by Sarah Waters


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781573229722
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/15/2002
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 608
Sales rank: 51,596
Product dimensions: 5.21(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.27(d)

About the Author

Sarah Waters is the New York Times–bestselling author of The Paying GuestsThe Little Stranger,The Night WatchFingersmith, Affinity, and Tipping the Velvet. She has three times been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, has twice been a finalist for the Orange Prize, and was named one of Granta’s best young British novelists, among other distinctions. Waters lives in London.

Read an Excerpt

My name, in those days, was Susan Trinder. People called me Sue. I know the year I was born in, but for many years I did not know the date, and took my birthday at Christmas. I believe I am an orphan. My mother I know is dead. But I never saw her, she was nothing to me. I was Mrs Sucksby’s child, if I was anyone’s; and for father I had Mr Ibbs, who kept the locksmith’s shop, at Lant Street, in the Borough, near to the Thames.

Excerpted from "Fingersmith"
by .
Copyright © 2002 Sarah Waters.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Deliciously brazen…a smart and seductive enchantment.”
Los Angeles Times

“Oliver Twist with a twist…Waters spins an absorbing tale that withholds as much as it discloses. A pulsating story.”
The New York Times Book Review 

“Astonishing narrative twists.”

“Superb storytelling. Fingersmith is gripping; so suspenseful and twisting is the plot that for the last 250 pages, I read at breakneck speed.”
USA Today 

“A deftly plotted thriller…absorbing and elegant.”
Entertainment Weekly

“A marvelous pleasure…Waters’s noted attention to historical detail and her beautifully sensitive dialogue help to anchor the force-five plot twisters.”
The Washington Post 

“Calls to mind the feverishly gloomy haunts of Charlotte and Emily Brontë…Elaborate and satisfying.”
The Seattle Times

“A sweeping read.”
The Boston Globe

Reading Group Guide


Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a "baby farmer," who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby's household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thievesfingersmithsfor whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrivesGentleman, a somewhat elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud's vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be left to live out her days in a mental hospital. With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways....But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and surprises.

The New York Times Book Review has called Sarah Waters a writer of "consummate skill" and The Seattle Times has praised her work as "gripping, astute fiction that feeds the mind and the senses." Fingersmith marks a major leap forward in this young and brilliant career.



Sarah Waters, 35, was born in Pembrokeshire, South West Wales, United Kingdom. She studied English Literature at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, at the universities of Kent and Lancaster. As a student she lived for two years in Whitstable, the sea-side townfamous for its oystersin which her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, is partly set. In 1988 she moved to London; her first full-time job was in an independent bookshop; later she worked in public libraries. In 1991 she decided to return to postgraduate study, and she spent the next three years writing a PhD thesis, on lesbian and gay historical fiction. She developed a daily writing routine, and a passion for language and composition. She had articles on gender, sexuality and history published in various scholarly journals, including Feminist Review, Journal of the History of Sexuality, and Science as Culture.

But while working on her thesis, and becoming increasingly interested in London life of the nineteenth century, Waters began to conceive the historical novel that would become Tipping the Velvet. With the thesis complete, and supporting herself with bits of teaching and part-time library work, she started to write. The novel was finished in just over a year, and was published in the U.K. by Virago (1998) and in the U.S. by Riverhead (1999).

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is in the process of adapting the book into a major series with director Andrew Davies, who also directed the BBC's adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now.

By 1991, Waters had already begun her second novel, Affinity. This was completed with help from a London Arts Board New London Writers Award, and appeared in the U.K. in 1999 and in the U.S. in 2000. Waters taught for a time for the Open University, a national educational institution offering undergraduate schooling to mature students from a range of social backgrounds. She has also tutored on creative writing programs. She published articles on literature as recently as 1999, but now devotes herself full time to the writing of fiction. Her third novel, Fingersmith, was completed in 2001, and she is currently at work on her next book. She still lives in London, a city she finds endlessly inspiring; but she dreams, too, of returning to a life by the sea.


