A Review of Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal And The White

2011 BBC Production of The Crimson Petal And The White. It hasn't aired in the US yet. The first episode, opening scene, is taken verbatim from the novel's opening chapter. You've just met Sugar, a prostitute in London, 1874. She's right, "Watch your step, keep your wits about you; you will need them".

The Title of Michel Faber's 2002 novel, 'The Crimson Petal And The White' is taken from "Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal" a poem written by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It was first published in 1847, in The Princess: A Medley:

Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal
Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font:
The firefly wakens: waken thou with me.

Now droops the milkwhite peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.

Now lies the Earth all Danaƫ to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me.

Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.

Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
And slips into the bosom of the lake:
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
Into my bosom and be lost in me

Paperback: 944 pages
Publisher: Mariner Books (September 1, 2003)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0156028778
ISBN-13: 978-0156028776

A gripping tale of Victorian England - from whores to high society - by a twenty-first century Charles Dickens.

At the heart of this panoramic, multidimensional narrative is the compelling struggle of a young woman to lift her body and soul out of the gutter. Michel Faber leads us back to 1870s London, where Sugar, a nineteen year-old whore in the brothel of the terrifying Mrs. Castaway, yearns for escape into a better life. Her ascent through the strata of Victorian society offers us intimacy with a host of lovable, maddening, unforgettable characters.

They begin with William Rackham, an egotistical perfume magnate whose ambition is fueled by his lust for Sugar, and whose patronage of her brings her into proximity to his extended family and milieu: his unhinged, child-like wife, Agnes; his mysteriously hidden-away daughter, Sophie; and his pious brother Henry, foiled in his devotional calling by a persistently less-than-chaste love for the Widow Fox, whose efforts on behalf of The Rescue Society lead Henry into ever-more disturbing confrontations with flesh. All this is overseen by assorted preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all stripes and persuasions.

I am not going into much detail simply because if you truly want to read and enjoy all aspects of this complicated, dramatic, multi-plot NeoVictorian novel, than I cannot give much away!
Reading The Crimson Petal and the White provided glimpses into working class and upper class nineteenth century London while author Michel Faber's chapters jumped between the wealthy Rackham family and Sugar (his prostitute), Mrs. Castaway(Sugars madam), friends Caroline and many others.

The Crimson Petal and the White is written from a third person Omniscient point of view, where the author directly addresses you 'the reader' in passages of the novel itself!
I enjoy this writing style. It usually doesn't deter me from finishing a novel, as long as it is well written. Others, I know, disagree with me when it comes to this style of writing.

There are many racey, steamy, or naughty bits of writing scenes between Sugar and William Rackham with many a realistic depiction of the washing habits of a female prostitute during the nineteenth century as well!

The varied storyline's take many twists and turns which I find very refreshing. However, try not to get too attached to many of the characters because the last quarter of the novel contains many deaths; some expected due to illness or lifestyle but some came as a surprise indeed!
Also, the ending is open-ended leaving one particular storyline well...open!

Michel Faber took twenty years to write this novel. It has already been critically stoned and critically praised over the years as well as serialized by BBC Productions. I thoroughly enjoyed The Crimson Petal and the White. Michel Faber knows how to set the scene and write dialogue that captures the tone and nature of the story. I think the ending is a brave choice as well!

If you are not daunted by such a long novel, if you enjoy reading about the Victorian Era, or are merely curious, than I'm sure you won't be disappointed! Well, I hope not!

Please feel free to leave any comments,


We are reading this for my TuesBookTalk read alongs group and I am LOVING it! I can't wait until the BBC mini-series makes it across the pond. I just skimmed your review because I didn't want to spoil anything for myself, but what I did read was nicely done!
Kimberly Eve said…
Thanks for commenting Michelle.
I'm glad you enjoyed what you
read! I understand, with a novel
like this, you don't want any spoilers!

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