The 19th century is drawing to a close and women's roles-and their clothes-seem to have gotten less constricting. Vanessa Weatherburn's passion for science and mathematics, once an embarrassing oddity, is now quite nearly fashionable, and she has been asked to help the police in their inquiries in her capacity as a private investigator. The enquiry in question concerns the identity of a pretty young woman found drowned in the river like the lovelorn Ophelia. Vanessa suspects she may have been an actress; not so long ago, 'actress' was synonymous with 'a woman with a past.' Have notions of respectability changed enough? Or are the newfound female freedoms merely a thin veneer on the same old societal expectations?
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