I am anxious and nervous altogether in writing the review of this incredibly beautiful book,„Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters.
It is, by far, the most exquisite book I have ever read, regarding the depth of the plot, the complexity of the characters and the richness of the language.
It’s a lesbian reference novel, but Mrs. Waters has created this plot that changes for so many twist along the way that makes you see the characters from many different angles and in so many different colors : I am in love with Sue, than I hate her, than I am in love with Maud, pity her, love her more, hate her, love Sue more and so on…I won’t disclose the whole plot and so, I’d rather not spoil the pleasure of reading.
The complexity of the characters, their true nature, their fake selves, how they turn and return, how they are changed by love and fate forever and how they compose and decompose the depth of the plot, it never ceases to amaze me.
Fingersmith it’s a dramatic novel from the Victorian era full of disappointments, deceit, poverty, richness, madness, fraud and secrets defined in three parts.
At first, we see the world of Sue Tinder, a little fingersmith, she only new poverty in Mrs. Sucksby’s house in the Lant Street of London’s Borough and when Gentleman comes with the proposal to earn 2000 pounds by misleading a rich mistress by becoming her maid, seem an easy task to perform for young, unexperienced Sue raised in this house of thieves by a baby farmer. The pages flow thickly and Sue goes to Briar , a big mansion as maid to be to Miss Maud Lily, whom gentleman was to be married to as she would inherit a great fortune at the age of 18. For the first time, Sue has a room on her own and everything seems so easy after seeing her mistress, Miss Maud that has never left Briar and is young and full of fears and with little experience, being her uncle’s secretary, writing a dictionary of books. Sue forgets why she was there and after a short while, she never knew, but she has fallen in love with her mistress’s innocence and attitude and Maud becomes her everything, yet Sue never forgets why she’s at Briar’s, so the morals go down…she could have told Maud the truth with a simple I love you and maybe then she could have saved Maud from her fate….but was Maud in love with her?
“If I had said, I love you, she would have said it back; and everything would have changed. I might have saved her. I might have found a way-I don’t know what-to keep her from her fate.”
„Why Sue, she said. Why my Sue. Because she’s yours, Mrs. S, he answered.”
„Is that you, Susan? You are quicker than Agnes, she smiled, I think you are handsomer, too.”
„You are cold, I said then. Come back, to the house. We’ve been out too long. I pit her arm around mine. I did it, not thinking; and her arm stayed stiff. But then, the next day-or perhaps, the day after that-she took my arm again, and was not stiff; and after that, I suppose we joined arms naturally…I don’t know. By then, I could only see that there were once a time when we walked apart; and then a time when we walked together.”
„And I thought then, for the first time, that he had been right. She was handsome, she was very fair and sleight- I knew it, seeing her stand beside him with her eyes on his.”
„You love him, don’t you?
She turned a little, and still looked queer, and would not answer. Then she said,
I don’t know.
Don’t know? How can you not know a thing like that? Doesn’t your blood beat hard when you see him coming? Doesn’t his voice thrill in your ears, and his touch set you shaking? Don’t you dream of him, at night?
She bit her plump lip. And those things mean I love him?
Of course. What else could they mean?
She did not answer. Instead, she closed her eyes and gave a shiver. She put her hands together, and again she stroked the spot upon her palm where he had yestarday touched his lips.
She didn’t loved him. She was afraid of him.”
„The more I tried to give up thinking of her, the more I said to myself, `She’s nothing to you`, the harder I tried to pluck the idea of her out of my heart, the more she stayed there. All day I set or walked with her, so full of the fate I was bringing her to I could hardly touch her or meet her gaze; and all night I lay with my back turned to her, the blanket over my ears to keep out her sighs. But in the hours she went to her uncle, I felt her-Ifelt her, through the walls of the house, it was as if there had come between us, without my knowing, a kind of thread. It pulled me to her, wherever she was. It was like –
It’s like you love her, I thought.”
„We were aawkward with each other , all that day. We walked, but we walked apart. She reached to take my arm, but I drew away. And when, that night, I had put her into her bed, and stood letting down her curtains, I looked at the empty place beside her and said. The nights are grown so warm now , miss. Don’t you think you will sleep betteer of your own..?
