Cover Image: The Household

The Household

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

What a fascinating story and even moreso because it's inspired by real life, I believe?! This novel was impossible to put down, not only because of the brilliant author's writing, but because of the plot, the characters and the emotion of it. Wow!

Was this review helpful?

Having thoroughly enjoyed all of Stacey Hall’s previous books, I was eagerly awaiting this latest offering and was not disappointed.

Although I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as her previous ones, it is still very interesting historical fiction about Urania Cottage, a house set up in 1846 by Charles Dickens and Angela Burdett-Coutts, for street working and destitute women and girls, where they are trained up for service and a new start in life.

There are multiple stories in the book as we follow the lives of some of the girls following their release from prison, but also that of Burdett-Coutts, their wealthy benefactress.
I found the various threads hard to keep up with at times, hence the fact I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as her previous books, but it is still nevertheless a beautifully written and extremely interesting book about a place I had never heard of before.

As always, I now eagerly await the next offering from Stacey Halls. 4*

Thank you to NetGalley for the advance copy return for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

Urania Cottage in Shepherd’s Bush, London, was a home for ‘fallen women’ founded in 1846 by Charles Dickens and Angela Burdett-Coutts. Their vision was to provide a safe place for young women to rehabilitate after serving prison sentences or working on the streets as prostitutes. At Urania Cottage they would receive an education and the opportunity to train as domestic servants, enabling them to start new, more respectable lives overseas. In her latest novel, The Household, Stacey Halls imagines the stories of some of these women.

During the period covered in the novel, there are many young women staying at Urania Cottage, but Halls chooses to focus on two of them. One is Martha who, while trying to rebuild her own life at the cottage, is also worrying about her sister, Emily, who has disappeared. As Martha grows more desperate about Emily, she is driven to make a decision she may later regret. The other is Josephine, who had expected a close friend to accompany her to Urania Cottage. When the friend never arrives, Josephine must decide whether to continue participating in the scheme or leave in search of happiness elsewhere.

Dickens himself is mentioned now and then but always stays in the background, never becoming an actual character in the novel. Angela Burdett-Coutts, on the other hand, has a much larger role. We meet Angela as a woman in her early thirties who several years earlier inherited a fortune from her banker grandfather, making her one of England’s wealthiest people. She is becoming known as a philanthropist and Urania Cottage is one of her first big projects.

Angela’s privileged lifestyle means she struggles to truly understand the needs of the women at the cottage, but she and Dickens both enter into the project with the best intentions. However, despite Angela’s wealth and position she still has problems of her own to deal with – such as being stalked by Richard Dunn. She had thought she was safe from Dunn when he was sent to prison for four years, but now he’s been released early and is on her trail again. As I read, I wondered whether this was a fictitious storyline, but I looked it up and found that, yes, Richard Dunn was a real person and did obsessively pursue Angela Burdett-Coutts as described in the book. It seems that other parts of the novel I had assumed were invented were also based on historical fact; after finishing the book I was interested to learn that many of the incidents described as happening at Urania Cottage were taken from Dickens’ letters to Angela and even inspired his own David Copperfield.

The Household is fascinating in many ways, yet it’s probably my least favourite of Stacey Halls’ books. The separate stories of Angela, Josephine and Martha never quite blend together properly and give the novel a disjointed feel. I found the first half very slow and although there’s a twist towards the end that I hadn’t seen coming, it happens too late to really change the way I felt about the book overall. Still, I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to learn about life at Urania Cottage and will look forward to whatever Stacey Halls writes next.

Was this review helpful?

I enjoyed this book. It wasn’t as gripping at her previous stories, but it did keep me interested. It just felt like it lacked something “wow”, but I can’t put my finger on it. Thank you to the writer, publisher, and NetGalley for allowing me to read this.

Was this review helpful?

The Household follows the lives of women who are connected to Urania Cottage a place for women who have fallen in society.

This is fantastic, this is historical fiction at its finest. The right amount of known and unknowns and beautiful character relationships, with an undercurrent of mystery and some jeapardy involved.

I loved the following of Angela Burnett Coutts, her involvement made the story for me where she could have been a stuffy benefactor she isnt. She has her own unique storyline which is facinating in its own right.

My favourite characters have to be Martha and Josephine though, their growing friendship is endearing. Stacey Halls manages to put twists in that I could not see coming and includes so much of London history its incredible that the story never feels slow or meandering.

Another 5 stars and Stacey Halls remains a firm auto-buy author for me.

