Faber gives us the details of the experience in an almost clinical way. I desperately wanted a closer, more intimate perspective from Sugar. Instead, we’re swept away in the sensationalism and shock of it all. And consider William. The guy is pretty one dimensional. Throughout the entire book, we see his narcissism and neediness raked back and forth, like some kind of Japanese zen garden that changes form slightly but always retains its essence. His total disregard of Sugar when he finds out that she’s pregnant was appalling but wasn’t exactly a shocker. In general, there are no surprises in the eventual fates of the characters. There are no dramatic transformations either. Even Sugar’s ‘epiphany’ at the end is anticlimactic. (She developed strong feelings for William, but I don’t think she ever loved him.)

For all its length and richness, The Crimson Petal was actually quite conventional in plot. One reviewer described it perfectly: “The final effect of The Crimson Petal and the White is of a cathedral built to display a dollhouse.”

And then there is the novel’s treatment of sex. The novel is doused in a sexed-up patina, but one that is void of any eroticism. Sex for pleasure is transactional; sex in a marriage is for procreation. Faber seems most concerned about that conflict between the idea of ‘propriety’ (raised to an art form in Victorian times) and basic desires—and the economics of that clash. But, in doing so, Faber seems to have completely focused on the baser side of sexual relations to a fault. Blunt language abounds describing bodily fluids, the contents of chamber pots, douche plungers as birth control, and dirty bedsheets. Even Sugar herself is described in such alluring yet off-putting terms. She’s a Venus ideal that Faber tweaks enough to befoul; you’re attracted but also repulsed. Case in point, Sugar suffers from some kind of psoriasis that gives her skin red, scaly, and flaky stripes. She itches, and her skin peels. Right on Sugar’s body, then, is a grand vision of the corruption of the flesh. ’Sin made flesh.’

Despite all these gripes, I can say without reservation that Faber makes it all work somehow. Just like Sugar turns herself into something exotic and irresistible, the novel transforms the twisted and perverse into something utterly engrossing. ( )
  gendeg | Jul 27, 2015 |
Do you love to get lost in a tale so deep and it's like swimming in an ocean of sadness? I loved this book and feel blessed there are a couple more books from Michel Faber that I have yet to read. Poor Sugar, poor Sophie, poor Agnes, poor everybody, life is just too hard and too sad. But for me, the reader, it was pure pleasure. Now onto the BBC mini-series, the only problem I had with the book is that once I knew the teleplay existed, William Rackham took on the semblance of Chris O'Dowd and I couldn't shake it. But it didn't diminish his ineptitude or literary persona. I highly recommend this book. ( )
  deborahk | Jun 12, 2015 |
The only problem with this book was it was too long. I liked the story and the main character Sugar. I was hoping for a good life for her. The Victorian era in England was so stifling and constrictive, I don't know how everyone survived during those times, especially women. A more strict editing would have gotten this book a better rating from me. 200 pages too long. ( )
  janismack | Mar 30, 2015 |
Set in Victorian England, this is the story of Sugar, a prostitute, and her relationship with William Rackham, a wealthy perfume manufacturer. William is drawn to Sugar based on a description of her "abilities" in a popular men's magazine. When they first meet, he is a young man who has not quite assumed responsibility for his father's business. But Sugar inspires him to get his life together. William strikes a deal with the madam, Mrs Castaway, for Sugar to be his mistress, and installs her in a house closer to his home. He begins to take his professional responsibilities more seriously, the business prospers under his hand, and Sugar experiences a lifestyle she had never dreamed of.

But all is not well in Rackham-land. Mental illness and repression run rampant. His wife, Agnes, is an invalid and subject to mental breakdowns. His daughter Sophie is rarely seen or heard. His brother Henry aspires to the clergy, but can't quite make that happen and meanwhile, is shamed by his attraction to Emmeline Fox. These sub-plots move along, weaving in and out of the story of William and Sugar, for nearly 900 pages.

