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Paperback The Crimson Petal and the White Book

ISBN: 0156028778

ISBN13: 9780156028776

The Crimson Petal and the White

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Format: Paperback

Condition: Very Good

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Book Overview

A teenage prostitute ascends through the many layers of Victorian London society in this highly acclaimed "big, sexy, bravura novel" (New York Times).

London, 1870s. At the heart of this panoramic narrative is a young woman's struggle to lift her body and soul out of the gutter. Sugar, a nineteen-year-old whore in the brothel of the terrifying Mrs. Castaway, yearns for a better life. Her ascent through the strata of Victorian...

Customer Reviews

3 ratings

Tennyson's epic poem about feminism retold

Seemingly overlong and decidedly graphic (in both the vulgar and literal senses), Faber's magnum opus, it's true, crams a 200-page plot into an 830-page book. Yet, while certainly engrossing and often difficult to set aside, "The Crimson Petal" is primarily a character novel, heavy on atmosphere, light on action, postmodern in its knowingness, and unapologetic in its grimy, lurid detail. (Think "Jane Eyre" meets "The French Lieutenant's Woman.") Readers baffled by the title may appreciate knowing its source, which also provides clues to the novel's characters and themes. The phrase is lifted from Tennyson's epic poem "The Princess" (the source for Gilbert and Sullivan's "Princess Ida"), in which Ida becomes an advocate of women's rights, breaks her engagement to a prince of a neighboring kingdom, and establishes a university. The prince and two buffoonish friends sneak into the school dressed as women, and various and sundry events ensue, culminating in a pitched battle between the prince's peers and the princess's army, during which the three men are seriously injured. Placed under the women's care, the prince eventually wins over Ida, but only after converting to feminism and admitting that he should "be more of a woman, she of man." While the bed-ridden prince pleads his case, Ida reads the following song, which begins and ends as follows:Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk; Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font; The fire-fly wakens: waken thou with me.... Now folds the lily all her sweetness up, And slips into the bosom of the lake: So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip Into my bosom and be lost in me. In Faber's novel, "the crimson petal, now the white" is Sugar, a teenage prostitute who learns her trade from her own mother but who manages both to obtain a respectable, if unconventional, education and to retain a precocious level of dignity. Her ability to transcend the limits of her "station," as well as her willingness to "do anything you ask of me," leads Sugar to her prince, William Rackham, an heir to a perfumery who is stymied by his own artistic pretensions. Sugar becomes far more to William than an illicit relationship: she succeeds first as his mistress, then as his unacknowledged business partner, and then as... but to tell you more would be unfair.The novel features four other characters, each uniquely displaying the nature of the fraught relationships between men and women: Agnes Rackham, William's near-mad wife, whose Victorian naivety is so complete that she is unable to comprehend how she came to be "with child"; Sophie, his six-year-old daughter, who is squirreled away out of view of everyone but the servants; Henry, his brother, who is called by religious devotion but who considers himself too impure to enter the clergy; and Emmeline Fox, a widow and Henry's close friend, whose eccentric opinions, along with her activities to save prostitutes from mortal and physic

More, please!

If you are one of those people who thinks most of the books worth reading were written in the 19th century, by people like Dickens and Trollope and Hardy, you are in for a rare treat. Faber's sprawling, gritty, lush Victorian novel, reminiscent of the best of all three, brings to life the world of 1875 London, from the grimiest, rat-infested alleys to the overladen dining tables and "servant-infested passageways" of the rich. In the course of his 834 pages Faber takes the reader to factories and taverns, music halls and fashionable Season parties, grubby brothels and formal calls. Faber (whose first novel, "Under the Skin," is totally different) takes advantage of his 21st century perspective to discreetly drop the Victorian circomlocution and ornate flourishes when the action calls for brevity. Not that you'll notice as his eloquence and skill as stylist and storyteller fuse so perfectly. The modern perspective also allows for graphic detail. There's a lot of sex, though not much eroticism. His protagonist, Sugar, started life as a prostitute at age 13, and sex is a living to her, not a pleasure. There's a lot of dirt and degradation and the politics of class and sex are ugly and entrenched. Yet it's a story full of life and hope and real people.An omniscient narrator begins by inviting the reader into the lowest slums to begin making the connections without which meeting the story's loftier characters would be impossible: "their servants wouldn't have let you in the door." It's a cold, sleety November night. "The cobblestones beneath your feet are wet and mucky, the air is frigid and smells of sour spirits and slowly dissolving dung." Caroline, an unlettered country girl, finding in prostitution a refuge from the numbing, slow starvation of factory work, meets a former colleague who has gone up a rung in the world, Sugar.Tha narrator fades away (although returning to tell us, for instance, that Agnes Rackham has a brain tumor, which will never be found) after introducing William Rackham, reluctant perfumery heir and tormented would-be artist, and the story gathers steam.William's allowance has been drastically curtailed by his father, impatient to hand over the reins. Forced to buy a ready-made hat, to make do with one less maid, William is miserable, and hearing of a prostitute who will do "anything," he resolves to be distracted.But Sugar, as well-read as she is willing, captivates him. So obsessed does William become that he masters his father's hated business in order to restore his allowance and monopolise her. William discovers an interest in the arcana of perfume and soap and his fortunes ascend. As do Sugar's. She now has more time to read and to work on her novel - a pornagraphic opus of the violent death of heartless men.She also has less freedom of movement. As point of view shifts between Sugar and the Rackham household, Faber contrasts Sugar's situation with Agnes Rackham's, William's sheltered, delicate and deranged wife. A virtua

Lolita meets Merchant/Ivory - Wow, what a story!

I can't say enough positive things about the pleasure of reading "The Crimson Petal and the White". Faber has created a character that ranks with the best prostitutes in fiction, and the other characters populating his novel allow for the type of plot twists that make a novel engrossing, and in the end memorable.The central plot of "Crimson Petal" involves the efforts of a young hooker (Sugar) to escape a horrendous teen life, and then find her way in a more successful metropolitan society. Her benefactor (or more appropiately , "Sugar" daddy) Rackham, has his own baggage (a mentally disturbed wife, an ill child and a very troubled brother), and his bringing Sugar into the mix both complicates and liberates his life. This isn't a happy ending story, however, because no character deserves (or even desires) trust. This is revealed by the various novels being written by each of the characters as the story develops - making this a series of novels, unfolding in a novel. In that sense, it reminded me of "The French Lieutenant's Woman", but "Crimson" is much more of a page turner.After 800 pages, I wanted more. Faber's use of language, while sometimes extremely graphic, is incredibly attractive. While the people populating his story certainly aren't lovable, they are fascinating. And this is a story unlike anything you have ever read before. There will be a lot of mentioning of Faber's name at the various book awards this year. His storytelling skills are that good.
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