Monday, 25 February 2013

Unnatural, a novel by Marjorie DeLuca

The womb is an animal, which longs to generate children.  When it remains barren too long after puberty, it is distressed and sorely disturbed, and straying about in the body and cutting off the passages of breath, it impedes respiration and brings the sufferer into the extremest anguish and provokes all manner of disease besides.
Mary Ann Cotton, serial poisoner

Unnatural is the story of two women; one who longs to have a child and the other accused of murdering twelve of her children and stepchildren as well as several husbands.

Clara Blackstone is a childless woman in 1872, a time when a married woman was expected to be a wife and mother.  A traumatic miscarriage causes her to suffer a breakdown which sends her to the madhouse.  Afterwards Clara lives on a knife-edge, afraid that any show of hysteria or nerves will result in a return to the horrors of the asylum since her controlling husband, Henry’s major concern is that she should be a perfectly submissive wife and mother.

When they move north to Durham City for a fresh start they encounter a wild mob gathered to witness the incarceration of accused serial poisoner Mary Ann Cotton. 

Set in 1873, UNNATURAL tells the story of Clara’s gradual awakening to her sexuality, her subjection as a woman, and her horror and fascination with Cotton, a woman who outraged middle class Victorian society which labelled her a cold, calculating and promiscuous killer and caused a sensation in the newspapers of the day when she gave birth to a daughter in prison.

Based on real newspaper accounts about the actual incarceration and trial of Mary Ann Cotton, this compelling novel blends fact and fiction to tell a powerful and moving story about human lust and desire, the nature of madness, the oppressive conditions endured by middle and working class women in Victorian England and the extent of male outrage when women stepped outside their prescribed social spheres.

Durham City

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