Yes, that's right: 900 pages. I don't shy away from long books, but I'm hard pressed to describe this novel in a way that justifies its length. At first I enjoyed the rambling story, rich with Victorian detail. About 2/3 of the way through, I began to tire of it. And then there was the sex, which given Sugar's background is rather necessary to the plot. But there was little love or tenderness in the encounters between Sugar and William, which made me question how they maintained any sort of relationship. In the end, the story lines resolved in sometimes unrealistic, and sometimes ambiguous, ways, which I assume was intentional but it also felt a bit like the author just ran out of steam. ( )
4 vote lauralkeet | Mar 1, 2015 |
I love a good tome, one that ferries you off to a different time and place and is concluded with a moment of sweet parting sorrow. Such is the leisurely veil I bask in until… my hand falls quietly upon the pile of books waiting to be devoured, and I am off on my next adventure. ( )
  BALE | Feb 16, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Faber, MichelAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Świerkocki, MaciejTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dal Pra, ElenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Damsma, HarmTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Larsson, NilsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Möhring, Hans-UlrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miedema, NiekTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Omland, StianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pareschi, MonicaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pekkanen, HilkkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saint-Aubin, Guillemette deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Varrelmann, ClausTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vigild, NielsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zulaika, JaimeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The girls that are wanted are good girls
Good from the heart to the lips
Pure as the lily is white and pure
From its heart to its sweet leaf tips.

The girls that are wanted are girls with hearts
They are wanted for mothers and wives
Wanted to cradle in loving arms
The strongest and frailest lives.

The clever, the witty, the brilliant girl
There are few who can understand
But, oh! For the wise, loving home girls
There's a constant, steady demand.

from 'The Girls that are Wanted' J.H. Gray, c. 1880
Dedication
To Eva, with love and thanks
First words
Watch your step.
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Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
blurb : Meet Sugar, a nineteen year old prostitute in Victorian London who yearns for escape to a better life. From the brothel of the terrifying Mrs. Castaway, she begins her ascent through society. Beginning with William Rackham, a perfume magnate whose lust for Sugar soon begins to smell like love, she meets a host of lovable, maddening, unforgettable characters as her social rise is overseen by assorted preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all kinds.
Haiku summary
Soapmaker's mistress
Wants to be secretary
But does a "Jane Eyre"
(thorold)

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156028778, Paperback)

Although it's billed as "the first great 19th-century novel of the 21st century," The Crimson Petal and the White is anything but Victorian. The story of a well-read London prostitute named Sugar, who spends her free hours composing a violent, pornographic screed against men, Michel Faber's dazzling second novel dares to go where George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss and the works of Charles Dickens could not. We learn about the positions and orifices that Sugar and her clients favor, about her lingering skin condition, and about the suspect ingredients of her prophylactic douches. Still, Sugar believes she can make a better life for herself. When she is taken up by a wealthy man, the perfumer William Rackham, her wings are clipped, and she must balance financial security against the obvious servitude of her position. The physical risks and hardships of Sugar's life (and the even harder "honest" life she would have led as a factory worker) contrast--yet not entirely--with the medical mistreatment of her benefactor's wife, Agnes, and beautifully underscore Faber's emphasis on class and sexual politics. In theme and treatment, this is a novel that Virginia Woolf might have written, had she been born 70 years later. The language, however, is Faber's own--brisk and elastic--and, after an awkward opening, the plethora of detail he offers (costume, food, manners, cheap stage performances, the London streets) slides effortlessly into his forward-moving sentences. When Agnes goes mad, for instance, "she sings on and on, while the house is discreetly dusted all around her and, in the concealed and subterranean kitchen, a naked duck, limp and faintly steaming, spreads its pimpled legs on a draining board." Despite its 800-plus pages, The Crimson Petal and the White turns out to be a quick read, since it is truly impossible to put down. --Regina Marler

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:28 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

From the Publisher: At the Heart of this panoramic, multidimensional narrative is the compelling struggle of a young woman to lift her body and soul out of the gutter. Michel Faber leads us back to 1870s London, where Sugar, a nineteen-year-old whore in the brothel of the terrifying Mrs. Castaway, yearns for escape into a better life. Her ascent through the strata of Victorian society offers us intimacy with a host of lovable, maddening, unforgettable characters. They begin with William Rackham, an egotistical perfume magnate whose ambition is fueled by his lust for Sugar, and whose patronage of her brings her into proximity to his extended family and milieu: his unhinged, child-like wife, Agnes; his mysteriously hidden-away daughter, Sophie; and his pious brother Henry, foiled in his devotional calling by a persistently less-than-chaste love for the Widow Fox, whose efforts on behalf of The Rescue Society lead Henry into ever-more disturbing confrontations with flesh. All this is overseen by assorted preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all stripes and persuasions. Twenty years in its conception, research, and writing, The Crimson Petal and the White is a singular literary achievement-a gripping, intoxicating, deeply satisfying Victorian novel written with an immediacy, compassion, and insight that give it a timeless and universal appeal.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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