Paperbacks: The Journal of Dora Damage, by Belinda Starling

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The Independent Culture

Vic-Lit gets gets a female-friendly makeover in Belinda Starling's accomplished, and sadly posthumous, debut novel. Set in Lambeth in the 1860s, it follows the fortunes of Dora Damage, her bookbinder husband, Peter, and epileptic daughter, Lucinda.

When Peter is crippled from arthritis, Dora is left facing either "the whorehouse or the workhouse". Instead, she teaches herself the bookbinding trade, receiving commissions from a connoisseur of pornographic texts. Simultaneously repelled and intrigued, Dora has an unexpected education in the ars amatoria. Aiding and abetting her, both professionally and personally, is the fugitive slave, Din Nelson. An entertaining period piece flirts with themes of emancipation and domination, and conjures up south-east London in all her tawdry glory.