Was this review helpful?

I love this author and have so far read all of her books. I feel this lacked something that her others had however it was still an enjoyable read

Was this review helpful?

Thank you to Netgalley and Manilla Press for the ARC.

I found this an absorbing and heartfelt historical novel about young women in the early Victorian era from dramatically different walks of life, all left with restricted choices. The novel is dedicated to the inner lives of the women who wash up at Urania Cottage, set up by Charles Dickens, as well as the affluent female benefactor who funded it and the housekeeper who runs it.

The focus on the pleasures and trials of domesticity and class difference in this novel reminded me of Longbourne by Jo Baker, with its exquisite detailing of domestic chores circulating around and beyond the notice of the Bennett family. In at least the first half of The Household there's a similar attention to how domestic tasks can make people feel, as well as the difference between when those tasks are chosen and when they are dictated to you. There's a section early on where Josephine, one of the new young women taken into the house of corrections, is baking with another young woman making a jam pudding. The other woman, Martha, offers Josephine the jam spoon and Josephine asks what she should do with it, not used to offers of pleasant or delicious things. The taste of the jam and the wistful explosion of feelings and memories it wakes in Josephine are palpable and emotive, serving to remind the reader that she has never before been in a position to receive grace or joy from domestic work.

As powerful as these moments can be, the other side of the girls' work isn't neglected. There's a sustained focus on Dickens/the board's obsession with what the girls should think about, talk about, and do in order to make themselves permissible. Sometimes the ideological shackles on the girls draw so tight that it seems these moments of joy are only able to be narrowly snatched from those who mean excruciatingly, suffocatingly well. The novel is very clear that this is the huge, overwhelming flaw of well-intentioned charity work. People have their own impulses and histories, and it's made explicit over and over again that erasing the girl's histories is not only impossible - trauma lingers, as does love - but the crucial mistake at the foundation of the enterprise.

The plot of the novel gains more momentum after the halfway point, although I found many of its developments to be quite predictable. As the novel drew to a close there were not really any surprises, but the author's efforts to give closure to her characters and her affection for them was clear. After the halfway point, I often found myself wistful for more description of life inside the house and less plot. However, I'd still recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical novels, particularly those which embrace the complexity of women's roles.

Was this review helpful?

I have loved every single previous book by this author, and this one is no exception.
The novel is set in a place called Urania Cottage, a small house on the outskirts of London, for "fallen women", It is set up by Angela Burdett-Coutts and some benefactors (Charles Dickens being one of them) The Household revolves around some of those women and Angela herself.

The plot is intriguing, blackmail, missing girls, prostitution, stalking, and the characters all shine through - particularly, Martha, who is searching for her sister, Josephine, and Angela who set up the house. I particularly loved reading her story. The matron is also a very strong character, and the way the different characters and plot aspects weave together is really well done. It's very readable, and I couldn’t put it down. Stacey Halls books just get better and better and I highly recommend this, and can’t wait for her next book!

Was this review helpful?

I can’t say this is my favourite by Stacey Halls - I thought the blurb and premise sounded great, but in all I found it quite slow and difficult to get into. By the time the story did take off I felt a bit like it was too late for me.

There were some great characters and I was interested to see where their stories went, however there were other POVs in the story that I was much less invested in which I think slowed this down for me.

Overall one I’d recommend to fans of Stacey Halls to make their minds up about, an alright story that missed the mark a little for me.

Was this review helpful?

Overall, I enjoyed this novel, but it did seem to take a long time to get going. It completes beautifully, and very satisfactorily, but the run up to that satisfying conclusion took a rather long and slow path, with very little tension along the way. The concept is great - the travails of women of that era, regardless of social status, are clearly demonstrated, along with their almost total lack of power - only wealth brings any sense of power, and even then there are significant constraints.
This is not one you'll rip through, turning pages to see what happens next, as very little does, but as a way of bringing to life some of the brutal realities of Victorian England, it does a great job.

Was this review helpful?

Set in the victorian era featuring the one and only Charles dickens. He comes across an idea to reinstate those that have been in poverty of somesort or in prison back into society. This is where the house hold is formed. It follows those who support the project and those that are part of it. It started off pretty slow tbh, until 70% there is a twist and then the ending is a bit rushed. It had its good parts, but I was wanting more.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you to Netgalley for my copy. I really love Stacey Halls books so was really excited to read this one. Love the way she tells historical fiction and was drawn in from the beginning.
However I have only given 3 stars as this book was good, I just didn't fall in love with it like The Familiars or The Foundling. I liked the characters and the story but it went on a bit long and not much happened. There was quite a lot of characters that I struggled to keep up with all the storylines.
I enjoyed reading it I just didn't fall in love with it.
I would still definitely recommend Stacey as an author but this isn't my favourite.

