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Misfortune Hardcover – April 11, 2005

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Editorial Reviews Review

One of the most auspicious debuts of recent years, Wesley Stace's Misfortune follows the rise, fall, and triumphant return of Rose Old, a foundling rescued from a London garbage heap in 1820 by the richest man in Britain. Lord Geoffroy Loveall, whose character has been shaped by perpetual mourning for a sister who died in childhood, seizes on the infant as a replacement for his beloved sister. With the help of trusted servants, he arranges for the child to be lovingly brought up at his ancestral mansion, Loveall Hall--to all appearances, his biological daughter and unhoped-for heir. No matter that the baby is not a girl.

The story thus far is so engaging, and the details of Rose's childhood so playfully rendered (when she was first brought to Loveall Hall, the staff of 250 included a servant whose sole responsibility was to iron newspapers before their second reading), that it is with reluctance that the reader meets the inevitable rude, scheming relatives whose plotting will lead to the "misfortune" of the title. Luckily, Stace (the given name of the musician John Wesley Harding) takes too much delight in Rose to dump her back on the garbage heap, or at least not for long. The cross-dressing love child of Great Expectations and A. S. Byatt's Possession, Misfortune will find you breathlessly tracking the movements of its principal players, and applauding the most ridiculous twists of fate. --Regina Marler Bonus Content
Born in Hastings and educated at Cambridge, Wesley Stace is also known as the musician John Wesley Harding. Musical influences are on display in his gender-bending debut novel, Misfortune, a historical tale set in 19th-Century England about an abandoned boy raised as a girl. Read on to listen to three original songs inspired by the book.

A Message from Wesley Stace
Songs weave their way throughout Misfortune--some are ballads, crucial to the plot and written by one of the characters, others are traditional songs sung at various points of the narrative, others are folk songs from a collection in the Octagonal Library of Love Hall, the home of the central family.

Songs aren't anything if they aren't sung, so I decided to match melodies and words and record some of them. I picked these because they were the first two. There will be a full record of the songs of Misfortune, performed by The Love Hall Tryst (myself, Kelly Hogan, Nora O'Connor, and Brian Lohmann) which will be released by Appleseed Recordings later this year. --Wesley Stace

From Chapter One: "For a moment, the laundress was unaware that there was anyone beneath. She began to sing as she worked and this is what finally breathed life into Pharaoh again. It was one of the old songs, his favourite of the many she sang: the story of Lambkin the builder who tortures Lord Murray's family when his note is refused. The purity of Annie's voice contrasted starkly with the words of her song and the street below:
"'Where is the heir of this house?' said Lambkin:
'Asleep in his cradle,' the false nurse said to him.
And he pricked that baby all over with a pin,
While the nurse held a basin for the blood to run in."
She had sung it so many times as a lullaby that the horror of the story was somehow soothing."

  • Listen to "Lambkin"

    "Lord Lovel"
    From Chapter Two: "Loveall recalled a previous Lord Loveall and the song that bore his name, and he sang it softly to the baby. This ancestor had deferred his marriage for seven years while he went travelling. He returned after only twelve months, but as he rode home, he heard the church bells ringing, "for Nancy Bell who died for a discourteous squire." He died too of grief, as he gazed on her corpse lying in its coffin, and was buried next to her. From her heart grew a red rose and from his heart a briar:
    "They grew and grew to the church steeple
    Till they could grow no higher
    And he pricked that baby all over with a pin,
    And there entwined in a true lover’s knot
    For true lovers to admire."

  • Listen to "Lord Lovel"

    "The Ballad of Miss Fortune"
    "Miss Fortune" is the song from which came the original idea for Misfortune. The Ballad of Miss Fortune is a re-recording of this song from John Wesley Harding's album, Awake.

  • Listen to "The Ballad of Miss Fortune"

    Music from John Wesley Harding


    Adam's Apple

    Here Comes the Groom

    Trad Arr Jones

    Confessions of St. Ace

    John Wesley Harding's New Deal

  • From Publishers Weekly

    This gender-bending romp about a boy raised as a girl in 19th-century England--penned by musician John Wesley Harding, writing here under his real name--more than lives up to the hype it will surely, ahem, engender. On a night in 1820, effeminate and ineffective (at least according to his mother) Lord Geoffroy Loveall, happens upon a baby abandoned in a trash heap. He brings it home to Love Hall, the grand estate that he is set to inherit, and pronounces the baby his daughter and heir. There's just one problem: the baby is a boy. Geoffroy refuses to accept this fact, but the happy news causes his ailing mother to die on the spot. The baby--named Rose--is raised as a cosseted and doted-on proper young lady, and the legitimate heir, a ruse that works beautifully until Rose begins to wonder about the facts of life: why, for example, does she suddenly feel the urge to pee standing up, like her friend Stephen, rather than squatting like his lovely sister, Sarah? Adolescence (and a few whiskers) only causes further confusion--as does the word "BOY," which begins to ominously appear around the estate. Eventually, Rose's cover is blown, and the scandal prompts several sets of greedy relatives to descend, claiming the Loveall inheritance as their own. There's a huge cast of characters, plot twists aplenty, loads of historical detail (including original Victorian ballads) and a satisfying, tied-together ending that also, in two epilogues, manages to offer up a poignant take on historical interpretation. Yet this lengthy and involved tale makes for speedy reading. Best of all, Rose's original narrative voice is engaging from the get-go: smart, funny, observant, and even hip.
    Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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    Product Details

