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The Crimson Petal and the White (2002)

by Michel Faber

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,4471931,278 (3.88)1 / 424
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. 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 to 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 brings her into proximity to his extended family and milieu: his unhinged, childlike wife, Agnes, who manages to overcome her chronic hysteria to make her appearances during “the Season”; his mysteriously hidden-away daughter, Sophie, left to the care of minions; 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 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 teeming with life, rich in texture and incident, with characters breathtakingly real. In a class by itself, it's a big, juicy, must-read of a novel that will delight, enthrall, provoke, and entertain young and old, male and female.… (more)
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» See also 424 mentions

English (177)  Dutch (6)  Italian (4)  German (2)  French (1)  All languages (190)
Showing 1-5 of 177 (next | show all)
The weakest book i read by Faber so far. Which says a lot about his incredible high standards. ( )
  Wolfseule23 | Aug 6, 2022 |
That ending....I guess after 800 plus pages he just got tired of writing. It literally felt like he just ran out of ideas...so he departed. Twenty years to research and write...he was done!

Four stars because it was a great read, well researched, authentic and graphic, there was no sugar coating anything, this was life in the 1800's for prostitutes...emphasized class differences, medical views on mental health, the limited choices women had in their lives...but that ending. ( )
  almin | May 2, 2022 |
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.

This is the story fo the well-read London prostitute named Sugar, who believes she can make a better life for herself. You read about the physical practicalities that a prostitute has to deal with - who protects them, what acts they have to perform, the degredations they have to accept (you learn for instance, what they have to endure in an attempt to avoid pregnancy).

Prostitution, rather than frowned upon in all levels of society, is indulged in by many of the wealthy/upper class men by the famous-but-secret publications highlighting where the brothels are, and giving establishments and individuals ratings as to the services provided.

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. Agnes is mollycoddled and allowed to descend into clinical madness and death, all aggravated by the birth of a daughter.

Even though my edition came in at just under 1000 pages, I have to admit it came too soon for me (and many others, but not all apparently). In fact, after releasing it as a Bookcrossing book, this is one of the few books where I brought a second copy! ( )
1 vote nordie | Apr 18, 2022 |
Great except for the non-existent ending. It just stopped!
  Teresa1966 | Dec 22, 2020 |
Interesting approach using the concept of walking the streets of 1870s London and meeting various characters that will play a part in the story. Gave a lot of info about living both poor and wealthy in that time period but the book was way too long for me. Enjoyed Sugar as the prostitute and her way of looking at life, trying to make things better for herself yet disappointed me when she did not help those of her former life later on. Thought William was becoming a better person but he really let me down at the end. Never understood his wife. ( )
  kshydog | Dec 13, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 177 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Faber, Michelprimary 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
Tanner, JillNarratorsecondary 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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Disambiguation notice
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Wikipedia in English (1)

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. 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 to 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 brings her into proximity to his extended family and milieu: his unhinged, childlike wife, Agnes, who manages to overcome her chronic hysteria to make her appearances during “the Season”; his mysteriously hidden-away daughter, Sophie, left to the care of minions; 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 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 teeming with life, rich in texture and incident, with characters breathtakingly real. In a class by itself, it's a big, juicy, must-read of a novel that will delight, enthrall, provoke, and entertain young and old, male and female.

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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)

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Canongate Books

2 editions of this book were published by Canongate Books.

Editions: 1841954314, 1847678939

 

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