When I was growing up in the 1830s, very few women could read or write, not even to sign their names on a marriage register. Throughout the century female literacy continued to improve so that by 1900 it had increased to almost 97 percent. As a reflection of this, penny dreadfuls, or slender novels with melodramatic themes, available for a penny apiece, aimed at the female market, began to grow in popularity.

Currently, The Grace of the Hunchback by Annabelle Troy, is on sale on amazon for 99 cents–the modern equivalent of a penny. Though slender in size, it is no cheap romance. Rather, it is the fictionalized version of the real life of influential ballerina Marie Taglioni, born in 1804. Under the guidance of her father, a dictatorial choreographer, she pioneeres the romantic style of ballet: dancing en pointe, ethereality mixed with athleticism, white tutus, heroines dying for love. Marie always wants to be loved herself but this eludes her. On stage she is considered to be beautiful; offstage she disappoints men with her plain looks and shyness. She marries a heartless French aristocrat who uses her for her money; they divorce after having two children. Marie tries to recover from her heartbreak by dancing in triumph in Russia, before ultmately retiring to Lake Como. Late in life, when she is in her seventies, she loses all of her money and teaches at a girls’ school in London. She never stoppes loving her husband, even though she realizes what she actually craves is a male ideal rather than an actual relationship. Her story is contrasted with that of her former maid, Lucette, who becomes a successful prostitute in the Paris demimonde. This part was a little wicked for me, sometimes inducing a blush, but I do acknowledge that it added a little spice.

Below is the link to the book. I wish you joyful reading. And remember to be grateful that you can read at all.