Slammerkin

Slammerkin

Book - 2001
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Slammerkin : A loose gown; a loose woman.

Born to rough cloth in Hogarth's London, but longing for silk, Mary Saunders's eye for a shiny red ribbon leads her to prostitution at a young age. A dangerous misstep sends her fleeing to Monmouth, and the position of household seamstress, the ordinary life of an ordinary girl with no expectations. But Mary has known freedom, and having never known love, it is freedom that motivates her. Mary asks herself if the prostitute who hires out her body is more or less free than the "honest woman" locked into marriage, or the servant who runs a household not her own? And is either as free as a man? Ultimately, Mary remains true only to the three rules she learned on the streets: Never give up your liberty. Clothes make the woman. Clothes are the greatest lie ever told.
Publisher: New York : Harcourt, 2001.
ISBN: 9780151006724
0151006725
Branch Call Number: DONO
Characteristics: 336p. 24cm.

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j
jimg2000
Aug 07, 2018

Author also wrote "The Room 2010" and received a PhD in English from Girton College, Cambridge. Saw about 30 quotes at goodreads and gathered many more below independently, Bet dollars to buttons there are a few everyone likes to chew on:

Four walls and no windows: here the men and women awaiting trial at the Spring Sessions lived like rats. Some were chained up after sunset, but not necessarily the murderers; there was no rhyme or reason to it that Mary could see. Anything, she learned, could happen in the darkness. Rapes, and only a hiss for breath; blows, and no sound but the slap of meat.
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Mary's mother—known as Mrs. Susan Digot ever since she'd remarried, a coalman this time—had told her daughter often enough not to pass through the Seven Dials on her way back from Charity School. A pond for the worst scum in London, she called the Dials. But the warnings drew the girl like a hot fire on a winter's night.

j
jimg2000
Aug 07, 2018

Poor was when bits of your bare body hung through holes in your clothes. Poor was a pinch of tea brewed over and over for weeks till it was the colour of water.
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Her voice sagged like an old mattress.
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Ambition was an itch in Mary's shoe, a maggot in her guts. Even when she read a book, her eyes skimmed and galloped over the lines, eager to reach the end. She suspected ambition was what was making her legs grow so long and her mouth so red.
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'If you mix with muck, you'll end up just as brown,' she quoted contemptuously.
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'Did he have a knife?' whispered her mother, almost hopeful. Mary shook her head. She couldn't think of a single lie. 'A ribbon,' she whispered, husky.
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But the meek didn't inherit the earth, she knew.

j
jimg2000
Aug 07, 2018

'Mother,' repeated Mary faintly. But the salt-blue eyes looked right through her. 'You have no mother now.'
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Gradually it came to her that the night only began when the decent folk barred their doors. There was a whole other festivity of darkness, for which the twilight was only a rehearsal.
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The world swayed round Mary as she dragged herself to her knees. Her bundle of clothes was gone. The smock she wore seemed made of mud, stiff and dented as a shield. The spire of St. Giles winked down at her. In
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The Rookery was a lawless place where a girl could be robbed, beaten, raped. But then, with a little tremor like mirth, Mary realised that the worst was over and she had nothing left in the world to fear.
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'It's every girl for herself, you understand?'
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'Just about every rogue in London's clapped or poxed or both, the dirty hounds! But your luck's in, if it's Madam Clap. Compared to the pox, you know, the clap's a doddle.'

j
jimg2000
Aug 07, 2018

there was no trade like a Miss's. It required no training, capital, nor premises, and the supply of customers would never run out till the end of the world. 'I defy you,' she would slur, 'I defy you to name me any other trade so merry.'
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Not every girl had to end up a servant or a seamstress. There were cooks and milkmongers, fishwives and flower hawkers, washerwomen and gardeners and midwives and even the odd apothecary. Women kept schools and asylums, pie stalls and millinery shops. Mary made herself ask questions of strangers, everywhere she went. All she needed to know was, how could a girl of fourteen make her own way in the world?
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'But it doesn't even button up.' 'It's not meant to, dolt. It's a slammerkin.'
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'Slovenly, slatternly sluts and slipshod, sleezy slammerkins that we are!'
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It was the way the world was. It was the bargain most women made, whether wife or whore, one side of the sheets or another.

