57 pages 1 hour read

Sarah Waters


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2002

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Transgressive Women: Fingersmiths and Fortunes

There are no typical 19th-century ladies in Fingersmith. Out of the two first-person female narrators, one is a skilled thief, and the other is a secretary, well-versed in pornographic texts. What is also remarkable about them—aside from their peculiar professions—is that they are granted voice to tell their own stories and agency (in the end) to live their own extraordinary lives. While there are male obstacles along the way—Gentleman’s scheming and threats; Dr. Christie’s cruel medical treatments—their actions are viewed only through the eyes of the female narrators; their voices are mediated, their stories secondary. Sue Smith and Maud Lilly transgress nearly all socially sanctioned boundaries—or, one might call them Sue Lilly and Maud Sucksby as they even transgress boundaries of identity—on their journey to secure their own singular and intimately entangled fortune.

Sue Smith begins the story as Susan Trinder—and the reader never discovers the origin of the surname, so inconsequential the contribution of fathers is to the novel. Her name is changed as she embarks upon the conspiracy to defraud Maud of her money. While Gentleman chooses the name, Sue immediately embodies it: “He let his hand drop, and turned it, and crooked his middle finger; and the sign, and the word he meant—fingersmith—being Borough code for thief, we laughed again” (36).