Dorothea Truelove is a twenty-five year old woman of means. She lives a privileged life with her wealthy father, a ladies maid, and other servants. Her only friend seems to be her canary which she calls Wilkie. She lives in a time when woman are considered chattel. Her father belittles her beliefs and wants her to marry so as not to embarrass him in society by becoming an ‘old maid’. Dorothea is interested in a young man, but one who her father would never approve of. David is a policeman who has little money.
Dorothea is obsessed with phrenology. She believes that the human skull is a predictor of human behaviour. She is also a woman who is altruistic. Her dear departed mother taught her to do good works. She decides to become a regular visitor to a woman’s prison. She feels that she can provide some solace and advice to the prisoners, while at the same time studying their heads to see if they display any obvious clues as to what made them commit their crimes.
She becomes acquainted with a young servant girl imprisoned for murdering her mistress. Ruth Butterham, who is only sixteen years of age, tells her tragic story to Dorothea. Ruth believes that she killed her mistress with her sewing needle. Not only that, but she believes that her needle has killed and maimed other people in the past. Dorothea views Ruth’s story as the ravings of a desperate girl who has made up a fiction to distract herself from her grief.
After a devastating childhood, Ruth was put into service as an apprentice seamstress for a clothing establishment. She was treated abominably, both physically and emotionally. Remember, this was a time when it was legal for mistresses to beat her apprentices.
“Morals, self-respect – these things are all very fine. But when you’re cold and hungry, it’s astonishing how quick you can be tempted to exchange them.”
I read this author’s “The Silent Companions” and enjoyed it so much that I was very eager to read “The Poison Thread“. Once again, Laura Purcell has written an engaging story that has elements of gothic horror.
The characters were well drawn. My favourite character by far was the tragic Ruth Butterham. Her story will long remain in my memory.
Both of these female protagonists lived in a time when there were no social structures in place to help the poor. A time when the destitute were sent to debtor’s prisons as there was no other recourse. Also, the status of women in those times was dire.
This is a story about superstition yes – but mostly it is a commentary about how beliefs can shape lives. How poverty, betrayal, and emotional and physical abuse can cause people to think and act unlike they would normally. Ultimately it is a story about long sought revenge.
The finesse of the author’s writing had me wondering what parts of the plot were real and which were solely in the minds of the protagonists. And the ending? The ending will leave you with shivers going up your spine.
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Penguin Books via Edelweiss.
Personally, I much prefer the UK title. “The Corset” is a perfect title for the novel.
Laura Purcell is the author of The Silent Companions and The Poison Thread. She worked in local government, the financial industry and a bookshop before becoming a full-time writer. She lives in Colchester, the oldest recorded town in England, with her husband and pet guinea pigs. Fascinated by the darker side of royal history, Laura has also written two historical fiction novels about the Hanoverian dynasty.
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