Book Review: A Mad, Wicked Folly
Published By: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: January 23, 2014
Page Count: 448
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Audience: Young Adult - Historical Fiction
Historical fiction is a favorite genre of mine, but I do hesitate slightly before opening the next one. Will the writer's prose mimic a nonfiction style that will bore me to tears or will the writer infuse their characters and setting with rich, historical details that bring a bygone era to life? My uncertainty was unwarranted with this one. Sharon Biggs Waller not only weaves together a beautiful story, but she does so with historical accuracy and memorable characters. A Mad, Wicked Folly is certainly one of my favorite reads of 2014 and it is in the running for my favorite historical fiction of the year. I'm seriously in love with this novel.
As a historian, my mind often wanders to different phases of history. I sometimes consider if I would have enjoyed living in that time frame, but this novel makes me extremely happy to live in the modern era. Women in the early 1900's were second class citizens with little rights. A girl like Victoria Darling, the main character, was beholden to the will of her father until she married and then her husband took over making her decisions. At no point where women allowed to think and thrive. I don't think that I could have handled being in Victoria's shoes in such a social structure. As Victoria does, I would have longed for the freedom to make my own choices and follow my own path. I loved watching Victoria go against the grain and find ways to rebel. She is never truly in step with the aristocratic world she was born into and that makes her an intriguing character. It's always nice to see a character forge their own path through the world - especially a female character.
I found all the history surrounding the suffragette movement in London to be fascinating. I'm not as familiar with the happenings abroad concerning feminism and women's rights (apart from the brief moments it makes an appearance in Mary Poppins) so I was excited to learn something new. I also found it to be interesting that I was reading this while the Supreme Court was making some monumental decisions concerning the rights of women in the US. I know women have made great strides since Victoria's day, but I do not feel that the fight for gender equality is over. I loved drawing comparisons between this time period and my own. I also found it interesting that the novel remarks that so many of Victoria's traits would be praised in a male, but in a female they are nothing more than an embarrassment. This double standard still exists today and irks me to no end.
Furthermore, I also loved learning more about art. I'm far from being an artist - I related more to Will and his writing - but I did enjoy seeing art through Victoria's eyes. She is so passionate and hopes to make art her profession. This is difficult because her social station dictates that she be a wife and mother; there is no time or place for art in that world. Victoria is always slightly out of step with the world she was born into, but she flourishes in the world of art and feminism.
Lastly, I was wrapped up in the relationship between Victoria and Will. I knew it was doomed because of their differences, but I couldn't help wishing that they would find a way to be together. Will is handsome, charming, and loyal. He doesn't care what Victoria's address is or how much money she has in the bank. He only wants to befriend the tenacious and vivacious girl who literally knocks him over the first time they meet. Every woman should be lucky enough to have a friend like Will in her life.
All in all, I adored every moment I spent lost in this novel. My time wandering the streets of London, attending protests with the suffragettes, art sessions with Will, and watching the upper crust of London society were moments that I could see in my mind as vividly as if Victoria had drawn me a picture. Waller is certainly an author I will be watching in the future; she truly brings historical fiction alive.
One Last Gripe: Edmund creeped me out and I couldn't believe that nobody else noticed he was a slime.
Favorite Thing About The Book: I loved everything, but if I must choose my most favorite element was learning more about women's history in London.
First Sentence: I never set out to pose nude.
Favorite Character: It's a tie between Victoria and Will.
Least Favorite Character: Edmund's Father
Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.
After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?