The Journal of Dora Damage: A Novel by Belinda Starling is a historical novel about erotic publishing in Victorian London, bookbinding, and the binds of sex, class, and race. Unfortunately, shortly before her debut novel was published, author Starling died of complications following surgery to have a cyst removed from her bile duct. She was just 34 years old.
This excerpt from The Guardian Unlimited describes the book’s plot:
“Scraping a living in the general drizzle and damp of 1860s Lambeth are the Damages – wife Dora, her bookbinder husband Peter and their epileptic daughter Lucinda. Angular and anxious, narrator Dora is basically a domestic drudge, scuttling between moneylenders and cockroaches, fearful that Lucinda’s “falling sickness” will land her in an asylum. As Peter’s arthritic hands seize up, so does the supply of work; he sinks into impotent rage and pain-relieving opium addiction. Impecuniousness turns into desperate poverty, and Dora faces two choices: “the whorehouse or the workhouse”. Yet she is enterprising despite her timidity. Persuading her reluctant husband to let her work under his direction, Dora and apprentice Jack Tapster (a nicer version of the Artful Dodger, although, as the surname implies, a boozer) begin to save the business.”
Dora’s work doesn’t earn much money at first, but when her artful covers come to the attention of the privileged and ruthless elite, she begins to make a profit by secretly publishing pornographic books.
Belinda Starling was also a talented singer. To see a few photos of her, including pictures of her onstage, go here.
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