Bess Bright sells shrimps with her father in the city of London. When she gets pregnant by accident, she has to leave her daughter Clara behind at the Foundling hospital where she will be cared for and learn a trade. Determined to get her daughter back, Bess saves every penny. But when she returns six years later, they tell her that her daughter has already been claimed years ago by herself. The woman who took her even knew about the token she left with Clara, a half heart of whalebone.
A few streets further a woman plagued by a childhood trauma forbids her young daughter Charlotte to leave the house. The only exception is their weekly trip to the chapel where they have a chat with Doctor Mead, a friend of Alexandra’s late husband.
I read Stacey Halls other novel, The Familiars, and I loved it. So it didn’t take me long to read The Foundling also. It’s a total different setting. This story takes us to Georgian London where me meet young Bess who is living with her father and brother in poor circumstances. She has just made the most terrible choice a mother can face: she is going to leave her infant daughter in the care of the Foundling hospital.
At the same time we are introduced to Alexandra, a widowed mother who has all the financial means she needs to take care of her household, her daughter and herself. But there’s one problem: she doesn’t go out, nor does her daughter. They only leave their house by carriage on Sundays to attend mass at the chapel only a few streets further. A long-time friend convinces Alexandra to take in a nursemaid to look after the welfare of her daughter.
As you can guess this two women are connected in some way and slowly we discover their background stories. I liked the Bess parts, but I had a better connection with Alexandra. She has placed herself in some kind of self quarantine and is troubled by mysterious fears. I don’t know if being in lockdown myself made me sympathize more with Alexandra, but I looked forward to her parts.
There are some other colorful characters in this story, particularly Ambrosia and Lyle. Halls brings the different layers of Georgian society to life. From the smelly and dirty fish market to the golden cage of Alexandra’s home. We also get an inside look in the Foundling hospital that really was a child’s home for deserted young children in the 18th century. This book reminded me that I should visit the Foundling museum next time I’m in London.
The revelation at the end is a bit rushed. I would have liked a more in-depth confrontation between Bess and Alexandra. But I did get an answer to all my questions. The Familiars is my favorite Halls novel so far, but this one is also a good choice if you want to discover her solid writing style.
I’m eagerly awaiting Stacey Halls next book as I don’t doubt it will have an interesting premise as well.
Have you read any of Stacey Halls novels? What’s your favorite story about Georgian London?