57 pages 1 hour read

Sarah Waters


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2002

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Important Quotes

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“As for regular reading, we never troubled with it. Mrs Sucksby could do it, if she had to; Mr Ibbs could read, and even write; but, for the rest of us, it was an idea—well, I should say, like speaking Hebrew or throwing somersaults; you could see the use of it, for Jews and tumblers; but while it was their lay, why make it yours?”

(Part 1, Chapter 1, Page 9)

This vivid comparison foreshadows what will keep Sue locked up in the psychiatric hospital and what keeps Maud imprisoned in her uncle’s house. The ability to read and write is, alternately, a blessing and a curse. The fantastical nature of the comparisons shows how exotic, how foreign the notion of literacy is to Sue and her fellow fingersmiths.

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“Of course, if we ever took help at Lant Street, it wasn’t character we looked for so much as lack of it.”

(Part 1, Chapter 3, Page 45)

The term “character” here operates as a double entendre. It refers to a character reference, as when someone is seeking employment, and it slyly denotes character as in moral character—an unnecessary attribute in a house of thieves. It could also even denote “character” as a person acting in a play or a personage in a book—another oblique reference to the roles all of the main characters must play in service of the elaborate conspiracy.

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“I should never have put her down as the motherly sort, myself; but servants grow sentimental over the swells they work for, like dogs grow fond of bullies.”

(Part 1, Chapter 3, Page 61)

Sue’s observation of the behavior of the servants at Briar serves as an exploration of the master-servant relationship, a servile attitude under which she has never had to suffer. As she frequently emphasizes, her life as a thief is notable for its lack of masters and its freedom, which is quite the opposite of Maud’s seemingly privileged—but extremely sheltered—life.