Monday, May 19, 2014

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

Summary (from Goodreads):
Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.
After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?
I have read so many good reviews for this one, that I absolutely had to read it. It was a recipe for all things I enjoy: feminism, Victorian England (or more just post Victorian England), Pre-Raphaelite art, sizzling romance, and a strong female main character not afraid of sometimes going against social norms. And while this book had so many good things that I love, there just seemed to be something missing for me.
Sometimes historical fiction books come off as a little unbelievable to me. There cannot have been as many women like Vicky, who were so brave to go against what society wanted, as I feel these books would like us to believe.  Sometimes I feel like current day society influences characters in historical fiction books a little too much.  And while I loved that Vicky was passionate about her art (even willing to put it before any guy), she reminded me of so many modern day fiction heroines.
My favorite scenes were all of the ones where Vicky painted Will. The tension between them was fantastic. Also, I loved that Will was supportive of Vicky’s art and her passion for women’s rights. I also loved the beginning in France with the male artists who also supported Vicky.
This also happens to be a period in history that I happen to know a lot about. I minored in Women Studies in undergrad, and have since had a fascination with the suffragettes. It is abundantly clear that Waller did her research. And it’s not very often that you come across a YA book that approaches this topic at all. And I love Waller for writing on this subject.
I did find the subject matter to be a tiny bit sugar coated. Granted, Vicky never went to prison with some of the other characters, but still. Stuff was a lot harder for the suffragettes. And while I appreciated the chapter that involved Vicky learning to live in a different economic class, I also think that was a little unbelievable. Things should have been much harder for her. And I found it a tad bit much that her friend would just take her in (even though it was offered). What are the chances of a fellow suffragette just happening to have the space, patience, and income to have Vicky tag along?
I found all the drama with the engagement to be addicting. And I loved reading about Vicky’s mother’s artistic past. There were so many interesting details and characters involved in this story to make it all work. I think my favorite character was actually the lady’s maid.
While there were parts of the book that seemed a bit of a stretch, historical-wise and other things that seemed sugar-coated, I did still enjoy it. I loved the characters and I loved the romance. I also loved the topic, the setting, and the art appreciation. All in all, I give it a 7/10.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like something I would enjoy, too. Our similar historical interests strike again :) Even with the flaws you mentioned, I still have to check this out. I simply cannot pass up the Victorian era, art history, strong female combination, and I think Christina also enjoyed this one!