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"Mrs. Fox," a Frenchwoman with vague claims to a noble past that preceded unsavory scrapes with the authorities in two countries, arrives in 18th-century London with her maid in low style and immediately sets out to establish herself in society. What she lacks in money and connections she more than makes up for in wit and artful duplicity, and for a primary mark she soon settles on the depraved Urban Fine, Earl Much -- a man very much her equal in battle.
Like many a successful procuress before her, Mrs. Fox targets the basest human instincts as the most direct means of acquiring adequate influence to propel her into the highest social circles. She is at home in brothels and country manors like, disparate venues that are nonetheless equally populated by a colorful cast of childlike noblemen, dishonest clergymen with virginal daughters, solemn American painters, and a malignant aristocrat brimming with evil intent.
Through a series of letters and journal entries, Mrs. Fox relates her progress to a friend, the Dutch philosopher Van Essel, who knows firsthand the matchless destructive force of Earl Much. Van Essel fears Mrs. Fox has finally bitten off more than she can chew, and that his love may not be enough to save her. A Factory of Cunning is a masterfully wrought and shrewdly humorous portrait of deception, vice, and cruelty, expertly rendered in the genteel language and manners of Hanoverian England. (Summer 2005 Selection)
Even if you've never fantasized about Jane Austen in leather, you'll get a kick out of A Factory of Cunning. This deliciously wicked novel by British writer Philippa Stockley takes us back to London in the late 18th century, a dark, scurrilous time of strict public morality but ubiquitous sexual exploitation. Of course, it's difficult to fathom people so alien to us now as we deliberate how to punish Janet Jackson's errant breast while downloading pornography on a laptop at Starbucks. But Stockley is such a clever writer that somehow the relevance of her naughty historical novel peeks through.
The Washington Post
"Cunning" is an apt word for the plot of Stockley's (The Edge of Pleasure) intriguing historical novel, set in 18th-century England; "devilishly clever" would be even more appropriate. The truth about any character or event is never what one expects, despite arch foreshadowing, and the reader is unprepared for the shocking denouement, which carries echoes of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and the Grand Guignol. A beautiful 29-year-old Parisian aristocrat arrives in London in 1784, fleeing a scandal and the pursuit of a vengeful victim. On the surface, the penniless woman, who adopts the name Mrs. Fox, makes admirable efforts to establish herself in English society. Sharp-tongued and arrogant, she doesn't hide the fact that during a sojourn in Holland, she was the madam of a whorehouse, or that she is coolly manipulative, or that she is voracious for money. She meets her match in the mysterious Earl Much, a man who oozes malevolence and power. Their battle to the death involves a large cast of Dickensian characters, each one of whom hides his or her true identity. Narrated with wit and sexually provocative detail, the novel portrays London as a pit of licentiousness, amorality, greed and deceit. It's entertaining and suspenseful, and the most monstrous characters are those who wear the facade of moneyed respectability. Agent, David Miller at Rogers, Coleridge, and White (U.K.). (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Stockley's second novel (after The Edge of Pleasure) is a continuation of Choderlos de Laclos's classic 1782 French novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which followed the career of a seductive marquise whose machinations brought about the ruin of a young girl and the deaths of a virtuous wife and the marquise's former lover. Stockley begins her thread when the marquise is driven out of her native France by the ensuing scandal; she settles in Holland, only to be forced to leave two years later when her past catches up with her. Fleeing to London, she becomes the proprietress of a high-class brothel, but history repeats itself when the ever manipulative marquise finds herself embroiled in the corruption and ruin of another young woman and the death of another lover. At the outset, readers may find themselves distracted by the intrusively clever language, but they are soon rewarded with a compellingly complex tale of seduction, betrayal, and manipulation that holds their attention until the last surprising moment. Strongly recommended for most fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/04.]-Cynthia Johnson, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, MA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
A Dutch philosopher nursing a grudge sends a marquise with a scandalous past to London to work the downfall of an even more depraved earl. Further debauchery ensues-in a guiltily pleasurable slice of fashionable Georgian life. Stockley stirred a hellish brew of good writing and repellent characters in The Edge of Pleasure (2004). She applies the same technique in this richly intricate revenge tale that uses journal entries and correspondence to document the murders, incest, forgeries, and other criminal activities engendered and plied by "Mrs. Fox," the missile lobbed by Hubert Van Essel from Amsterdam across the North Sea to Salamander Row, the address of the Earl Much, collector of art and ruiner of women. Van Essel has chosen his weapon of mass destruction with loving care. "Mrs. Fox," who found it necessary to flee Paris following the stabbing death of her lover and the destruction of two virtuous ladies, enjoyed great success as a madam in Holland thanks to financial assistance from Van Essel, a neighbor who became enamored of her cynical intelligence. But faced with exposure of her capital crimes when a figure from the Parisian past pops up in her bordello, the marquise and her long-suffering but most capable servant Victoire take it on the lam to London with money and a charge from Van Essel to ruin his former friend the earl. Mrs. Fox's machinations drag in the silly country daughters of a shady clergyman, the heir to a thread fortune, an apparently stupid peer, a moody American painter, and a pretty young dressmaker-prostitute who becomes Galatea to Mrs. Fox's Pygmalion. Everything comes to a head in a sort of tableau vivant in a cathouse where an innocent virgin is lowered exmacchina before a crowd of rowdies and bidding is opened on her virtue. Corpses begin to drop, secrets begin to be revealed, and justice, after a fashion, is done. Polished, clever, and really quite shocking. Agency: Rogers, Coleridge and White
PRAISE FOR A FACTORY OF CUNNING
"Deliciously wicked."--The Washington Post Book World
"A Factory of Cunning is a well-made entertainment for people who don't go soft at the prospect of corsets and powdered wigs. The 18th-century milieu Stockley describes is so ruthless and exploitative that any shred of sentiment attached to the better-dressed past will be burnt to ashes on contact. Stockley's fidelity to the period and its language is nearly faultless."--Salon.com