57 pages 1 hour read

Sarah Waters


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2002

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Symbols & Motifs

All the World’s a Stage: Acting as Grift

It could easily be argued that this is a novel of theater: All of the characters in it are acting parts and playing roles. The conspiracy itself is redolent with plot and plot twists; the element of showmanship is embedded in the con; and the book itself begins with a visit to the theater, with Sue watching Oliver Twist and thinking the events portrayed on stage were, actually, real life. Indeed, when Sue visits Mrs. Sucksby in jail, as she is awaiting her execution, she brings her a “sugar mouse” to remind her of “the time she had put me in her bed and told me about Nancy from Oliver Twist” (478). Mrs. Sucksby had lied to Sue, telling her that Nancy was just fine, that she had taken an offer from “a nice chap from Wapping, who had set her up in a little shop selling sugar mice and tobacco” (5). Thus, the boundaries between theater and life, between acting and truth-telling, are constantly blurred and often violated.

Even the word “character” carries with it several meanings. It indicates a role in a play, of course, but it can also imply integrity, as when Gentleman asks Sue—while she’s playing the “character” of the lady’s maid—“And what is your character?” She responds immediately, “Honest as the day” (37).