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Literature / The Crimson Petal and the White

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The Crimson Petal and the White is a novel by Michel Faber, set in Victorian London and published in 2002. What Dickens would have written if Dickens was alive today, according to a review. Made into a three episode BBC drama in 2011.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Mrs Castaway, to Sugar, in spades. Mirrored in the case of Sophie, as her mother is incapable of caring about her and her father is vaguely apathetic.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Averted. Henry in the novel is described as good looking and physically impressive, if a little solemn and intellectual, celibate and very religious, and in (requited) love with Mrs Fox. In the adaption, he's a good deal less attractive, and portrayed mainly as a sexually frustrated fool. Played straight with Mrs Fox, whose initial looks don't change, but ends the story in a lot better shape than she does in the novel.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Sugar's attitude to life, understandably. Also Henry is the closest thing we get to an aversion and he seems to see himself as a pervert.
  • Aloof Big Brother: Played with, with the pious Henry and the philander William.
  • Arc Words: "Watch your step!" and "God damn God!"
  • As You Know: Averted to the extent that a lot of backstory and relevant plot details take a while for the reader to figure out.
  • Author Avatar: In-story example. Sugar the prostitute is writing a wish-fulfilment novel about, er, a prostitute called Sugar who murders lecherous abusive men in spectacularly gory fashion.
  • Beta Couple: Henry and Mrs Fox. It doesn't end well.
  • Broken Bird: Agnes most notably, Sugar skirts this.
  • Character Exaggeration: Henry in the adaptation. See above.
  • Christianity is Catholic: Agnes holds this view. Averted, however, with Henry Rackham, Mrs Fox and the Rescue Society.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The BBC series is quite faithful to the spirit of the original while missing or summarising superflous events, and the only real differences are in the character arcs of Henry Rackham and Mrs Fox
  • Decoy Protagonist: Caroline
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: A major element of the plot.
  • Definitely Just a Cold: Emmeline Fox has tuberculosis but insists to Henry (and herself) at first that there's really nothing all that wrong with her.
  • Doorstopper: Yep.
  • Downer Ending: A significant difference from the novel is that while all the events are the same, the novel ends ambiguously with the sense that everything will end badly, while the TV series ends ambiguously with the possibility of things turning out well.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Agnes. Lampshaded by the author when he points out this is part of what makes her the idealised High Victorian beauty.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Sugar's friend Caroline is the classic version of this. Sugar herself is eventually revealed to be an example. Averted with Mrs Castaway.
  • Laughing Mad: Agnes, several times.
  • Literary Allusion Title: From Tennyson's poem 'Now sleeps the crimson petal'. The two main characters are a redhead, and a blonde always clad in white.
  • Lit Fic
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Sugar deliberately plays up to this trope in order to keep men fascinated.
  • Noodle Incident: The chain of events that leads to William meeting Sugar begins with him seeking out a prostitute who will perform some sexual practice or other that is so outlandish even most prostitutes want nothing to do with it (but, he is told, Sugar might). We never do learn just what he wanted her to do.
  • No Periods, Period: Both averted and taken to extremes at the same time via the same character, Agnes, who has somehow become an adult woman without ever learning about menstruation, and hence believes she is hemhorraging to death every month, only to recover miraculously, only to have it all happen again and again...
  • Only One Name: Sugar
  • Platonic Prostitution: Henry visits Caroline for 'research'. His brother (wrongly) assumes that this is as implausible as it sounds.
  • Redhead In Green: In the BBC series, one of Sugar's main costumes is green.
  • Second-Person Narration: The writing is intentionally based on ninteenth century novels. Most blatant at the beginning.
  • Smug Snake: William Rackham. Played with, as he begins as this, then eventually the reader starts thinking they see some humanity in him. By the end, he's back to being an odious worm.
  • Steampunk: The direction in the adaptation seems to be quite influenced by this.
  • Those Two Guys: Bodley and Ashwell
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: Averted. Sugar pretends to love her work because that's what the clients want, but Faber makes it clear that this was a terrible, terrible job.
  • Victorian London: Needless to say.
  • Victorian Novel Disease: Played with. Emmeline Fox has actual tuberculosis. Agnes Rackham, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, beautiful wife of William who is definitely not well at all, actually has a brain tumour but, as the author points out, none of the characters actually know this.