Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.
After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?
A Mad, Wicked Folly captured my interest from the first sentence: I never set out to pose nude. I didn’t, honestly. With this attention-grabbing confession, readers are introduced to Victoria Darling, an aspiring artist who truly takes her craft seriously. This defiance of social conventions and societal expectations in favour of following her dreams of becoming an artist quickly made me fall in love with Vicky’s character. She’s smart, passionate, determined, independent and headstrong, placing her in stark contrast to many of the women of that time. It was truly inspiring to see the lengths to which Vicky was willing to go to meet her dreams, including marrying a man she didn’t love so that she would have the opportunity to attend the RAC. Over the course of the book, Vicky grows from an impulsive, somewhat entitled young lady to a truly strong, independent young woman, and this journey of self-discovery was beautifully portrayed.
Vicky’s desire for freedom to attend art school and female equality causes her to cross paths with the suffragettes, a movement dedicated to female equality and allowing women the opportunity to vote. This topic was incredibly well-researched and added so much depth to the novel. I’ll admit that I don’t know much about the suffragette movement, but it was interesting to compare the struggles of women in the 1900s with the struggles that women have today. It was so empowering and intriguing, and now I definitely intend to read more on this subject.
While there is a bit of a love triangle in A Mad, Wicked Folly, it takes a backseat to the themes of suppression, freedom, and self-discovery. Vicky’s love interest, William the adorable police constable, captured my heart from his first appearance. He’s sweet, attentive, caring, and very much a gentleman. His progressive way of thinking and his artistic sensibilities make him the perfect match for Vicky, and I enjoyed watching their relationship blossom slowly from acquaintances to an artist and her muse to a proper romance.
Overall, I can’t think of a single thing that I disliked about A Mad, Wicked Folly. Between the gorgeous cover, equally beautiful prose, tenacious heroines, dreamy police constables, historical fiction setting, feminism, and art, I was completely enthralled by this story – and I already find myself wanting more.