A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller
Published: January 2014
Genre: young adult, historical fiction
Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.
After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?
All Victoria Darling wants to do is get into the Royal College of Art and become a master artist. Normally that would be quite simple — but Vicky is restricted to the social and political rules of 1909 London. As a female, she cannot apply confidently, nor can she pay for tuition without seeking aid from a man. After posing nude for an art class, her reputation is sullied and her parents quickly try to patch it up with an engagement to Edmund Carrick-Humphrey, a wealthy and educated young man who could inherit Mr. Darling’s business. Vicky can hardly find solace with a wedding to plan and parents restricting her art, so when she decides to draw the suffragettes and gets wrapped up with the police, her world turns upside down. All it takes is one copper, police constable William Fletcher, to make her face her dreams.
In short, this book will make you feel all the feels.
Passion. Vicky has a talent, she knows how to use it, she seeks to further her education in it, and she has a goal to become like a Pre-Raphaelite, remembered and adored for her artistic creativity. She wants to become an artist that inspires feeling in another person, just like Waterhouse’s painting A Mermaid does for her. To be inside a character’s thoughts like that — how she can find beauty in the smallest thing, how time stops for her when she has an artistic project, the way she can make art a part of every aspect of her life — is so thrilling. We all have something we are passionate about, and whether or not you’re an artist or enthusiast you’ll still feel that connection. Because it’s not just art — it’s women’s rights. Vicky has a base desire for equality from the start, a simple “Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I can’t do this” intuition. She’s frustrated with it, but is completely thrown when she meets passionate suffragettes. It shocks and inspires her that women will chain themselves to fences, will willingly go to prison, will starve themselves or endure force-feeding, just so a politician can hear their cry. Her artwork wraps up in their movement, and she with the women. Her growth and development in both is amazing.
Anger. I love the Victorian era, and sometimes I believe I’m better suited in that time, but then a book like this comes along and reminds me that even when my great-grandmother was a little girl (nine years old in 1909) women did not have the rights we have today. And it astounds me that hundreds of thousands of women and male sympathizers would willingly get arrested and endure such torture. To me, these days, the faults of our history never make sense to me. Why would someone enslave another human being, deny the rights of another sex, deny the rights of another race, deny the rights of another religion, deny the rights of another sexual preference? It doesn’t make sense. We still have these issues today — but imagine the frustration to be in that party at that time. It angered me, seeing what these women dealt with — and what the anti-suffragettes did! And non-suffragette women! It wasn’t the book that angered me, but the history. And the author did a fantastic job of portraying the history!
Sadness, betrayal. Will. Oh, Will. And Vicky with her father. And Vicky with her friends. And her mother’s history. Will’s family. Vicky’s good intentions but poor reception of those intentions. Edmund and his demands. I cannot say more without spoiling the book, but the author wonderfully wrote each character and their place in society. It was touching and beautiful.
Love, happiness. I cannot tell you how many times I laughed, how many times I smiled and rolled my eyes along with Vicky during “deadly dull” house calls or “crushingly boring” dinner parties. Or when she was so wrapped up in her art and Will that social protocol is thrown out the window. Or how thrilling it was for Vicky and her suffragette friends Sophie and Lucy to work together and spread the truth about the prisons. Or how exciting the whole application process into the RCA was for Vicky. How she was able to teach her backward-thinking father to use the telephone, or learn to accept that cars were the new mode of transportation. How she was able to overcome her claustrophobia by using the Underground. How time could fly by and she only just realized she’d been holding Will’s hand.
There’s so much in this story that I can’t wait to continuously share with other readers. It’s a phenomenal fiction debut, and I’m looking forward to Sharon Biggs Waller’s future work!
2 thoughts on “Book Review: “A Mad, Wicked Folly” by Sharon Biggs Waller”
Happy to find your blog! While my own writing focus is largely on food, I’ve started offering fiction and nonfiction book giveaways. In crafting reviews, I am happy to learn from folks who have been at this longer than I! 🙂
Definitely going to read this! Thanks! 🙂