j
jimg2000
Aug 07, 2018

'They ever told you about the Magdalen in that school of yours? Mary the Magdalen?' The girl thought she remembered the name. 'Well, she were a whore, and she did all right in the end, didn't she?'
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from the pristine pavements of the West End to the knotted Cockney streets where Spanish Jews, Lascar seamen from the Indies, blacks and Chinamen all mingled like dyes in a basin. She'd had coopers and cordwainers, knife-grinders and window-polishers, watchmen and excisemen and a butcher with chapped hands. In the crowd that gathered to watch the famous Mr. Wesley preach at the old foundry in Moorfields, Mary had done three hand jobs and earned two shillings. She'd taken on an Irish brickie in Marylebone, a one-legged sailor back from the French wars, a Huguenot silkweaver in Spitalfields, a planter gentleman back from Jamaica, and an Ethiopian student of medicine.

j
jimg2000
Aug 07, 2018

When they were served collops of beef, that first afternoon, Mary's plate held as much as her whole family would have dined on, back on Charing Cross Road.
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Ribbon gold, ribbon brown What goes up must fall down
Ribbon brown, ribbon rose Count your friends and your foes
Ribbon rose, ribbon white Each day ends with a night
Ribbon white, ribbon green, Some grow fat, some grow lean.
Ribbon green, ribbon red The tale's not told till you're dead
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Clothes are the greatest lie ever told.
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There was no use worrying over a future that might never happen, because the end could come as quick as a wink.
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Mary tried not to think about the locks. She tried to remember why she was here. For medicine for her cough. For food she wouldn't have to earn. For shelter in the worst of what was shaping up to be a brutally cold winter.
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It was important to have a story, she realised; something for the clerks to write down, something that sounded well.

j
jimg2000
Aug 07, 2018

Never give up your liberty. How grand it sounded.
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It wasn't the meagre wages that kept her going, but the satisfaction of the stitching itself. It was a most peculiar thing.
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I've worked my way up to Presidor of my ward. That's like a mistress. The others have to treat me civil or I'll report them for moral backsliding. Only the Presidors get real tea to drink instead of that sage muck.
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Tomorrow would be 1763; it had a new and alien ring to it. Who was to say Mary herself would live to see another Christmas?
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He turned now to the distresses of the vulnerable young women of London, 'how like straying sheep,' he moaned, 'they fall prey to the ravening wolves of avarice and vice.'
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'Though the Ethiopian will be black forever, according to the Divine plan, you, Amy Pratt, may yet be washed clean of your manifold sins!' It is a sin To steal a pin

j
jimg2000
Aug 07, 2018

The seeds may be planted, my dear, but it's not yet harvest-time.'
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Mary hurried on, past the night-soil men, who wheeled their foetid barrows with blank faces. Maybe, she thought, in time you grew accustomed to your toil, whatever it might be.
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You can't let the fact that someone wants you dead put you off your tea, lass.
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howl—every Londoner knew that life need last no longer than you could bear it.
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All aboard for Hounslow, Beaconsfield, Burford, Northleach, Oxford, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Monmouth.'
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Always before she'd been within reach of a source of heat: a tavern hearth, a cup of hot negus, a handful of roast chestnuts even. But this wagon inched across the country as naked and unprotected as a cow.

j
jimg2000
Aug 07, 2018

Mrs. Jones sucked in her breath with pleasure. Her cheeks were the faint tinge of apple-flesh. At times like this, the decades fell away and he caught sight of her old unobtrusive loveliness. As if her hoity friend Susan had ever been a patch on her!
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'You'll share with the maid-of-all-work, Abi.' The girl nodded. 'I should warn you, she's a blackie,' he remarked, moving towards the door. 'No harm in her, though.'
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There was no reasoning with country folk. They would hold to their charms and customs till the Last Trumpet. Now she thought of it, Susan Digot always used to throw salt over her shoulder, even when they couldn't afford to buy more. And once, Mary remembered, when she'd dropped a tiny mirror and cracked it, her mother had knelt down on the floor and wept for the seven more years' bad luck.

j
jimg2000
Aug 07, 2018

The world was changing, Mary was confident of that much; already it was not the same one as her mother had grown up in. But in a backwater like Monmouth they'd clearly never heard about the changes, and wouldn't believe in them even if they had.
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As far as she could tell, this country was locked in perpetual winter. Even in the season they called summer, the sun was thin and watery; it never soaked into her skin.
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Abi remembered other names that other masters and mistresses had given her, back in Barbados. Each of them hovered round her head for a year or two: Phibba, Jennie, Lu. They made no difference. She had cast a name off like a shift, every time she'd changed hands.
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'Mrs. Ash is a widow,' murmured Mrs. Jones. Mary hid a smile. To think of any man brave enough to lift that woman's dank skirts! No wonder he hadn't lasted long.

