Lydia Ketch knew life was tough in 1888 Preston , England. What little money she could make almost immediately was gone. Still, they were no longer living in the poor house and Lydia 's younger sister, Annie, was getting an education. Life though was going to change, and quickly, when Lydia 's mother dies. Now, Lydia has to find a way to support herself and Annie.
The easiest way was to enter "the trade" in a brothel. This Lydia does willingly to keep them out of the poor house and Annie in school.
About a year into her new carrier, Lydia meets Henry Shadwell, a young surgeon with an interest in photography. Henry requests Lydia to pose for some pornographic photography. Lydia is only too happy to comply. Henry and Lydia soon realize that there is a chemistry between them that they just can't deny.
Lydia needs to be careful though as her boss doesn't want her forming attachments. Henry has to be just as careful as he needs a good reputation. As their lives change, can they stay together?
This is a wonderful historic novel and gives more than expected.
The society depicted is real, not sanitized. There aren't many choices for uneducated women. Most live on the streets in rags selling what they can. To work out of a house is a step up. Criminals worked these streets too trying to scam whomever they could prior to being caught. Surgeons were able to use the dead bodies of those in the poor houses. Societies against vices were prominent as were the vices they were against.
The characters in this story were well done. Lydia and Henry know their places in society and try to keep themselves where they belong. Lydia begins to learn that she can do more than be a prostitute. She also learns that sex is more than just laying there. Henry has obligations and secrets. He doesn't want them to interfere with his relationship with Lydia but they will.
This is not a light hearted book or one where everything ends up wonderful. It's a realistic view of the world in 1888. A world where your betters can take advantage of those under them. A world where making a living may not always be legal. A world where there is death and sickness and despair.
I found that the characters were able to keep my interest and the situations felt real. I can't say that I liked the outcome of all the problems that arose but the outcomes were reflective of the era. Overall, if you like history this is an excellent story.
A darkly erotic tale of prostitution, murder, and medical science in Victorian England
Lydia Ketch is a young woman whose life some would call immoral and shameful. But with the death of her mother and the prospect of the obscene conditions of the workhouse looming before her, Lydia chooses to enter into the “trade” in order to shield herself (and, more to the point, her sweet younger sister) from life’s ravages and give them a chance at something better. Her education, working in the 'introduction house' of Kathleen Tanner, has given her some very unusual skills and an income few others could match.
When Lydia meets Henry Shadwell, a young surgeon with a passionate interest in biology—and in Lydia's shadowy world—the chemistry between the two is instant. Their relationship deepens when Henry discovers that Lydia possesses a nimble intellect. He soon enlists Lydia's help in his underground sidelines, first as a model for pornographic photography: then as an assistant in procuring corpses for medical experimentation.
With the dangers of her own line of work becoming clearer by the day, and her newfound delight in her own sexuality burgeoning, Lydia becomes disillusioned with her life as a prostitute.
It soon become evident that her trade--and Henry's--are even more dangerous than either had imagined.
Trades of the Flesh is a gripping novel about the body and its desires, from a precocious voice in historical fiction.