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Tattycoram
Tattycoram

Tattycoram

Caricatured by Charles Dickens in Little Dorrit as the cantankerous maid of Mr. and Mrs. Meagles, "Tattycoram" tells her own life story in this utterly compelling metafiction by the celebrated author of Isobel Gunn. Throughout her career, Audrey Thomas has repeatedly challenged her readers to follow her into new territory.

In Tattycoram, she does it again, taking readers into the distant fictional world of Charles Dickens's England, where, in an unusual twist, Dickens interacts with his own characters, allowing Thomas to raise questions about the intersection of life and art. In Thomas's hands, Harriet Coram gains both a poignant personal history and a quiet dignity.

Abandoned as a baby at the London Foundling Hospital and cared for by a kindly foster mother until the age of five, the young Hattie attracts the attention of the Victorian novelist Charles Dickens, who hires her as the family housemaid. In the Dickens household, Charles's sister Miss Georgina takes an instant dislike to Hattie's pretty looks and trains her caged raven to tease her with the mocking nickname of Tattycoram. Although Hattie escapes from Dickens and his family to care for her dying foster mother in the country, she is later swept back under the famous author's sphere of observation as a teacher in his newly founded school for released female convicts. There she befriends Elizabeth Avis, who also appears as another minor character from Little Dorrit.

In typical Dickensian fashion, Hattie meets not one, but two, long-lost brothers and falls in love with the one who conveniently turns out not to be her "real" brother. But first, she must confront her benefactor about his shameless misrepresentation of her and Elizabeth's characters in his latest novel.


Audrey Thomas was born in Binghamton, New York, in 1953, and has lived in Canada since 1959. She divides her time between Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia and Victoria. She has published more than a dozen works of fiction. Her novels include Mrs. Blood (1970), Latakia (1979), Intertidal Life (1984), and Isobel Gunn (1999). "Natural History," a prize winner in the 1980 CBC Canadian Literary Awards, was published in her collection Real Mothers (1981).

"Page for page, she is one of the country's best writers." — Globe and Mail

"Thomas is a masterful storyteller with a love of language." — Vancouver Sun

"Reading Audrey Thomas, one feels that every sentence is thoughtfully composed, beautifully nuanced, inviting quiet reflection. ... Thomas has brilliantly captured life's dilemmas." — Winnipeg Free Press

"The story is absorbing and her response to the currently hot question of what an author owes real-life models is consistently thought provoking." — Maclean's

"Thomas is a superb, confident writer completely in control of her craft. Her words are like a liquid lens. ... She leads us into a parallel universe, a playground of the imagination where we make life-long friends." — The National Post

"A very clever little novel. On one level, it is highly readable and apes the conventions of popular Victorian fiction in a satisfying way. On another more post-modern level, the novel allows the reader to chew over all those fascinating questions about fact and fiction, the integrity of private stories, and the sinister power of writers." — Quill & Quire

205 pages
Pub date: May 2, 2005