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  • Location: England

The Corset

The Corset

Why a Booktrail?

1800s: Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain?

  • ISBN: 978-1408889619
  • Genre: Gothic, Historical, Horror

What you need to know before your trail

Dorothea and Ruth.

Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless.

Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.

When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted with the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.

The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea’s belief in rationality, and the power of redemption.

Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?

Travel Guide

The setting

Somewhere in England although the locations are never named for sure. However, the town where it all takes place was common to many at the time:

“The streets were winding down for the evening by the time I dragged myself up and back towards home. Gone were the milkmaids and the fruit mongers; in their place lay orange peel and heaps of manure.”

Oakgate prison

Ruth is incarcerated here and Dorothea comes to visit and to try and work out her thoughts and fears, reasons for killing the person or persons she is suspected of. Dorothea has an interest in reading the shape of the head, phrenology and in particular observing the characteristics displayed by criminals. By sitting in the small cell with Ruth, she tries to do all this and more. The gothic chill of the setting, Ruth’s refusal to really speak or say such when she does, and then the threat inherent in her eyes…

The world of science

Two worlds explored in the novel. Science and the idea that thoughts and feelings inside someone’s head might be used to treat them and view them in prison is a new concept. The idea of measuring someone’s head for this reason is also new and nothing something women are expected to ever entertain, let alone practice.


With a talent with a needle being the only way she can earn a living, this opens up a world where the Dickensian sweat shop of the Metyard family and their dressmaking business is explored. The author explains this  was inspired by a story about a real life miliner’s appreciate called Ann Nailor who died when she was thirteen at the hands of a mother and daughter (both called Sarah Metyard). The ways of making, sewing and wearing a corset are nicely written and every stitch sounds captivating!

Booktrail Boarding Pass: The Corset

Destination : England  Author/Guide: Laura Purcell  Departure Time: 1800s

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