  • At the start of her story, Sue Trinder claims: "I was Mrs. Sucksby's child, if I was anyone's." Is this true? Why or why not? Might she still make the same claim by the end of her saga?
  • "Everything that came into our kitchen looking like one sort of thing, was made to leave it again looking quite another," Sue says of Mrs. Sucksby's kitchen (p.10). At Briar, she finds unbearable "two-facedness" on the part of the servants, "all on the dodge in one way or another." (p.83) Compare and contrast the two households. In what ways does each reinforce the activities of its inhabitants?
  • Deceptive appearances are a recurring theme throughout the novel. Is anything about Maud what it seems to be? What about Gentleman? Mr. Lilly? Why do you think the author chose to come at the story twice, from two separate points of view? Is Sue's perception of the situation more or less "real" than Maud's? Why or why not?
  • Sue and Maud initially appear to be almost perfect opposites: where Sue's hands are toughened by work, Maud's are smooth and childlike; where Sue is illiterate, Maud does nothing but pore over books. In what ways do the scale and nature of their differences change as the novel progresses? In what ways have they grown alike by the end of their story? How are they different?
  • Sue and Maud's relationship progresses through many incarnations. Discuss the manifestations of their relationship: how do they fulfill and surpass their roles as villain and victim? Servant and master? Caretaker and dependant? How do their transitions alter their destiny?
  • What effect has her occupation in her uncle's library had on Maud's psyche? Is she capable of distinguishing between the content of the books and her own sexuality? What does her brutal treatment of Agnes indicate? How has she evolved by the time she returns to Briar at the end of the novel?
  • Sue's imprisonment in the asylum echoes Maud's incarceration at Lant Street, as well as her earlier situation at Briar. Discuss the ways in which gender and constraint are demonstratedand challengedin their respective characters. In what ways is the desire for "rare and sinister liberty" (p. 210) at the heart of both Maud and Sue's actions?
  • Do you think Sue's recollection of her earliest memory ("I remember the world was made up: that it had bad Bill Sykeses in it, and good Mr. Ibbses; and Nancys, that might go either way. I thought how glad I was that I was already on the side that Nancy got to at last.I mean, the good side, with sugar mice in.") would be altered by her experiences? In spite of all the deceptions she has undergone, does she still regard "good" and "bad" so clearly? Why or why not?
  • What does this novel ultimately say about the relationship between morality and love?
  • Customer Reviews