I went back to my narrow bed, with it’s sheets like pieces of pastry. I heard her turning, and sighing, all through the night; and I turned, and sighed, myself. I felt that thread that had come between us, tugging, tugging at my heart-so hard. It hurt me. A hundred times, I almost rose, almost went in to her; a hundred times, I thought, Go to her! Why are you waiting? Go back to her side! But, everytime, I thought of what would happen if I did. I knew that I couldn’t lie beside her, without wanting to touch her. I couldn’t have felt her breath come upon my mouth, without wanting to kiss her. And I couldn’t have kissed her, without wanting to save her.”
The beauty of the plot reveals a perfumed rosebud of love, than the rose fades and has the bitter taste of deceit, insanity and surprise. In part two, we see the plot from Maud’s perspective. Maud is deeply in love with her maid, as she was never before. She was supposed to marry Mr.Richard Rivers (Gentleman) , yet she felt nothing from his kisses and his touches don’t arouse her. She can’t think but at the night she has had bad dreams and Sue stayed with her, and afterwards never left her side and she knew she couldn’t ease that fire burning deep inside her everytime Sue was close, Sue undressed her, Sue dressed her nor she being naked in front of Sue, that trembling shudder her heart skips a beat more and she can’t stop those feelings that consume her….yet still, she was born in a madhouse where her mother died, she knew why her uncle took her to Briar and she wanted so badly to escape, to be free…to love free, yet she couldn’t have it both ways…it would be one way or another….it would be the other.
“My happiness is nothing to him,” she said. “Only his books! He has made me like a book. I am not meant to be taken, and touched, and liked. I am meant to keep here, in dim light, forever!”
“…For I could not want her now, more than I could a lover.
But I could not want a lover, more than I want freedom.”
„You’ve a heart, instead, for little fingersmiths? Oh, Maud.”
“It was like kissing the darkness. As if the darkness had life, had a shape, had taste, was warm and glib.”
“Is this desire? How queer that I, of all people, should not know! But I thought desire smaller, neater; I supposed it bound to its own organs as taste is bound to the mouth, vision to the eye. This feeling haunts and inhabits me, like a sickness. It covers me, like skin.”
„Don’t leave me, Sue […] Good girl, she says. How long has it been since anyone at Briar believed me good? She believes it. […] I sleep in her arms, dreamless and still, and wake to the warmth and closeness of her. She moves away as she feels me stir. She rubs her eye. Her hair is loose and touches my own. Her face, in sleep, has lost a little of it’s sharpness. Her brow is smooth, her lashes powdery, her gaze, when it meets mine, quite clear, untinged with mockery or malice…”
„She puts me into my bed and lies with her arm against mine, but soon she sleeps, and then draws away. I think of the house in which I lie. I think of the room beyond the bed-it’s edges, it’s surfaces. I think I shall not sleep, unless I touch them. I rise. It is cold, but I go quietly from thing to thing – chimney-piece, dressing table, carpet, press. Then, i come to Sue. I would like to touch her, to be sure that she is here. I dare not. But I cannot leave her. I lift my hands and move and hold them an inch, just an inch, above her – her hip, her breast, her curling hand, her hair on the pillow, her face, as she sleeps.”
„I think of the books I have lately read , to Richard and to my uncle : they come back to me now, in phrases, in fragments – pressed her lips and tongue-takes hold of my hand-hip, lip and tongue-forced it half-strivingly-took hold of my breasts-open wide the lips of my little-the lips of her little cunt-
I cannot silence them.I put my hands before my face. But I must make some sound, or movement; for when I draw my hands away, she’s away and watching.
Go to sleep, she says.
I say, I am afraid…
Then her breathing changes.
I wish, I say, I wish you would tell me what a wife must do on her wedding night…
He will want to kiss you, then to embrace you…
Then she rises above me and puts her mouth to mine.
I have felt before, the pressure of a gentleman’s still, dry lips, against my gloved hand, my cheek. I have suffered Richard’s wet , insinuating kisses upon my palm. Her lips are cool, smooth, damp : they fit themselves imperfectly to mine, but then grow warmer, damper. Her hair falls against my face. I cannot see her, I can only feel her, and taste her. She tastes of sleep, slightly sour.Too sour. I part my lips – to breathe, or to swallow, or perhaps to move away; but in breathing or swallowing or moving I only seem to draw her into my mouth. Her lips part, also. Her tongue comes between them and touches mine.
