The Baker’s Tale: Ruby Spriggs and the Legacy of Charles Dickens

Written by Thomas Hauser
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In 1839 London, a baker named Antonio observes a destitute man named Spriggs and his three-year-old orphaned niece, Ruby, enter his bakery. Pitying their hungry looks, Antonio – who had earlier been assisted himself by a benefactor, Mr. Joy – offers them sustenance and also refers Spriggs to Marie, the widowed proprietress of another bakery. Marie hires Spriggs and provides them with accommodation. The waif thrives under Marie’s motherly care and the tutelage of Antonio and Joy. Ruby is a quick learner, and upon her blossoming into an attractive sixteen-year-old, Joy appoints her to teach at his school. He also invites a bright and handsome young man, Edwin, to visit. Edwin works in the coal industry. Soon Ruby and Edwin fall in love. However, Edwin’s employer, Murd, a coal baron, has other plans for Edwin. Murd is enraged upon learning of the affair and puts devious schemes in place to separate the lovers. We are driven towards the ending to learn if love can conquer capitalistic objectives.

In 1868, Charles Dickens had recollected: “In the winter of 1836, I held an infant in my arms… I have often wondered what happened to the child.” Thomas Hauser has skillfully based his novel on that child. The themes in this book will remind readers of similar premises in many of Dickens’ own novels. His fixations on the suffering of the poor, their lack of education, their struggles for justice, and the triumph of good over evil are all exemplified. While the plot is of Dickensian proportions, it seems to have been accomplished at the expense of some characters’ development, likely in an attempt to keep the novel’s length within present-day norms. For instance, we do not learn much about Ruby’s “mother,” Marie, nor about Joy. Nevertheless, this historical novel enables us to revisit that era as if Dickens had presented it.