Having listened to (on audiobook) and loved Stacey Hall’s debut novel, The Familiars, I was eager to read (listen to) her next book, The Foundling – and it did not disappoint. From the pitch-perfect narrators who wonderfully captured the spirit of their characters to the clever story and evocative setting, this was a brilliant historical novel.
Opening sentence: All the babies were wrapped like presents ready to be given.
Bess Bright & Alexandra Callard
Set in London in 1754, the story is narrated by two women: Elizabeth (Bess) Bright and Alexandra Callard. Each had a their own narrator and I instantly warmed to them both.
Bess is poor working class and finding herself pregnant, she decides to give her daughter, Clara to the Foundling Hospital to be cared for. Under the rules of the hospital, you can come back and claim your child when you’re ready, providing you pay a fee. When, six years after leaving her there, Bess finds herself in a better position and goes to reclaim her daughter, she discovers that someone else has already claimed Clara. Not only that, the hospital records show that she was claimed when she was only one day old – by her mother.
Our second narrator is the upper-class widow, Alexandra Callard. She has a young daughter, Charlotte but motherhood is not coming naturally to her. She is anxious and agoraphobic, only leaving her house to go to church, at The Foundling Hospital. When she decides to hire a nursemaid to help care for Charlotte, her life is suddenly intertwined the Bess’ in ways that neither of them imagined.
What is The Foundling Hospital?
This story centres around a real place, The Foundling Hospital was established in 1741 and kept helping children until 1954 when it closed down. There is now a museum in Brunswick Square in the place the hospital was, where you can discover more about its fascinating history.
A story of sisterhood
But back to the story – I really liked how there was a strong feminist theme in The Foundling. It looked at women’s roles and how they should act, with both Bess and Alexandra wanting to break out of society’s restriction on women. Alexandra muses on her more ‘masculine’ traits:
These feminine vessels we inhabited, why did nobody expect them to contain unfeminine feelings? Why could we, too, not be furious and scornful and entirely altered by grief?
I spent a lot of the book wondering how the plot was going to reveal itself and when it finally did… it wonderfully did not let me down, bringing a truly satisfying conclusion. I loved listening to The Foundling, a original and enthralling story and brilliant narrators – highly recommend it as your next bookish listen!