Was this review helpful?

Stacey Halls has such a knack for telling compelling stories. I haven’t read all of her books, but the ones I have, I’ve enjoyed immensely. In this one I enjoyed the theme of the class divide and the depths it went to in order to show a realistic view of how much impact stalking and harrasment can have on someone.

The stalking of Angela Burdett-Coutts was especially scary to read. It was so reminiscent of the accounts of modern day stalkings that I’ve heard, only with letter writing instead of the internet. It was interesting to see this reflection of our times in a story set in Victorian England. And of course the police were just as useless at tackling it back then as they are now.

The class divide that I mentioned also interested me. The way it impacted on every conversation that Angela had with the girls at Urania cottage. It’s something that is so synonymous with this time period, so it was really interesting to see it play out.

This was a well rounded, enjoyable read and definitely worth a go if you like historical fiction.

Was this review helpful?

I really enjoyed The Households, it’s emotional as well as mysterious. I kept trying to work out how it would all tie together and I didn’t fully until it was all revealed! Angela, Martha, Josephine, Mrs , Frank and Dr and Mrs Brown were wonderful characters and I was invested in their stories. A great story that deals with obsession, second chances, found family and love.

Was this review helpful?

I was sent an advance proof copy of The Household by Stacey Halls to read and review by NetGalley. I loved this book! It has some fantastic characters that you really get to know well, with the added bonus of a glimpse of Charles Dickens in the mix. This is not necessarily a totally original idea for a novel, with the premise of a halfway house/home for fallen women in London in the 1840s, but there are several interesting threads running through the story with plenty of twists and turns. If you love an engrossing historical novel that captivates you from the first page you certainly won’t be disappointed.

Was this review helpful?

This is the first Stacey Halls book I've read, and I'm going to be going back for more - this was brilliant!

Based on real events in the mid 19th century, this is the story of a group of women, selected individually as they leave prison to give them a new start in life - a new start funded by a millionairess, in a house she furnishes and with a programme of work and education which she influences.

There are so many great characters in this - Angela Burdett-Coutts the millionairess has her own story, she's been stalked for a number of years, and her stalker has just been released from prison himself. All goes quiet, but her fear that he's still there is of course going to be realised, but where and how...

The women who inhabit the house have a mix of backgrounds and issues, but you'll care for them all.

This is a story full of thrills, mystery, and intrigue. Highly recommended.

Was this review helpful?

As the author explains in her Historical Note, The Household has its basis in historical fact. Charles Dickens, and his friend Angela Burdett-Coutts, really did establish a home for ‘fallen’ women. Described by the author as ‘a halfway house between a refuge and a social experiment’, the intention was that the women – “rescued” from jails, hospitals and workhouses – would be educated, trained for domestic service and then sent to start a new life overseas.

In the book, Dickens stays pretty much in the shadows making only infrequent visits to Urania Cottage in order to record the women’s life stories. One can imagine these forming the basis for some of the female characters in his novels: prostitutes, thieves, women betrayed or reduced to penury. However, he becomes the unwitting accomplice to a deception later in the book.

To outward appearances Angela Burdett-Coutts has everything. She’s extremely wealthy, lives in a magnificent house, possesses a wardrobe of beautiful gowns, and has a glittering circle of acquaintances. Her life experiences are far removed from those of the women of Urania Cottage. Although well-intentioned, her desire to have them learn to play musical instruments or master foreign languages shows just how out of touch she is. But in a way she’s trapped too, by an obsessive stalker who has made her life a misery and means she must be protected not just when she leaves her house but at home too. Interestingly, she has something like an obsession of her own, with a man she counts as a friend but would like to be something more.

Life at Urania Cottage follows a strict and ordered regime but is humane compared with what the women have experienced before: comforts such as clean linen, plentiful and nourishing food, hot water to wash in. The house is presided over by the extremely efficient Mrs Holdsworth who, although at first sight appearing rather stern, has the women’s best interests at heart. She proves this through the course of the book, especially when tragedy strikes as she knows what it’s like to suffer loss.

