Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 23rd, 2014
Source: Library Book
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?
It's been a while since I read this book, but I still recommend it to people whenever I can because I just absolutely loved it. The book is filled with rich history, and it's such a well-written historical fiction novel. Waller's writing is gorgeous, and while the plot is very character-driven, it never bored me. The characters are amazingly complex, especially Vicky, Will, and Sophie. As a whole, Waller just shaped this entire book and its world so well; I felt like I was there with the characters every step of the way.

Even though it's been a while since I read A Mad, Wicked Folly, I knew I wanted to review it on this blog at some point because it deals with exactly what we talk about: feminism and the struggle for equality. But at the same time, I was torn by the feminist aspects of the book.

The book takes place right when the women's suffrage movement is taking place in Edwardian England, and Vicky soon gets pulled in as well. But Vicky starts off not wanting to be a part of that, solely focusing on her goal to go to school to study art. Of course, as the book progresses, she gets more involved in the cause--not as much as characters like Sophie, but nonetheless--and she starts to understand feminism more as well. But the thing is, I never stopped getting the feeling that Vicky was only in it (supporting the cause) to get into art school, nothing more, nothing less. And that frustrates me. Maybe that's not how it was meant to be perceived, but that's certainly how I was seeing the whole situation. Her main goal throughout the entire book was getting into the Royal College of Art, and throughout the book, she was constantly using people just to get what she wanted. What frustrated me the most perhaps was that she's someone who could really make a change or at least truly fight for it. She's headstrong and doesn't give in easily. She certainly goes against the grain and doesn't care about what society expects of her as a woman, but at the same time, does she really support the cause? And then, that leads to the question of whether or not we, as feminists, have the right to criticize her actions and choices if they are her own, even if we don't agree with them or they might not necessarily support the feminist cause.

Then, there are the other characters involved in the suffrage movement and whose motives were much more clear and straightforward. I loved how Sophie was feisty and bold, yet also kind and gentle. Some of her philosophy regarding the women's rights movement don't align with mine and aggravated me at times, but overall, I could see myself being friends with her. And the most welcome addition was Will, who was already a great character but was made even better by the fact that he completely supported the suffragettes and agreed with what they were fighting for. He'd likely be one of the most ardent male feminists today if he were real and lived now, and he'd definitely love the HeForShe campaign. He supports Vicky and encourages her to pursue her dreams, never telling her she can't do it or shouldn't try just because she's a girl.

I think the book does a good job of representing feminism and the early feminist movements, supported by a dynamic, bold, fierce cast of characters that refuse to let society define and tell them who they should and could be (well, except for Vicky's family and Edmund). There were so many amazing women found in this book, and there's also so much diversity in the women written in the novel. The men were similarly complex and all very different. There wasn't much racial/ethnic diversity (perhaps none at all, but I can't recall), which would be disappointing, but I found that there was already so much going on that I didn't quite mind. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, feminism and all.

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