The Petticoat Men
London, 1870. The Stacey family, running a boarding house near Kings Cross, suddenly find themselves involved in what the newspapers are calling “THE SCANDAL OF THE CENTURY”: two of their gentleman boarders are arrested, dressed as society women, in the audience at a London theatre. Immediately disgust, gossip, rumour and alarm swirl round the city (and it is known by many that certain members of the nobility are also involved with these dangerous ladies.) Shocked newspaper headlines and editorials abound; both spiritual and temporal gentlemen gather in secret rooms; meetings are held at the highest levels of society and power, about saving reputations. But the landlady’s daughter, Mattie, has her own idea: she wants to save people she cares about from ten years’ hard labour, and she will take any risks to do so. She and her mother and her brother, staring penury in the face, become involved not only in the trial, but in the lives – and deaths – of some of those involved.
A historical novel taking a new and startling look at a real trial which reached both the corridors of power and the darkest alleys. A novel which shows that when so much is at stake loyalty, love and friendship sometimes – but not always – exist at both ends of the social scale.
PAPERBACK PUBLICATION JUNE 2015
want to take the temperature of a culture, look at its scandals. Barbara
Ewing's strange and fascinating novel zooms in on one of the greatest
scandals of the Victorian age - and manages to shed new light on it. Mattie
Stacey has two charming lodgers named Freddie and Earnest, and she admires
their extravagant collection of gorgeous gowns and hats. She loves hearing
their outrageous stories about attending grand balls in the clothes of their
alter egos, "Fanny" and "Stella".
Then the two men are arrested for homosexuality and the press has a field
day. So far, this is well known territory. While
researching accounts of the trial, however, Ewing found "forgotten" evidence
that took the case into the very heart of the establishment, right up to the
edges of the royal family. The tone is warm and compassionate without being
too modern. Terrific.
"…..Related by the shocked and
sympathetic landlady’s daughter, this is a well-told account of a scandal
and the horrible treatment meted out to those sentenced, like Oscar Wilde,
to punishment for their sexuality."
"…..this is a generous and spirited
reconstruction of a 19th-century cause célèbre "
"Taking a fictional
stance on the celebrated case that took Victorian England by storm, Ewing
showcases the infamous transvestites, Stella and Fanny. Their case may be
the current 'cause célèbre' but these are dangerous times. I first heard of
'Stella and Fanny' at a talk last year and was intrigued to see what Ewing
had done with these stars that shocked Britain. This is a book well-worth
enormously readable novel reconstructs this 19th-century cause célèbre in
vivid detail... This is a rich, warm-hearted novel which champions ordinary
human decency against the corruption of the powerful.... a moving and
Petticoat Men is told from three points of view: Mattie, her mother, and a
dispassionate, very Victorian omniscient narrator. Between the three of
them, they tell the story effortlessly, with the right amount of tabloid
breathlessness, while staying near enough to the characters most affected by
the scandal. An excellently written and interesting novel."
The Petticoat Men