Wednesday 27 April 2022

Dark Fortune, by Theresa Tomlinson


Fictional Drama
Yorkshire, England

What would drive a young girl to steal jet, the lignite gemstone for which the Yorkshire town of Whitby is renowned? Taking as her starting point a historical record of a father and daughter apprehended for such a theft, Theresa Tomlinson creates a credible and evocative tale of life in Whitby in the middle of the 19th century.

After Paulina Raw’s father is crippled in a lifeboat accident, attempting to save the crew, the family’s fortunes take a turn for the worse. He cannot work, and worse, becomes addicted to the laudanum that relieves his pain. His children, including his oldest Paulina (Lina), beachcomb for fragments of jet, to be sold to the workshops that turned it into jewelry. When her father convinces her to steal from one of the workshops, Lina is caught and sentenced to four months hard labour. 

Dark Fortune is both Lina’s story and that of the working-class people of Whitby: fishermen and their wives and children who cut bait and collect shellfish from the rocks, the artisans of the jet workshops, and those who lived by begging and prostitution. It captures the pride and shame of these families: pride in keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table; shame at being seen as anything less than decent. Lina shames her family when she is jailed, and again when she returns to Whitby after her sentence with shorn hair, a visible reminder of her fall. Some shun her; some forgive, as she attempts to return to the community and find ways to support her almost-destitute family. 

Lina’s determination and persistence in working towards a better life for her family is realistic; this is not a fantasy of working-class girl to doyenne of an empire, but to the improvement in stability and status that was possible within the limitations of society at the time. The inclusion of period photographs of men and women at work add to the verisimilitude of the story, as does the presence of historic men and women with small but important roles. 

Tight pacing, an eye for details that invoke the setting and time, and clearly-drawn characters make Dark Fortune an engaging and recommended read. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Marian L  Thorpe
 e-version reviewed

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