“We’re all looking glasses, we girls, existing only to reflect their images back to them. . . Hollow vessel of girls to be rinsed of our own ambitions wants and opinions, just waiting to be filled with the cool tepid water of gracious compliance. . . a fissure forms in the vessel. I’m cracking open.”
– Libba Bray, A Great and Terrible Beauty
A Great and Terrible Beauty is a witty, dark and funny novel that pulls readers into late 19th century England and the misadventures of Gemma Doyle.
After losing her mother under mysterious circumstances Gemma, an expat in India, is sent to London to attend Spence Academy, a finishing school for girls. Soon she stumbles into a mystical and magical realm that is both dark and inviting.
The novel is slow-paced and really focuses on telling the story of Gemma and her schoolmates and places only sporadic emphasis on the action.
My favorite character was a resident mean girl, Felicity Worthington, seriously she could give Regina George a run for her money.
At its surface, the novel is entertaining and intriguing. Bray does a wonderful job of giving the girls insecurities and anxieties that binds them in friendship, we get to see a different side of these 19th-century girls.
What really makes this novel stand out is the underlying idea of gender and what is clearly a metaphor for early feminism.In the Q&A section, Bray mentions that the novel was inspired by how groups of powerful women have struggled against and had been demonized by patriarchy.
The girls in the novel are becoming restless and tired of being proper English roses. Throughout the novel they began to think, challenge and look past their expectations. They began to think freely, question the morals and values they have been taught all their lives.
I look forward to reading the other two in the series. I hear the third one in over 800 pages ! Ack !