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j
jimg2000
Aug 07, 2018

Updated with added quotes today... lest forget.

Learn of this book from the library reviewers on Sarah Waters' 2002 novel "Fingersmith." A terrifying read on a teenager girl's short life in 1760: "A loose dress for a loose woman, you sleezy slut of a slammerkin ..." Almost gave up after about a fifth into the book because of the super graphic brutality towards a minor but glad to have bravely soldiered on to learn about the fine art in dress making and traditional Welsh culture such as 'The Skyrrid soil legend,' 'Wicker Man ritual' and 'The Mari Lwyd festival' through the awed minds and eyes of the young woman. Not for the squeamish.

Note from Ireland's Independent.ie: Inspired by a murder that took place in the Welsh Borders in 1763, Slammerkin is Emma Donoghue's first historical novel, a gripping study of a prostitute obsessed with clothes. It is inspired by the true story of a girl called Mary Saunders, executed in 1764 for killing her mistress

A very grim read, on par with any Dickens novel. Excellent writing but no comic relief. Exquisite detail of the stench and filth of life for the poor in the 18th century.

xaipe Sep 03, 2012

One of the most memorable books I have ever read.

JanieHH Aug 02, 2012

One of my favourite books by Emma Donoghue and I have read everything she has written. I love the way she has taken a true story and brought it to life. The contrast of life in London to that of the countryside is remarkable. The characters will stay with you for quite some time.

m
momoe
May 17, 2011

I absolutely loved this book, I couldn't stop thinking about it even after I finished it. I found it very interesting to get a perspective on how woman felt and lived in the 1700's and how hard it was to be different. This is a classic story of what happens when a child is thrown out on the streets..except it was over 200 years ago. Emma Donoghue is definitely one of my new favorite authors!!

y
youraveragemo
Apr 27, 2011

Emma Donoghue's Slammerkin is a challenging but extremely worthwhile read. The novel is very loosely framed around a few real events, but can hardly be said to be "based on a true story." That being said, Donoghue manages to capture the gritty reality faced by many women of the time, as well as the putrid but fascinating feel of London contrasted with the safe but slow feel of the English/Welsh countryside.

Donoghue challenges us in many ways during this read. The main character's trivialization of the lewd acts she is forced to perform to get by stand in stark contrast to her near-worship of all external finery (linens, dresses, shoes, etc.) and stands as a commentary on how Western society ranks the things it values, specifically concerning the acquisition of goods above all. Additionally, Donaghue's continued theme of the importance of clothing in perceived and actual social standing was illuminating, as it is often the only way we have of differentiating master from servant.

I would highly recommend this book, especially as a book club or group read. The theme of working girl dissatisfied with her place in the world and willing to do whatever it takes to rise will resonate with most modern audiences, and will keep them sympathetic and engaged right to the final page.

f
feyfriend
Nov 10, 2006

Though it took me about four years to get around to reading this novel, I don't recommend the rest of you wait that long. But be prepared, Emma Donohue is a strong writer, writing about a difficult life in a difficult, hard time, and she doesn't pretty up the life a prostitute in 18th century England leads. It seems like she took a vision journey herself, back in time, and came back and wrote what she saw, the atmosphere she renders is that riveting. A fascinating, gripping novel.

g
GingerKaren
Dec 20, 2001

Enter the world of a poor London girl who has fallen from grace because she coveted a red ribbon in an alley in 1670''s London. Her mother throws her out of her only home to fend for herself at 14. Bewildered she is taken in by a prostitute and then becomes one herself in order to pay the rent on a rat infested boarding house. In order to escape the life, Mary runs away to Monmouth and is taken in by her mother''s best friend. She cannot handle the better life and soon finds herself in a situation that seems to have only one ending: death. Based on a true story, this book will lead you on an unforgettable tour of the real life of the common person in England during this harsh period of history.

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