The Smart: The True Story of Margaret Caroline Rudd and the Unfortunate Perreau Brothers

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9780099286639: The Smart: The True Story of Margaret Caroline Rudd and the Unfortunate Perreau Brothers

The Smart is a true drama of eighteenth-century life with a mercurial, mysterious heroine. Caroline is a young Irishwoman who runs off to marry a soldier, comes to London and slides into a glamorous life as a high-class prostitute, a great risk-taker, possessing a mesmerising appeal. In the early 1770s, she becomes involved with the intriguing Perreau twins, identical in looks but opposite in character, one a sober merchant, the other a raffish gambler. They begin forging bonds, living in increasing luxury until everything collapses like a house of cards - and forgery is a capital offence. A brilliantly researched and marvellously evocative history, The Smart is full of the life of London streets and shots through with enduring themes - sex, money, death and fame. It bridges the gap between aristocracy and underworld as eighteenth-century society is drawn into the most scandalous financial sting of the age.

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Review:

The Smart is a fascinating study of a notorious web of sexuality and conspiracy in which the "celebrated Mrs. Rudd" and the "unfortunate Perreau brothers"--identical twins with very different characters--take centre stage. Bakewell, a curator of early printed books in the medical history collection at the Wellcome Library, mines her sources with care. Old Bailey transcripts, James Boswell's diaries, pamphlets--both satirical and polemical--newspaper reports, the London Magazine: Bakewell is "hooked" by this strange, and much disputed, case. And she hooks her readers with a story told from different, often conflicting, points of view as her characters battle for their lives against the penal and legal systems of 18th-century London. A vivid portrait of that London is one of the great pleasures of this book, which tracks its protagonists through the city streets, its banks and its brothels. But, above all, The Smart is an exploration of a woman's life--its limits and potential tested, over and over again, by the extraordinary character of Caroline Rudd. "There is no getting away from the fact," Bakewell concludes, "that the fully fledged Caroline became a bad woman--or at least a dangerous one to know." Nevertheless, this is a book driven by sympathy for her--as well as the desire to untangle the enigma of her famous, sometimes fatal, attractions. -- Vicky Lebeau

Review:

"A fascinating story in the shady life and scandalous times of Caroline Rudd... gripping reading." - "Daily Telegraph""Sarah Bakewell has written a scholarly biography that reads like a detective novel with a historical setting... full of sharp pen-portraits, lively asides and quirky details... every bit as colourful and enjoyable as the title suggests." - "Independent"

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