The Palace of Curiosities – Victorian London – Rosie Garland

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Enter the world of the Victorian circus where people with deformities and who are different are paraded for the amusement of others. Enter the world of the ‘Unique and Genuine Anatomical Marvels’

Story in a nutshell

Victorian London. Not a place where girls or women have the right to do what they want and the freedom to escape their dreary futures. Certainly not Eva, a girl who is born with fur covering her body and face. Cast out from society, she is surprised when she meets a man who marries her, but he is just after the Lion faced girl as Josiah Arroner is the man who owns a freak circus.

Abel is another one destined for this Victorian attraction – mocked by society since he can cut himself, injure himself and almost die but his body heals itself within seconds. He becomes the Flayed man – beat him and strike him, he’ll never die.

Roll up for the show of a lifetime – but the real story is the human one going on behind the scenes when Eve and Abel meet….

Place and setting

Ripleys Believe it or not - a modern day show looking at unsual things and people. History repeating itself? Also in Piccadiily  (where the Starbucks now is) was the The Egyptian Hall, commissioned by William Bullock  as a museum to house his collection of curiosities brought back from Captain cook. It was later said to house very strange things indeed. A Victorian school - The Ragged School Museum evokes the “ragged” or free school in London - 46-50 Copperfield road   .http://www.raggedschoolmuseum.org.uk/ St Thomas Church in Southwark - a 300 year-old garret once used by St Thomas' apothecary for the storage and curing of the herbs that were used for medicinal purposes  - http://www.thegarret.org.uk/ Wellcome Library183 Euston Road London NW1 2BE  - There is information and displays on these ‘Freak Shows’ here. http://wellcomelibrary.org/
Ripleys Believe it or not – a modern day show looking at unsual things and people. History repeating itself?
Also in Piccadiily (where the Starbucks now is) was the The Egyptian Hall, commissioned by William Bullock as a museum to house his collection of curiosities brought back from Captain cook. It was later said to house very strange things indeed.
A Victorian school – The Ragged School Museum evokes the “ragged” or free school in London – 46-50 Copperfield road .http://www.raggedschoolmuseum.org.uk/
St Thomas Church in Southwark – a 300 year-old garret once used by St Thomas’ apothecary for the storage and curing of the herbs that were used for medicinal purposes – http://www.thegarret.org.uk/
Wellcome Library183 Euston Road
London NW1 2BE – There is information and displays on these ‘Freak Shows’ here.
http://wellcomelibrary.org/

 

Magical realism awaits in this tale of the Victorian Freak show that looks beyond the outward appearance of those in it and into their soul.

Eve – who attends her first circus when still insides her mother’s womb – is born with lion features. Her isolation and fear in a society that rejects anything that is different  – unless it is mocking it – is palpable.

Abel on the other hand is not sure where he from – he starts his life afresh each day but has flashbacks to the Netherlands and his probable link with Italy is interesting as we discover the world through Abel’s eyes  – one of life’s outcasts as he sees himself . When he cuts his arm with a knife –

I am held in the grip of a terrific stillness , so entrancing is the sight of my body re-sealing itself.

It is the Palace of Curiosities that provides the most flamboyant setting  – sad scenes of mockery and embarrassment. It is visceral, gory, sweaty and gruesome. Talking of Eve:

Is she animal or human? Her visage cries out animal! But her manners are those of  the most tenderly raised female. Which gives great satisfaction to all who venture to see her

It is an abusive and disturbing evocation of a world we would certainly not like to have witnessed ourselves but a fascinating one all the same. Don’t eat just before or during this read mind. (you won’t be able to for a while after)

The trail below gives a flavour of seeing what Victorian society was like for children and where medicine was concerned…

We’re feeling festive so if this book takes your fancy – head over to Facebook where we’re giving a copy away! https://www.facebook.com/thebooktrail  comp ends this Friday at 4pm

The Somnambulist – London – Essie Fox

the-somnambulist

A thrilling journey around the sites and sounds of the theatre and music hall world of Victorian london. The research is impeccable and the sights sounds and smells of the time period are all closely researched and mentioned at the end of the book. A real intro to an exciting time period!

Story in a nutshell

Phoebe Turner, 17,  visits Wilton’s Music Hall to watch her Aunt Cissy performing on stage. She is captivated by the dancing and the music. Unlike her mother Maud who supports the Hallelujah Army, campaigning for all London theatres to close.

But Phoebe’s love of the theatre continues to grow. soon she meets a stranger who introduces himself  as Nathaniel Samuels. When offered the position of companion to Nathaniel’s reclusive wife, Phoebe leaves her life in London’s East End for Dinwood Court in Herefordshire — a house that may well be haunted and which holds the darkest of truths.

The start of an amazing gothic tale for Phoebe for the house reveals a lot of mysteries and secrets.

Place and setting

The Essie Fox Somnambulist tour of London
The Essie Fox Somnambulist tour of London -Wilton’s famous music hall                             Stepney Green – where the fictional Paradise Row is where old Riley has a cottage                Tredegar Square – a very smart square in London – also where the notorious murderer Henry Wainwright also lived apparently!                                                                                        Victoria Park – built as a kind of poor people’s park but which is now still a haven for walkers and for music festivals!                                                                                                          The Docks also feature in the novels and is where Isaac’s store is located although the exact location is never given

Essie Fox paints Phoebe’s world wonderfully building a very visual and tactile world centered around the old music halls, theatres and cobbled streets to life.

Wilton’s famous music hall features prominently – https://wiltons.org.uk/

The hall is sometimes used for weddings now - courtesy of Wikipedia
The hall is sometimes used for weddings now – courtesy of Wikipedia

There’s a list of places in the back of the book which refer to the real places in and around  London where you really should go to step inside this world that Essie has crafted so well.

She has painted quite a wonderful picture of a new view of Victorian London and a range or cast of characters that could quite easily be on the stage for real.

“You know… every heart holds its secrets”

And with the best of gothic mysteries, there is a big dark empty house full of mystery and intrigue. Something has happened there or in the dark wood surrounding the house and Phoebe, sharing a house with a reclusive woman, is the one to investigate what is going on.

Essie loves the Victorian period and it shows – not only in the descriptions and fleshing out of the characters but in the landscapes and settings so carefully brought back to life. This is a novel of the sights and sounds of a bygone era in London and a spooky one at that.

Don’t forget to visit Hampton Court in Herefordshire on which the fictional Dinwood Court is modelled – http://www.hamptoncourt.org.uk/. Mind you if you see this painting hanging anywhere, you might want to start worrying…

The Millais painting courtesy of Wikipedia
The Millais painting courtesy of Wikipedia