The Gilded Lily
Two teenage sisters, Ella and Sadie, escape from rural poverty to seek a living in Restoration London. We think we know what follows: they will be exploited by rich men who will abuse their innocence, bodices will be ripped, but the girls will win through in the end. This, after all, is how the English novel began.
To a large extent this is what The Gilded Lily delivers, although the bodice ripping only comes near the end and until then most of the exploitation is economic, by landlords, sweat shop owners and factory managers. The girls do little to exploit their own sexuality; Ella’s tentative attempts to seduce her boss at the Gilded Lily beauty parlour comes to nothing.
This is an intricate and fascinating tale of low life in the capital city of a country still shattered from 20 years of almost constant war and of the unquenched vitality of the generation that in a single lifetime turned it into the richest nation on earth. Deborah Swift is an expert on Restoration costume and seemingly everything else about the economic and social life of 17th-century England. The heart of the story is the relationship between the two sisters: divided they fall (almost), and reunited they survive. Even if Restoration romances are not your usual fare, I think you will enjoy this.