Review Blog

Jul 23 2013

The disgrace of Kitty Grey by Mary Hooper

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Bloomsbury, 2013. ISBN 978 1 4088 2761 1
(Age: 12+) Recommended. Historical novel.Convicts. Set in the time of Jane Austen and Regency England, Hooper has her main character, Kitty Gray, one of the servants in a wealthy household, go to London to buy a book for her mistress. Kitty is a milkmaid, running the kitchen dairy which supplies the milk for the household, and so in a trusted position within the servant community. She is friendly with the local ferrryman, and he has been left with the charge of his younger sister, Betsy, following the deaths of his parents. But he has plans to improve himself, and so sets off to London to gain employment on the ferries on the Thames River, leaving Betsy with the distraught Kitty.
Given the task of going to London to buy a book for her mistress, the innocent Kitty sets off, with Betsy in tow, hoping to find Will. We see her traveling to the city on a coach, but once there she is tricked out of the money given her to buy the book, and is alone, penniless and with a sick child to care for.
She takes lodgings where she can, avoiding the suggestions that she can earn money in other ways, and eventually, using an old chair to light a fire for the sick child, is taken to Newgate and sentenced to seven years' transportation. But she is able to escape. Hooper can certainly recreate the times well. The reader will be in no doubt about the gravity of her situation in London, where a girl in her situation can be easily persuaded into a life of prostitution. The cruelty of other poor around her adds to the feeling of the decay of the place, the scavengers in the street, the poor houses, the unwanted attention of men, the prison and finally the ship where she is held prior to leaving for the colonies. All are described in such detail, that readers can be in no doubt about the gravity of people in her situation.
While some of the plot is perhaps a bit of a stretch to believe, it is an exciting and involving read, strongly evocative of the times, and girls particularly will read this book with pleasure.
Fran Knight

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