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Books Historical Fiction Women in History

THE SPINNING HOUSE AFFAIR

Imagine a local press just before the populist mass media innovations of the 20th century … Amazingly, the new local commercial newspapers of the late-Victorian era shied away from exposing disputes and exposing cultural clashes. In the 1890s in Cambridge the main vehicles of exchanging news were gossip and letters to the editor.

Imagine, then, what it must have been like to be a young female stepping out onto the chaotic narrow streets and waving at an acquaintance – only to be arrested by a university proctor bent on ridding the town of unsavoury influences.

What is a totally innocent housemaid to do when this happens to her, putting not just her freedom but her job and her reputation at risk? She has no public voice. Must she just submit? Similar dilemmas face women every day, during this rather edgy period just before the turn of the millennium. A young female student must ignore constant put-downs from the male-dominated university: she has no voice in the matter either, and however diligent she is she will not be awarded a degree – that ‘privilege’ was yet to come. A college porter’s daughter finds her beauty a blight on her freedom – for her own protection, cautions her father who knows a thing or two about male behaviour in these febrile times. But is it fair that she is a virtual prisoner?

There is one exception to this, in the form of a notorious local madam, who has long turned caution to the winds in view of the vulnerability of some of her customers, who are in positions of power. Unlike the others, her shame was abandoned years before.

This novel explores how each of them is affected by the Spinning House scandal when it can no longer be contained.

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