When you read these words, and all those that follow, I am afraid it must be because I am no longer here to speak them to you. Love is a disease; no doubt of it, and one which has proved mortal to many men down the ages . . .
Oxford, 1887: Even as Victoria celebrates the fiftieth year of her reign, a stone's throw from the calm cloisters and college spires lies Jericho, a maze of seedy streets and ill-lit taverns, haunted by drunkards, thieves and the lowest sort of brazen female as ever lifted her petticoats.
When Stephen Chapman, a brilliant young medical student, is persuaded to volunteer at a shelter devoted to reforming the fallen women of Oxford, his closest friend Edward feels a strange sense of dread. But even Edward - who already knows the devastating effect of falling in love with the wrong woman - cannot foresee the macabre and violent events that will unfold around them, or stop Diana, the woman who seems destined to drive them apart.
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About the Author
Katy Darby studied English Literature at Somerville College, Oxford, and Creative Writing at U.E.A. where she received the David Higham Award. Her fiction has been read on BBC Radio, and she has published stories in Slice, Mslexia and The London Magazine, as well as winning prizes in several international fiction competitions. She teaches writing at City University, edits the short story magazine Litro (www.litro.co.uk) and co-runs the monthly live fiction event Liars' League (www.liarsleague.com). She lives in London.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I should admit that this isn¿t a genre I normally read, and I requested this book because I thought it might make a nice change. Unfortunately, I just couldn¿t get on with it. I found the writing style stilted, the pace slow and the characters somewhat artificial. On the plus side, it has good descriptions of 19th C Oxford and has quite an atmospheric feeling to it, and I can understand that readers who enjoy this genre would get more from it than I did.
Set in the late 1800's , the storyline is set around three main characters who have different backgrounds, breeding and beliefs. The book had me enthralled within the first few pages due to the air of mystery that was created.The characters are vividly described and the attention to detail of the settings, language used and etiquette is superb. The story is based on two scholars, one for the priesthood and one training to become a doctor in pathology. During his training to become a doctor he is given the chance to study on live cases who are working girls and are suffering from venereal diseases. This appeals to him very strongly but when he tries to explain this to his friend, who is studying for the priesthood, conflict of interests arise. The priest-to-be is appalled and horrified that the doctor could cure the girls so they could go back to plying their immoral trade.On his research at the Asylum the doctor falls in love with the woman who runs the shelter. When his trainer cannot attend a ball he gives the doctor the two tickets and he takes his priest friend. On arriving at the ball he sees his lover in the arms of another man and the priest recognises her from his past life.The author then relates each of the characters stories, the trainee priest, the trainee doctor and the madam. As each of the story unfolds, you find yourself drawn further into the book, sensing how each character is feeling and understanding the motives for their beliefs, some of which are still poignant today as we judge people we do not know without really getting to know them. The difference between the classes are a major issue in this book, how the rich live and dominate, the students living in squalor and struggling to survive and finally the working class who have to make ends meet in anyway.When you read this book you will find yourself challenging your thoughts and beliefs. As each story gets further down the line, the mysterious air and lives of each of the characters still remains and it is not until right at the end of the story you get the full picture.The period of the storyline is one of my favourites in history and is excellently represented and anyone who enjoys historic novels must read this book.
I love Victorian period dramas. As I was just sliding off a high induced by the Encore miniseries The Crimson Petal and the White, based on the 2002 novel by Michel Faber (which I am dying to read), I chanced upon The Whores' Asylum by Katy Darby. Published in 2012 by Penguin, this is the debut novel of a young woman who teaches writing in England as I do in California, but that is not why I fell in love with her book. The Whores' Asylum is aptly titled, with a pretty cover, and in fact has a couple of engaging, colorful whores in it, yet it does not fit genre expectations. It is an intelligent study of the human heart rather than the narrative of a clever whore who raises herself up and escapes from misery in Victorian England. (By no means am I trivializing the referred-to miniseries; I only mean The Whores' Asylum is a labyrinthine sanctuary where the reader must get lost to find meaning. It's a delightful book to get lost in.) Darby gives the amiable narrator's voice to one Dr. Edward Fraser whose affinities and friendships set the entire tone of the novel. At the outset, young Fraser has not determined whether to follow his proclivities for righteousness or his fascination for the classical past. It is significant that he has already achieved a Bachelor of Arts in Theology from Cambridge with first class honors and is now pursuing a Master's in Philosophy at Oxford. Fraser is no simpleton. This character, far more layered than Holmes' Watson and definitely more significant to the plot, tells of his great friendship for Stephen Chapman, a young man studying medicine. Chapman and Fraser are good for each other; they room together in Oxford, sharing their lives, dreams and aspirations with each other. Since the novel is told in hindsight, Fraser wants to explain why Chapman died in such hideous manner, and make amends for his failings, if he can, by so doing. One of Darby's delightful ploys is to play a trick on readers who may, for instance, be likely to judge Fraser as a prude. We are, after all, of the 21st century and do not see things as British society did back in Victorian times. There are other judgments the reader may make which I do not feel inclined to give away. At the very least, the reader will be likely to find young Fraser too judgmental in his view of the young woman with whom Chapman has fallen in love. Still, there is no doubt that Fraser's friendship is sincere and he tries to do right by Chapman. The reader is free to disagree with Fraser's point of view on any number of topics or plot twists, and that disagreement is, I believe, something Darby engineers with skill. The characters in The Whores' Asylum develop as they are supposed to in serious, prize-winning literature. More than anyone else, the layers of Diana/Anna and Fraser are peeled back over and over, until the person finally seated on the couch beside the reader--they are that alive--is not the one the reader had an opinion about at the beginning or even halfway through the novel. I blushed next to Edward Fraser, hoping he would forgive me for my judgments. Through the metamorphoses, the plot keeps us hooked and the changes are all believable. I can see why Darby titled this novel The Unpierced' Heart in its first incarnation, for the overall story is about judgments and choices made around, for and about love. The Whores' Asylum is set against a background of rich Gothic trappings and told in a strong, literary Victorian voice.