Monday, July 27, 2015

The Armstrong Girl (2015)

The Armstrong Girl: A Child for Sale: The Battle Against the Victorian Sex Trade. Cathy Le Feuvre. 2015. Lion. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 I loved, loved, loved Cathy Le Feuvre's The Armstrong Girl. I think you might love it too.

Do you enjoy reading nonfiction? Do you enjoy biographies?
Do you enjoy reading about the Victorians--fiction or nonfiction?
Do you love history books RICH in primary sources?
Do you like to read about law cases and the legal system?
Looking for a good--true--story about women's rights?
Have an interest in journalism, reporting, and publishing?
Have an interest in learning more about the history and/or origins of The Salvation Army?
Do you enjoy compelling narratives? How about complex ethical dilemmas?

The Armstrong Girl is set in England around 1885. One man--with a good amount of help--sets out to right some wrongs. He is upset--and rightly so--that young girls--young virgins--are being sold into prostitution and sometimes even trafficked out of the country into foreign brothels. He wants to prove that it is relatively easy to find a young girl--thirteen or so--to buy for immoral purposes. He goes undercover himself to prove that this is so. Now, for the record, his intentions are to save her once he's bought her. To place her safely among friends in The Salvation Army so that she is not sold again. Who is he? He's William Thomas Stead of the Pall Mall Gazette. His series of stories about child prostitution and sex trafficking were called The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon. His big goal was to strongly encourage--compel, force--parliament to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16.
Here is how he 'warned' his readers:
Therefore we say quite frankly today that all those who are squeamish, and all those who are prudish, and all those who prefer to live in a fool's paradise of imaginary innocence and purity, selfishly oblivious to the horrible realities which torment those whose lives are passed in the London Inferno, will do well not to read the Pall Mall Gazette of Monday and the three following days. The story of an actual pilgrimage into a real hell is not pleasant reading, and is not meant to be. It is, however, an authentic record of unimpeachable facts, "abominable, unutterable, and worse than fables yet have feigned or fear conceived." But it is true, and its publication is necessary. 
The first half of the book focuses on the articles he wrote and the legislation that resulted from his reporting. The second half of the book focuses on the legal aftermath of his reporting. He is arrested and placed on trial. Others who helped him--knowingly or unknowingly--are put on trial as well. Will he be found guilty? How about the others, will they be found guilty as well?

I loved this book. I found it fascinating. It was well-written. It was compelling--complex and detailed, full of oh-so-human characters. It was rich in primary sources: excerpts from the articles, testimonies from the trial, journal entries and letters from some of the participants, etc. It was just an absorbing read.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 comment:

Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll) said...

Interesting topic and, oddly, timely since sex trafficking in the US has been making the news. We need a modern version of William Thomas Stead.