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    Fingersmith 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 179 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is not a book I would have ever picked up - was looking for ideas that were different and found it in 1001 Books you Should Read (?). It was unbelievable - possibly one of the best books I have read of late. Both the dialogue, descriptions (a part that I frequently skim) and plot twists were amazing. Because I read alot, it is unusual for me to be surprised in a book - at least three different times I was completely caught off guard. I actually slowed down toward the end because I didn't want to stop reading it. I have not only recommended this book to people I have actually bought it for two friends. Definitely a keeper.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    At first, this seemed to be Dickensian. Then the scene changed and "Aha!" I thought. Scary Lord of the house, beautiful maiden isolated from the world. Gothic. Right? Wrong. Yes there are elements of Dickens and of Gothics. It does take place in 19th century England, after all. However, don't think you can guess what happens or how it all turns out. I can usually figure out a plot in 75 pages or less, but not in Fingersmith. I even usually predict what will turn out to be false, but not in Fingersmith. Oh, Mrs. Sucksby how could you! Susan was like your daughter. The twists and turns of the plot will keep you engrossed, but Water's writing is excellent too. It is good enough to merit the label "literary fiction." She actually researched thoroughly what she's writing about so you get to know how life was lived then, what it was like to be a woman controlled by men
    jenpalombi More than 1 year ago
    Let me begin by saying that Fingersmith is the first novel in recent memory to incorporate a plot twist so unexpected and surprising that I actually exclaimed out loud ("I think I said "Holy Crap!" or something equally insightful. Don't judge me. it was a shocking twist.) I love that. For better or worse, I am a very difficult reader to surprise. Fingersmith actually surprised me twice. Set in my very favorite literary time and place, Victorian England, Fingersmith is a tale of intrigue full of memorable characters, an intricate and surprising plot and vivid period detail. It is truly a remarkable book. The novel is divided into three parts: the first tells the story from Sue Trinder's perspective, the second tells the story from Maud Lilly''s perspective and the third finishes out the tale, moving forward from where their stories merge. or diverge, as the case may be. Part One is arguably the best storytelling work I've read in recent memory. It is spell-binding and I couldn't put the book down. Part Two is interesting because it is essentially a retelling of Part One from a completely different perspective with the addition of lots of great (and also unexpected) background information on Maud Lilly. Part Three brings the story to fruition. but Part Three is also the reason I dropped the plot rating from 5 to 4.5. once the stories rejoin and the plot moves forward to its conclusion, the novel loses a lot of momentum. Fingersmith is like a thoroughbred. really fast and vastly superior for short distances, but lacking a bit in endurance. Part Three contained a twist or two of its own, but was essentially a waiting game with little by way of new action or intrigue. Or maybe I'm just holding it to the impossibly high standard set forth in Part One. Waters does a brilliant job of portraying life in Victorian England - both rural and city life. I'm a bit of a snob about this period. it has to be perfect. And Fingersmith's setting really was perfect. The characters are equally well-developed with a wide variety of personas, all in keeping with Victorian standards and yet each with their own idiosyncrasies and often startling secrets. The premise of the novel is absolutely fresh and thoroughly unique. I can certainly see why Fingersmith put Sarah Waters on the map, so to speak. There is no arguing the talent of an author who writes a book like Fingersmith. The Bottom Line: An engrossing and intricately detailed historical novel full of intrigue and unexpected plot twists. A must-read for fans of the genre.
    EDNurseDee More than 1 year ago
    I decided to read the book because it was on the list of 1001 books to read before you die...and I'm very glad I did! Just when I thought I had figured out what was going to happen things twisted and surprised me. I will definitely read more by this author.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    well...this book was wonderfully atmospheric (or maybe i'm just partial to mid-1800s london). it is divided into three parts, and i most enjoyed the first, and its narrator, sue. although the plot became a little convoluted and often dragged, the writing more than made up for the deficiencies.
    buffalobibliophile More than 1 year ago
    Suspense thriller and love story; fair maidens and dastardly villains; country estate and insane asylum; den of thieves and literary purists; murder and mayhem in Victorian London; Sarah Waters manages to blend it all and produce one whale of a story that had me gulping it ravenously into the night, coming up for air only when it was done. One wild caper with more twists and turns than you can imagine. The protagonist, Susan Trinder is an orphan child whose only knowledge of her mother is the London gallows she can see from her window where, she is told, her mother was hung, not long after Susan's birth. She is being raised by Mrs. Sucksby, matriarch of a den of thieves, or fingersmiths. As a teenager, Sue agrees to help Mrs. Sucksby and her friend, the wily "Gentleman," in a scheme that will leave all three of them wealthy. Maud Lilly lives with her uncle in the country at Briar Estate, where she spends hours assisting him in his library. She may enjoy wealth, but she lives a miserable existence. It is the intersection of these two lives that provides the impetus that drives the narrative forward and enables the author to engage the reader in the tangled web that she so cleverly constructs. And clever may be an understatement because just when you think you know where the plot is going, bam, it twists in a completely different direction. Twists, turns, up, down, back around until you finally come to the conclusion. Throughout the process, Waters describes the life and times of Victorian London in the starkest terms possible: "At last I wake and do not sleep again. The dark has eased a little. There has been a street-lamp burning, that has lit the threads of the bleached net scarf hung at the window; now it is put out. The light turns filthy pink. The pink gives way, in time, to a sickly yellow. It creeps, and with it creeps sound-softly at first, then rising in a staggering crescendo: crowing cocks, whistles and bells, dogs, shrieking babies, violent calling, coughing, spitting, the tramp of feet, the endless hollow beating of hooves and the grinding of wheels. Up, up, up it comes, out of the throat of London." (Page 367) Waters puts you right there in Dickens' London. Wonderful read. Very highly recommended.