This is Weeks 2 and 3, even though we're basically at Week 4 now, because sometimes life happens. Life seems to be happening for everyone else at the moment too though, so it's all good. As Charlotte says, better late than never!
1) The first 150 pages were a runaway read-along success. Has anybody's opinions changed at all or are we all still in love?
I'm still very much in love. What can I say, I love this time period. It's been good to delve deeper into the characters in this part, following Agnes, Henry and Emmeline, and learning just what it is that Sugar writes all the time (although, maybe some of us would feel we were better off not knowing...)
2) William seems transformed from moany idler to committed businessman. Has the change improved anybody's opinion of him? How long do you think it will last?
I still sort of hate him. Actually, on some level, I actually hate him slightly more. How I did sympathise with him before was where he felt like he wanted to write and be creative instead of consigning himself to the drudgery of business- and he's just completely abandoned that now. I know, I know, it's good that he's stepped up and has some actual financial security (and I'm sure those poor servant girls are glad) but I can't help but feel he's a wee bit of a sell-out. But that's just my bohemian side talking :P
Also, it's given him a certain arrogance that I don't particularly like. The 'buying' of Sugar.. blegh. But we'll get to that later.
I don't really remember what happens to William's fortunes, but I have a feeling it won't last.
3) We've spent more time with Henry Rackham and Emmeline Fox this week. What do you think of their respective efforts to save the poor?
Well, Henry's pretty terrible, isn't he? Gosh, the brothers are so alike in some ways, except Henry has this maddening desire to repress himself as much as possible. That might even make him worse than William in that respect. Pretending to himself that he just wants to help prostitutes, when he really just wants to bang them. Ugh. Honestly, if Henry didn't spend so much effort repressing himself, who knows, he might be able to do something useful.
I like Emmeline a lot, in the same way I always tend to go for eccentric spinster types in this era of fiction. She gets stuck in with trying to help people as well, not worrying what people will say about her getting too close to 'fallen women'. I really respect that.
What's a mystery to me is why such a cool person hangs around with Henry Rackham. I mean, seriously?!
4) There is a quote from The Guardian on the back of my edition that describes the book as "The novel Dickens might have written had he been allowed to speak freely". Thoughts?
Mmm. I mean I get what they're saying- Dickens did think it was important to depict society in often fairly gritty ways, but I'm not sure the overall theme of the book is his thing? I mean, this book is basically about the oppression of women (or is it? Feel free to disagree with me!) and I've never seen much evidence that Dickens particularly cared about that.
I have complicated feelings about Dickens, let's just say.
5) The final chapter of this week's reading saw Sugar moved to a new home and declare herself 'free'. What do you think about her newfound freedom - real or illusory?
It's difficult to say whether she really is free- at least when she was at Mrs Castaway's, she had a certain amount of autonomy and independence. She really is so reliant on Rackham- what's to say he won't lose his fortune or get bored of her? Though dependency on men was pretty much the standard for most women at the time, I suppose. It's a lot nicer than where she came from anyway. She might be able to use it for her own gain, too, which I'd quite like to see.
1) What do you think about the fact that Sugar seems to be starting to have feelings for William?
They have a complicated relationship. Honestly, it would be so much simpler if it was a case of Sugar just using William for money/William just using Sugar for sex, but it's trickier than that. It's interesting how Sugar's getting so involved in the perfume business as well. I wonder what would have happened if William had never married before he met Sugar, and Sugar was more the sort of class he'd be able to marry? Would they have had a happy marriage? Would William have even looked at her in the first place? Who knows.
But while Sugar seems to be falling (even just a little bit) for William, I'm not so sure that William feels the same way. I got the impression this week he's getting bored of her, actually.
2) Does the change in William and Sugar's relationship alter your expectations for the rest of the book at all?
Remember I've read this before and know exactly how the rest of the book turns out, so I'm going to tread carefully here... but I've never seen a particularly happy ending on the cards for them. How happy/unhappy they turn out to be though, you'll find out ;)
3) Ah, Mrs Fox. Consumption. Between her and Agnes' brain tumour, it seems like the ladies of the story aren't long for this world. What do you think of about the medical treatment on display so far?
Not to mention Katy Lester, too. Yeah, come to think of it all the female characters have something wrong with them (Sugar has her bad skin) don't they? And all the men seem more or less healthy, though we can cast doubts on Henry's sanity. I'm not sure what that means on a symbolic level. Perhaps to show how vulnerable women were at this time?
But I suppose a lot of it is just that there was a lot of sickness about in those days. It's frustrating, especially in Agnes's case, just how clueless the doctors are. Nowadays she'd get a proper examination or her brain tumour could even have been discovered in an eye test but nope, she's left with the worst, least helpful treatment possible.
4) We've seen quite a lot of Sugar's novel now- what do you think of Sugar's efforts as an author?
I admire her industry and I'm sure she's a very good writer- you have to wonder if William ever got as far writing anything as she has. I was going to say her novel would never be able to see the light of day but then I remembered My Secret Life and the likes were around at this time, so she probably would have an audience. She seems to be getting pretty bored with her novel though- I suppose because prostitution means something different to her now she's a kept woman who may be in love with William. I wonder if she'll write anything else. I kind of hope she does.