I’ve been reading ‘The Corset’ by Laura Purcell this week and it is so good. It’s a dark, chilling novel about two very different women who are brought together by scandal.
Dorothea is a young woman whose religious faith and fascination with the science of criminal tendencies are bringing her into regular contact with prison inmates – she believes that there is hope for them to reform. Her father, however, is less than pleased with her unusual activities, primarily because he believes it makes her unattractive as a potential wife.
It is at the prison that Dorothea meets Ruth Butterham. Ruth, a seamstress of 16 years old, has been charged with murdering her mistress. As Dorothea takes further interest in the girl’s potential reform, she, and we readers, discover how Ruth came to be there. The horrors of poverty, violence, and cruelty experienced by Ruth are beyond anything Dorothea can bear to imagine. But Ruth also believes that she possesses an unusual power: that in the stitching together of corsets and dresses, she can channel her emotions into the garments, make them come alive and do her bidding.
Like the pieces of corsets and dresses Ruth used to make for wealthy women like Dorothea, their lives are slowly, eerily, stitched together…
My ‘words of the week’ come from this novel (potential spoilers ahead).
What stood out for me about these lines is how the meaning of them works on lots of levels within the narrative:
- The power Ruth believes she possesses means that the garments she makes could be ‘brutal’ to those who wear them
- (Potential spoiler) At this point of the novel, Ruth has witnessed a gruesome act in the dressmaker’s that she is struggling to come to terms with. The brutality of this incident lingers within the building, as well as within her mind.
- The conditions Ruth lives and works in are horrific, a stark contrast to the luxury and beauty of her creations. Generally, this was true of many dressmaking workshops, and indeed wider aspects of society: disease and death did ‘lurk’ beneath the hems of the rich, the ‘dirt’ of labour kept hidden as much as possible.
I suppose these lines stood out to me because of these various aspects of their meaning, literal and metaphorical. They suitably capture the darkness at the novel’s core, and convey Ruth’s desperation, her desire to have another person understand what she does.
I heartily recommend ‘The Corset’, it’s a great read for the long, autumn evenings.
Thanks so much for reading today’s blog post!
What have you been reading this week?