    • Hardcover: 531 pages
    • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (April 11, 2005)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0316830348
    • ISBN-13: 978-0316830348
    • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
    • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
    • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
    • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,951,754 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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    Customer Reviews

    Most Helpful Customer Reviews

    33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Eileen on May 11, 2005
    Format: Hardcover
    It is the early 1820s in London. After an infant boy is discarded on a garbage heap and left for dead, he is found by Geoffroy Loveall, the effeminate, eccentric Lord of Love Hall, who is concerned about the need for an heir to inherit his vast wealth. Lord Loveall brings the baby back to the manor, hastily marries a member of the household staff, and claims that there is a new heir to the family fortune. However, obsessed with the death of his sister and living in a dream world of his own, the Lord declares the baby to be a girl and names him Rose. With the collusion of the immediate family and household staff, Lord Loveall raises Rose as a proper Victorian girl who is pampered, spoiled by an excess of weath and prestige, and dubbed "Miss Fortune". For years Rose never questions his femininity. His life seems idyllic as he plays with the two children of a household servant and helps his mother with her work in the estate library.

    Inevitably, the young Rose reaches adolescence and suddenly doesn't look or feel ladylike any more. As greedy relatives circle in their attempt to wrest control of the estate from Lord Loveall, Rose discovers his true gender and adoptive status. When he reveals himself as a male to society at large and to his predatory relatives, he causes a scandal that jeopardizes the legitimacy of his inheritance. He does not feel at home in his male body and continues to wear dresses, even while sporting a fine mustache. After Lord Loveall dies, his survivors struggle to keep their claim to the Loveall fortune while Rose sets out to discover his roots... and himself.

    There are many humorous elements here. The reaction of proper Victorian society to the cross-dressing Rose is one.
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    16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Rob Tourtelot on April 16, 2005
    Format: Hardcover
    "Misfortune" is more than a promising debut; it's a fulfilled promise. It's an astounding literary undertaking, and Stace pulls it off masterfully.

    Stace is an extremely gifted storyteller. His fiction writing is well served by his talents as a songwriter. His prose is lyrical, direct and momentous; his timing and sense of pace are impeccable. Rose's story is often heartbreaking, just as often hilarious, and always fascinating. She and the people who surround her occupy not only another century, but the furthest and most extraordinary reaches of that century, and yet we recognize them instantly.

    I can't think of another novel I've read in recent years with such well rendered scenes of childhood. The scenes with Rose and her playmates capture all the idyllic feelings of wonder, vitality, laughter and the seemingly endless possibilities of childhood--as well as the creeping onset of recognition that things cannot and will not remain this way. Rose's bewilderment--at her loss of invulnerability and her departure from a world where everything is more or less as it should be--is utterly transcendent.

    Each character in "Misfortune"--even those who appear for only a page or two--is exquisitely rendered. The Loveall family is populated with some of the most gruesome, petty and awful extended family members imaginable, yet they always remain human--and always hysterical. The scenes with some of the most infuriating and despicable members on the periphery of Rose's new family stand out as the moments of highest comedy in the book.

    This is one of the finest, most touching, funny and utterly enthralling novels I've read in years. I found myself wanting to leave social engagements early to get home and continue reading.
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    8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Hollywood on April 18, 2005
    Format: Hardcover
    By the looks of things, a handful of contemporary writers are returning us to the wondrous days when novels - not movies - were the dominant narrative form. No longer are our best storytellers cowed by Hollywood (no relation) into producing elliptical, bloodless tomes that refuse to compete with more visceral media. Wesley Stace is unafraid to sauce his tale with a tangy dollop of vulgarity. No artless hack, Stace, like Marquez, Rushdie, Grass, and on these shores Irving, is a complete writer. In the library at noon and the whorehouse at midnight. Nabokov said that a writer's job is to enchant. Well, Wesley Stace wears the hat. Surrender yourself to MISFORTUNE and you will be in his spell. Or just stare at that author photo for a while.
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    8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Sherry Chiger on October 22, 2005
    Format: Hardcover
    The witty, fast-paced, deliciously detailed opening of "Misfortune" raised my expectations for an escapade on a par with, say, "The Oracle Glass." But once the inevitable first denouement occurred, the pacing of the story fell askew, and the latter section of the story was more of a plod than a trot. And while it's apparent that the central character of Rose is deemed lovable and worthy of indulgence by the supporting cast, it's not clear why. Several of the secodary characters are far more charismatic, contributing to the off-balance effect of the book as a whole. I wanted to like "Misfortune" much more than I ultimately did.
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    11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jane Rutter on April 13, 2005
    Format: Hardcover
    "Misfortune" is a hilarious, brilliant, warm-hearted and occasionally rather dirty literary adventure novel... think A.S. Byatt but less prissy. Actually, think A.S. Byatt but not prissy at all. I just finished reading it and am now somewhat at a loose end -- that feeling of having been engrossed in someone else's world (and century) for a week and not wanting to leave or face picking up another book.
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