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is perhaps one of the best suspense novels I've read in a long time, and to think I almost put it back on the shelf. I was at first intrigued by the title and book cover, but when I glanced at the jacket and saw that the story was set in 1800's London, I almost put it back. I'm not generally into period pieces as the language can sometimes be stiff and make a story difficult to follow. That is not at all the case with this novel and I was immediately swept up with the intriguing characters (all of them!) and the plot's several layers of deception, which Waters masterfully allows to unfold. This is the first novel I've read by this author, and I will definitely be looking for other books she's written.
    TheBookFairy More than 1 year ago
    This is a remarkable book with lots of twists and turns to the plot. A very unique story with well developed characters. I highly recommend it to anyone that appreciates good historical fiction.
    VIXEN26 More than 1 year ago
    I enjoyed the book very, very much - although the ending was a little disappointing. I had expected it to end differently. This was her first book I read.
    sarafenix More than 1 year ago
    A story with any twists and turns and worth every page of it. Period pieces are my favorites.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This is one of my favorite books and everyone I have recommend it to has loved it. It has so many twists and turns ... and you rarely see them coming.
    PandorasBox on LibraryThing 5 months ago
    The story of Susan (an orphaned thief) and Maude (a woman held captive by her perverse uncle)and how their lives become entwined.Great book. Very interesting characters and lots of twists in the plot.
    mmhubbell on LibraryThing 5 months ago
    Affinity also takes place in 1880's London. The main character is Margaret Prior who has recently suffered a breakdown after the death of her father and subsequent loss of a future of travel and study with him and her dear friend and once lover, Helen. Helen has now married Margaret's brother, and their younger sister is being married as well. This leaves Margaret in the unfortunate position of spinster companion to her very controlling mother. Margaret's only outlets are her diary, her sleep inducing drugs doled out by her mother, and her visits to the Millbranch, the vast women's prison nearby. As was the custom in Victorian times, it's thought that Margaret might recover if she gives herself over to charitable work, and it is arranged she will be a "lady visitor" the main role of which is to set a good example for the women prisoners.At Millbrook, Margaret is immediately drawn to a young woman named Selina imprisoned for assault and fraud. Margeret finds out that Selina was a spiritualist and that the woman she had been living with suffered such a shock after a spiritual incident that she later died. Margaret begins to believe in Selina's powers -- not only does she seem to know things about Margaret she could not have known, but she has objects she says her spirit friends have brought her.Throughout the novel, primarily written as Margaret's diary, we get entries from Selina's diary leading up to the event that caused her imprisonment. Because we only get facts through their two points of view, many aspects are unexplained and left for the reader to either piece together or draw your own conclusions -- which can be frustrating if you want to know "the whole story" -- or challenging if you enjoy mysteries!Waters is definitely an excellent writer. The style is convincingly late 19th C. but the issues -- women's rights or lack of them, how an independent woman can find her own way in the world, lesbianism and the strict mores of society -- are all 21st C. topics. This book makes you think, feel and question.
    SmithSJ01 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
    From beginning to end this novel is engaging. Having only read one other of hers (Tipping The Velvet) I will certainly be going on to read her others. It¿s easy enough to find out plot details about this so I won¿t go into that. What I will say is that her writing style is fantastic. I was pleased not to have known anything about the novel before I read it, as I do believe any spoilers will impact upon your enjoyment. All you need to know is that all of the characters are fabulous, evocative narrative really pulls you into Victorian London.The time is 1862 and we are with a mix of characters from all classes. The way Waters moves between the different strata¿s of society is impressive, making the journey both enjoyable and knowledgeable. Even the way the characters speak is entertaining and you find yourself supporting both Lilly and Maud at different times. I can¿t wait to read more by Sarah Waters and can thoroughly recommend this. You won¿t be able to put it down.
    pipster on LibraryThing 5 months ago
    The movie based on this book is also great--particulary for lovers of Victorian culture.
    tresca on LibraryThing 5 months ago
    This book came highly recommended and I wasn't disappointed at all. It's a very gripping tale told from two different perspectives. It took me a little bit to get into the Victorian novel aspect, but once I did, I was hooked. It felt a little slow in the middle of Part 2, but that may have more to do with reading it in chunks on the bus than on the actual story.
    writestuff on LibraryThing 5 months ago