And at that, I shudder, or I quiver. For it is like the finding out of something raw, the troubling of a wound, a nerve. She feels me jolt, and draws away – but slowly, slowly and unwillingly so that our damp mouths seem to cling together and, as they part, to tear. She holds herself above me. I feel the rapid beating of a heart, and I suppose it my own. But it is hers. Her breath comes, fast. She has begun, very lightly, to tremble.
Than I catch the excitement of her, the amazement of her.
Do you feel it? She says. Her voice sounds strangely in the absolute darkness. Do you feel it?
I do. I feel it as a falling, a dropping, a trickling, like sand from a bulb of glass. Than I move; and I am not dry, like sand. I am wet. I am running, like water, like ink.
I begin, like her, to shake.
`Don’t be frightened`, she says. Her voice has a catch. I move again, but she moves, too, she comes nearer to me, and my flesh gives a leap, to hers. She is trembling, worse than before. She is trembling, from the closeness of me!
She says, `Think more of Mr. Rivers`- I think of Richard watching. She says again, Don’t be frightened. But, it is she who seems frightened. Her voice still has it’s catch. She kisses me again. Than she rises her hand and I feel the tops of her fingers flutter against my face. […]
Only touch you. Like this like this.
When she puts up my nightgown and reaches between my legs, we both grow still. When her hand moves again, her fingers no longer flutter : they have grown wet, and slide, and in sliding seem, like her lips as they rub upon mine, to quicken and draw me, to gather me, out of the darkness, out of my natural shape. I thought I longed for her, before. Now, I begin to feel a longing so great, so sharp, I fear it will never be assuaged. I think it will mount, and mount, and make me mad, or kill me. Yet her hand moves slowly, still. She whispers. `How soft you are. How warm! I want-` The hand moves even slower She begins to press. I catch my breath. That makes her hesitate, and then press harder.At last, she presses so hard, I feel the giving of my flesh. I feel her inside me. I think I cry out. She does not hesitate now, however, but comes nearer to me and puts her hips upon my tigh; the presses again. So light she is!- but her hip is sharp, her hand is blunt, she leans, she pushes, she moves her hips and hand so if to a rhythm, a time, a quickening beat. She reaches. She reaches so far, she catches the life, the shuddering heart of me: soon I seem to be nowhere, but at the points at which my flesh is gripped by hers.
I am breaking, shattering, bursting out of her hand. She begins to weep. Her tears come upon my face. She puts her mouth to them. `You pearl` she says, as she does it. Her voice is broken. You pearl.
And so you see it is love-not scorn, not malice; only love-that makes me harm her, in the end.”
The plot grows in depth, in passion and betrail so badly that you can’t believe you have reached part three and 400 pages without a real conclusion, with turns and twists that seemed utopia at the begining of the novel..like Maud on Lant Street at Mrs. Sucksby’s house…would Gentleman keep his promise to Maud about taking her to London?….What will happen to Sue? Who’s the real victim and how would this imperfect love between Maud and Sue get a hold on their grips?
„My heart was too full. Her gaze was too close, too clear. I saw the beating of her throat behind the highest hook of the dress, that was left undone, I looked away, than I looked back, into her eyes.
`I only want you`, I said.
The blood spread upon her face. She unjoined her hands, took another step to me and almost, almost reached. But then, she turned and lowered her gaze.
`You don’t know me` she said in a queer, flat voice’You never did. There were things-`”
„She kept me safe, and grave me up, so Maud, so Maud-
But then I grew still. I was thinking of Maud, letting me hate her. I was thinking of Maud, making me think she’d hurt me, to save me knowing who had hurt me most…”
„Do you hate me for it? She said
Hate you? I said. `When I have fifty proper reasons for hating you already; and only-
Only love you, I wanted to say…`
„When I kissed her, she shook. I remembered what it was, then, to make her shake by kissing her; and began to shake, too”
„You are writting books, like this!
What does it say?
She said, `It is filled with all the words for how I want you…`”
I am still in love with Sue and Maud and Mrs. Waters’s rich language plot….
This historic Victorian novel it’s too precious to be spoiled in few words of a review… you’ll need to read it all, enjoy it and then see the movie, which pretty much makes the novel justice.
My vid : https://vimeo.com/184889448
The Handmaiden (2016)