Although we meet a number of the occupants of Urania Cottage, the book focuses mainly on two of the women: Martha and Josephine. The circumstances that have brought them to Urania Cottage are different but they have both found themselves on the margins of society. Martha is desperately searching for her sister Emily who has unaccountably disappeared from her situation as a maid in a wealthy household. Josephine has also been parted from someone she cared for, someone she believed cared for her. Although very different in character, they form a bond and, during the course of the book, both experience moments of desperation that see them make unwise choices.

The men in the book are not particularly pleasant characters, with the honourable exception of Frank, Mrs Holdsworth’s son, who plays a pivotal role towards the end of the book. But there are unattractive female characters too: brothel keepers, procuresses and stern prison warders.

The author cleverly brings together the different threads of the story at the end of the book giving us a glimpse of a more hopeful future for some of the women even if that means them leaving everything – and everyone – they have known behind.

The Household with its rich cast of characters, skilfully crafted storyline and authentic period detail is a thoroughly engrossing and enjoyable historical novel.

Was this review helpful?

I read this novel in a promotion by NetGalley UK. I have already read two of Stacey Hall's novels, The Familiars and The Foundling and enjoyed both very much though they were audiobooks and i regretted not getting print versions with them. Her prose is so lovely to read; it has ease and flow and she doesn't trouble readers with too much information stuffing. The plot runs through this novel without any jarring and this makes her books easy to read. Her characters come to life easily; she is descriptive enough for us to put flesh on their bones without being over indulgent.I loved so many characters in this book and enjoyed the same in other two novels. There were a few good subplots but my favourite two stories were those of Josephine and Martha. All the girls at Angela, the wealthy benefactor (and deeply harrassed and troubled soul) (and Charles Dickens') rehabilitation and renewal cottage in Shepherds Bush are ex-jailbirds and this makes them interesting from the start. Will they make improvements? Will they end up going to the colonies to make a new life? Will they end up back inside or worse still, outside, just reliving their old lives. Will Angela find true peace and love? Will Charles Dickens use any of these girls as archetypes for his books? loved this novel and look forward to Stacey's next one - she writes historical fiction with great stories and I love both.

Was this review helpful?

📖 Review
The Household by Stacey Halls

I have read and enjoyed Stacey Halls' previous three novels, so I was really looking forward to starting this.

This story is set in London in 1847. A rich benefactor, Angela Burdett Coutts decides to set up a home to help fallen girls, along with her friend Charles Dickens. Urania Cottage is a second chance at life for prostitutes, petty thieves, and destitute. These women must not leave the house and are not permitted to talk about their pasts. The hope is that after some training, they can go abroad to begin new lives.
Angela has her own past to deal with, however, as her stalker of over 10 years has just been released from prison.

I loved reading about the different women within the walls of Urania Cottage. The characters were brilliantly written and easy to identify with.
The novel is so well researched, and Victorian England is vividly brought to life. I found the links to Dickens and his interest in supporting 'fallen women' fascinating. I hadn't realised until I'd finished that Angela Burdett Coutts and Urania Cottage actually existed, which makes the story even more interesting. I love books that blend fictional and real characters and places.

I enjoyed the final part of the book the most when the plot ramps up and the mystery starts to unravel regarding Angela's stalker, Richard Dunn. The novel really portrays the desperation and struggle young girls faced when trying to build a life for themselves in London and the limited choices available to them.

Overall, I found this book a bit slower paced than Stacey Halls previous novels, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Mrs England is still my favourite book out of the four, but I would highly recommend them all!

Was this review helpful?

As a reader who predominantly reads fantasy, Stacey Halls never fails to impress me with her work. I generally do not read historical fiction but when I read her books I am always captivated to the very last page.

The book mostly takes place in Urania Cottage, a house founded for the ‘fallen’ women of society, by Charles Dickens and funded by Angela Burdett-Coutts. The chapters flash back and forth between some of the girls who joined the cottage, their previous lives as well as their daily struggles. Additionally, we also get a glimpse into the life of Angela and the matron of the cottage.

Stacey Halls has such a raw and compelling manner of storytelling that I could not choose a favourite character - I loved them all. It was heartwarming to read about how the girls went from such difficult circumstances to a life with hope and new opportunities.

I was not aware of Dickens’ involvement nor Angela Coutts before reading this book, but it has definitely sent me down a rabbit hole after finishing the story. It is quite interesting and I cannot wait to see what Stacey Halls has in store for us next!

Thank you to the publisher for a review copy! I appreciate it!

Was this review helpful?