Fingersmith takes place in Victorian England. It begins with Susan telling us her story. How she was orphaned as a baby and raised in the Borough. She becomes a fingersmith, a thief. One day a friend, Gentleman, comes to the house with a plan. He has been out in the country and has met a young woman, Maud, about the same age as Susan, who has a huge inheritance waiting for her. But she cannot claim it until she is married. His plan is to have Susan become her new maid, convince her to marry Gentleman, and then they will have her put away in an asylum and claim her inheritance. Susan would get a cut of the money and anything she wants from Maud’s possessions. She agrees to the plan.
Susan went out to Briar ahead of Gentleman, because he still had business in London. This gave her a month to get to know Maud and gain her confidence before Gentleman returned. Over that time they grow close and become friends. Well, as much as a lady and her maid can be friends. When Gentleman, Richard, returns, Susan starts to make sure that Maud’s attention is paid to Richard and encourage her to be with him.
When Richard asks Maud to marry him, she agrees, but is worried. He tells her how they must run off as her Uncle will never allow her to marry. They come up with the plan to slip away at midnight on the day that Richard is supposedly going back to London. The night before Maud is worried about what she’s supposed to do on her wedding night. Susan decides to give in to her feelings and show her the best that a woman can.
The next day they both act a bit awkward and do not speak of the night before. Maud tries to bring it up, but Susan isn’t sure how to approach it, so she turns the subject to Richard and the plan. Maud seems to grow distant for the rest of the day. Their plan is successful and they get to a church where the priest is willing to marry them. They are married and stay in a couple of rooms nearby. After a few weeks, Richard has the doctors that he is in with to talk with Maud. He also has them talk with Susan about Maud. A few days later, they leave to take Maud to the asylum. When they arrive, the nurses reach to help Susan out of the carriage, calling her by Maud’s name, and into the building. She cries out to Gentleman and Maud for help. They watch calmly and she hears Maud lament how much help her mistress needs. Maud and Gentleman have been working together from the beginning!
Don’t read past this point if you don’t want to know more!
The story now switches to Maud. She tells of how she was born in an asylum and her mother died having her. She was raised by the nurses there and was even given duties of her own. When she was ten, her Uncle came to the asylum and she went to live with him at Briar. He trained her to be his assistant with his books, which are a large amount, and in the creation of his Index.
Then, many years later, Richard comes to Briar with a couple of gentlemen friends of her uncle’s. He shows an interest in some prints her uncle has and becomes employed by him. The real reason he is there is her. He knows about her past and about her inheritance. He has devised a scheme where he will bring out an unknowing girl to be her new maid and will believe she is the one working with him. In the end she will be in the asylum and Maud will be free of her past. Maud agrees, if only to get away from Briar and her uncle.
Then she tells of the time that Susan was there, but with the added information of how she knew what would really happen. All the times Susan thought that she and Richard were being close and Maud was falling for him, they were simply discussing the plan and even arguing. That night before they leave, Maud feels awakened by Susan’s touch and begins to rethink their plan. She realizes that she has two choices; either reveal the plan to Susan so they may run off before Richard realizes what happened, or forget about her feelings for Susan and continue with the plan. She chooses the latter.
When they reach London, after leaving Susan, they do not end up at the house that Richard says he has ready for them, but Mrs. Sucksby’s. There the true plan is revealed. Mrs. Sucksby has been working on this plan since Susan was born. Susan’s mother came to her in trouble and needing to hide. She hid her and also delivered Susan. In fear of her father and brother taking them both back to Briar, she asks Mrs. Sucksby to switch her daughter with another infant in her care. She asks Mrs. Sucksby to raise her child to be common and free of the life she has had to lead. Mrs. Sucksby agrees and gives her Maud to take as her child. She also knew of the inheritance and has planned to switch the two just before Susan turned 18 and was given the letter her mother left her informing her of her true identity. Mrs. Sucksby is simply out for the money.
Maud is horrified. She tries at every opportunity to escape and find help and find Susan. But Mrs. Sucksby is a smart woman. She never leaves Maud alone, constantly has the doors locked, and has locked up all her clothing. She is only allowed simple dresses and slippers. But Maud is determined.
This woman is queen of the twists! First they leave Susan in the asylum. Then, Maud’s in on the whole thing. Then, they’re not who they think they are! (I’m waiting for the final twist.) It is an amazing book. I have loved every Sarah Waters book I’ve read so far, granted it’s only two, but they’re not small books. She writes such captivating stories that make me regret having to put the book down. The way she goes between the two girls’ perspectives is a wonderful way to tell this story. She always seems to know the best way to tell a story. And of course the one last twist at the end. Absolutely amazing way to end the book!
Spring Book Challenge: Read a romance novel featuring a homosexual couple and compare it to traditional, heterosexual romances.