This was fantastic.
I read Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions late last year and liked it. I thought she was gonna be one of those writers I enjoyed but never found a favourite from. But…I think I was wrong.
The Corset was brilliant.
It follows Dorothea Truelove, who is young, wealthy and beautiful, and Ruth Butterham, a young, poor woman awaiting trial for the murder of her mistress. Dorothea, a budding new phrenologist, takes an interest in Ruth and her story. But can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad or a murderer? Honest or a liar?
I love stories that follow a member of the traditional middle-class taking an interest in someone who is socially inferior to them. Although this can position the lower-class as an animal in a cage, it also bridges the gap between the two classes where unlikely friendships can grow.
I really like these narratives when there are doctors, or other professionals, studying or interviewing a so-called “working-class criminal” (think of Alias Grace or The Confessions of Frannie Langton). Lower-classes have,
more often than not, been the scapegoat for the capitalists. Purcell brilliantly explores the inherent class prejudices in the Victorian society and how the working-class are manipulated.
They are often the victim, not the perpetuator.
What makes The Corset even more special is the Victorian psychology weaved throughout it. Phrenology is a pseudoscience that measures the bumps on someone’s skull to predict their mental traits. Criminals are said to have more defined bumps and lumps than your average law abiding citizen.
…and Dorothea is looking for answers: can the shape of your skull change? Can someone with criminal tendencies change their way? Ruth is Dorothea’s answer.
It is a novel saturated with psychology: outdated Victorian approaches to the mind, the middle-class’ harsh treatment of the working-class (why is this a thing?), and the psychology behind someone’s actions.
Is Ruth mad? Is she feeding herself a narrative to justify events? To explain away the traumatic events of her life?
The Corset deals with a lot of heavy subjects, with psychology, trauma and grief being the main three. Despite it being quite bleak, it is fantastic. Definitely one of my favourites this year. Purcell has such an easy writing style. You get so caught up in the story, and become so enchanted by her words, that you can’t help but finish it all in one go.
Have you read The Corset? What did you think of it? Is it your type of book? Let’s discuss it in the comments!
Thanks for reading, Lauren X