    Sue Trinder has been raised among thieves - an orphan who has never met her mother. The woman who has cared for her is Mrs. Suksby who takes babies from their mothers for a fee. The house on Lant Street where they live teems with characters such as Dainty, a girl with her own questionable past and Mr. Ibbs who buys stolen goods. Then one dark, rainy night a man arrives with a proposition to make them all rich.In the passage stood a man, dressed dark, wet through and dripping, and with a leather bag at his feet. The dim light showed his pale cheeks, his whiskers, but his eyes were quite hidden in the shadow of his hat. I should not have known him if he had not spoken. - from Fingersmith, page 19 -The man - known as Gentleman - hatches a scheme to send Sue, disguised as a maid, to the home of Maud Lilly and befriend her. A large sum of money is at stake, and the plot to get it means tricking Maud into marrying Gentlemen and then confining her to a mental hospital. From this point forward, the novel moves steadily forward with unexpected twists and turns which kept me reading long into the night.Sarah Waters has written a gothic novel filled with evil villains, betrayal, lies, love, debauchery and shocking revelations. Set first on the dirty backstreets of the London Borroughs, the novel then moves to the dark and eerie rooms of Briar - a dilapidated mansion where Maud is being raised by her cruel uncle. The writing is provocative and rich, creating the atmosphere of a period Gothic setting filled with suspense and things that creep in the night. The dialogue is pitch perfect, the characters convincingly wrought. But it is the plot - unnerving and constantly shifting - which reels the reader into the story and keeps the pages turning.I thoroughly enjoyed this novel which uncovers the sinister underbelly of the human soul. Gentleman is the perfect villain - handsome, mysterious and evil. Just when the reader thinks she knows where the story is taking her, there is a twist and it goes in another direction. No one is as they seem.Waters has written a book rich in period details and lush with complex characters. Ingeniously plotted and sexually charged, this is a novel you do not want to miss.Highly recommended.
    Ayling on LibraryThing 5 months ago
    My sister sent me this...It's okay but there's something about Sarah Walter's style of writing and her stories that I just don't like. They seem too contrived and not 'real' enough somehow.
    sumariotter on LibraryThing 5 months ago
    I worship the ground Sarah Waters walks on. She is a storyteller like none other. I would put her in the ranks of authors like Dickens, Poe, John Fowles or Henry Fielding except that for me she is much more thrilling than these authors. She's a woman writing about lesbians in history and telling stories with personal relevance to me! I love love love the UK film adaptation of this book--I've seen it four times now. I think it says something that Sarah Waters books translate so easily into film--it is because her plot lines are so intricate and well-constructed. Above all she is a story-teller, a quality that is rare in authors these days.
    halfcamel on LibraryThing 5 months ago
    Absolutely brilliant page-turner! Waters really gets under the character's skin and makes them shine. Plus, her imagery and detail are fantastic. Reading this will transport you right into the Victorian era and into Sue and Maude's life.The book is full of twists and turns and shocks. Some might argue that it's a bit soap opera-y but no matter because the characters and their stories more than make up for it.
    Anniais on LibraryThing 5 months ago
    Wow Sara Waters! Fingersmith has more twists in it than my favourite movie The Usual Suspects.I was blindsided with shocking revelations more times than I could count and I loved it. Although the story made me ashamed to be male, it was uplifting in 100 other ways. I was in love with Sue from the start but for some reason I was also in love with Maude. Besides being a world class story, Fingersmith is also a cautionary tale. Putting people in a place where they have no options makes them very desperate. There is just no way to predict the lengths that people will go to, to free themselves or their loved ones from an impossible situation. I saw beauty, even in the filth of 1860s London, and love in the most forbidden places. Highly Recommended :-)
    lenoreva on LibraryThing 5 months ago
    This is a masterpiece of plot - there are so many twists it makes your head spin! Despite it's length, I read it in one day. And despite its rather pulp air, it is very well written in a literary sense. I highly recommend it.
    ssfletch on LibraryThing 5 months ago
    One of the best historical novels I have read. A fantastic story that alterantes settings between Victorian London's poorest and nastiest environs and the country estate of a wealthy gentleman who writes 'questionable' material. There are con artists, theives, pornographers, and murderers all pursuing their own ends, and one of those, "OH, MY GOD!" surprise moments that are so rare in literature, Fastidiously researched and retold by Sarah Waters. A Real Gem!
    the_awesome_opossum on LibraryThing 5 months ago
    (With this book it's hard to tell the difference between 'plot' and 'spoiler,' so I don't know which this review contains. Skip it if you're really spoiler-averse.)Fingersmith follows the complexly intertwined fates of two young women in Victorian England: Susan Trinder, a rough London thief, and Maud Lilly, a pampered and educated country girl. Susan is only attracted to becoming Maud's handmaid for the money, but as the two girls spend so much time in each other's company, alone together in the English countryside, they grow closer and find deep commonalities within their apparent opposite personalities. Unfortunately this is not an idyllic love story - people are too complicated and self-interested than for the narrative to let that happen so easily. So their relationship becomes marred by greed and deceit, they talk past one another or not at all, the people around them all have their own agendas messing things up.This is the feminist answer to Dickens and other Victorian literature. Time and again, human relationships are interrupted by the promise of money or power, competition and double-crossing makes everyone into a cutthroat, and women are largely treated as pawns in this game rather than people. The promise of Maud's very large inheritance with the stipulation that she *must* marry for it looms large in everyone's mind, turning romance into an investment and the power play between her uncle and suitor into the real execution of the marriage - Maud herself counts for little. Susan and Maud both become crushed and tossed aside in their dealings with powerful men in this novel, but their salvation - however imperfect - remains in the feminine understanding of one another and the strength they both draw from their relationship.
    achelate on LibraryThing 5 months ago
    An amazing read with a very clever plot.