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Description - Mr Wroe's Virgins by Jane Rogers

In 1830, as the end of the world approached, the charismatic, hunchbacked prophet of a religious sect settled in Lancashire heeds the biblical injunction and chooses seven virgins 'for comfort and succour'. Basing her novel on the life of the real John Wroe, a leader of a group called the Christian Israelite Church, Rogers crafts an impeccable narrative, interweaving the diverse mindsets of some of the chosen women and the prophet during the nine months of complex interaction. Part morality tale, part history, packed with accurate details of early 19th century life, the stories of Leah, Joanna, Hannah and Martha unfold as they cope with the hypocrisy, blind beliefs and idealism of the sexually threatening prophet. Told with humour, irony and a generosity that embraces even the sinister Wroe, this is a compelling story of astonishing depth, elucidating religious idealism, the beginnings of socialism and the ubiquitous position of women as unpaid labourers.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780349113265
ISBN-10: 0349113262
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 127mm x 19mm)
Pages: 288
Imprint: Abacus
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 2-Aug-2001
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Book Reviews - Mr Wroe's Virgins by Jane Rogers

UK Kirkus Review » Jane Rogers won the 1984 Somerset Maugham Award for her second book, Her Living Image, but was not as widely read as she deserved. Her fourth novel, Mr Wroe's Virgins, changed all that: a perfect blend of historical reconstruction, intellectual debate and rip-roaring yarn. Mr Wroe really existed. He was a radical prophet of the 1820s whose predictions concerning the Lancashire weather, the advent of the railways and the violent demonstrations of the machine breakers all came true. This, and his charisma, ensured that his request for seven virgins to serve him - daughters of the congregation - would be granted. Within a year scandal had scattered the little community; the prophet was tried for indecency and driven abroad. Jane Rogers creates seven marvellous fictional characters out of the unknown women whose lives were linked with Wroe. This clever book deals profoundly with the confusions between sexual and religious feeling. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » An earlier historical novel by Rogers (Promised Lands, 1997, etc.), first published in England in 1991, gives an intermittently compelling story of a charismatic doomsday minister who, in 1830, requests seven virgins from his congregation "for comfort and succor." The voices of four of those women tell the tale, starting with the vain beauty Leah, who accepts her selection by the Prophet - the ugly, hunchbacked Mr. Wroe - as a tribute to her allure, even though she harbors a compromising secret: her illegitimate son. Also chosen are holy Joanna, staunch believer in the role of women as ministers of God equal to men; educated unbeliever Hannah, still in shock from having seen her father through the last stages of a fatal illness; and bestial, battered Martha, brought by her father from the barn where he's kept her. Although these and the others are promptly set to work at domestic duties, Leah believes herself the natural choice as the Prophet's true companion and is frustrated when he barely seems to notice her. Instead he turns his attention to Joanna and Hannah, the former for her fervor, the latter for her obvious detachment from the New Jerusalem in England that he prophesies. In fact, Hannah spends an increasing amount of time with the mill workers and the Owenites, who would better their lot, exciting the jealousy of Leah, who sees her as a rival gaining the upper hand in the Prophet's affections. Spurned when she tries to seduce him and despondent at the death of her son, Leah accuses Wroe publicly of carnal acts with his virgins - and is as surprised as anyone when a church trial reveals her charge to be true. Facets of the historical moment are vividly rendered, and each woman's voice is distinct, but there are more highlights than depths to this story, giving it a frustrating unevenness. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Jane Rogers

Jane Rogers has written six novels including ISLAND (longlisted for the Booker 1999) and PROMISED LANDS, which won the Writers' Guild Best Novel Award 1996. She also writes for TV and radio, and teaches Novel on the Writing MA at Sheffield Hallam University. She has two children and lives in Lancashire.

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