The Confessions of Frannie Langton

The Confessions of Frannie Langton


They say I must be put to death for what happened to Madame, and they want me to confess. But how can I confess what I don't believe I've done?'

1826, and all of London is in a frenzy. Crowds gather at the gates of the Old Bailey to watch as Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, goes on trial for their murder. The testimonies against her are damning - slave, whore, seductress. And they may be the truth. But they are not the whole truth.

For the first time Frannie must tell her story. It begins with a girl learning to read on a plantation in Jamaica, and it ends in a grand house in London, where a beautiful woman waits to be freed.

But through her fevered confessions, one burning question haunts Frannie Langton: could she have murdered the only person she ever loved?

Our Review

The Confessions of Frannie Langton blew me away. It was dark, absorbing and unique.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton begins with an author’s note which details the interesting background behind her decision to write the novel.

Sara Collins reread Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice and had an important realisation.

“At some point, there came the realisation that those books I loved didn’t quite loved me back.”

“Why couldn’t a Jamaican former slave be the star of her own gothic romance? Why couldn’t she be complicated, ambiguous, complex: why had no one like that ever had a love story like those?... I found myself wanting to chronicle the twisted affections between a mulatta maid and her white mistress. A story that is among other things a tribute to Jane Eyre, but with a protagonist who would have lived outside the margins set by history. Or, rather like Jane Eyre – if Jane had been given as a gift to the ‘finest mind in all of England’, and then accused of cuckolding and murdering him.”

The book begins in 1826 with Frannie in the Old Bailey on trial for the murder of her master and mistress. If she is found guilty then she will be put to death. The trouble is Frannie can’t remember what happened that night. The only thing she is sure of is that she loved Madame and she can’t imagine why she would have killed her even though she was found asleep next to the dead body with blood on her hands.

In the papers she is known as the ‘Mulatta Murderess.’

“I don’t make a habit of reading what the broadsheets say about me, for newspapers are like a mirror I saw once in a fair near the Strand that stretched my reflection like a rack, gave me two heads so I almost didn’t know myself. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to be written about, you know what I mean.”  

During the course of the trial Frannie is painted as a slave, whore and a temptress and while all of those things may be true Frannie wants to tell her own story rather than let it be told for her as it has all her life.

“This is a story of love, not just murder, though I know that’s not the kind of story you’re expecting. In truth, no one expects any kind of story from a woman like me.”

Frannie spent her childhood in a place called Paradise as a ‘House-nigger’ to Langton and his wife Miss-Bella. She was brought to London by Langton when he returned and was immediately given to another man to be a maid in his house without her knowledge.

“It wasn’t my choice to be brought here but very little in my life ever was.”

That is a theme running through the novel, Frannie’s lack of control over her own life.

“I’m trying to write this story as if it’s mine. Yet I look back over what I’ve set down so far and see how much of my own paper and ink I’ve spent on Miss-Bella. The trouble is nothing ever happened to me except through her. That is just how it was.”  

Whilst awaiting her trial Frannie is visited by some anti-slavers but she finds them just as bad as those who support slavery.

“All those good-doers, sniffing at the carcass of slavery, craving always to hear the worst thing. The worst thing isn’t that it strips the world to scraps and forces you to fight for them; the worst thing is that one of those scraps is yourself.”

One of the things I noticed whilst reading The Confessions of Frannie Langton was the way even characters I viewed as nice and liked were capable of casual racism. For example, on her first meeting with Frannie, Pru says some things that would be unacceptable now.

‘I’ve never seen a blue-skin this close before.’

‘A blue-skin?’

‘A darky. Like you.’

I could have told her I’d never seen a slaving white girl, but unlike her I could keep my thoughts to myself.”

Frannie struck me as a very angry character, rightfully so, but still very angry. I thought this was a stroke of genius from the author as it kept the reader unable to see whether she could be capable of murder or not.

“There’s no shortage of people who believe I am Savage enough to have done it, but some people look at black and see only a savage, the same people will look at arsenic and see only poison.”

Frannie has been many people throughout her life but what struck me was that she had never had a chance to be herself.

“I’m a puzzle. They expected a sly African. Or a bent-double maid. A mulatta whore. The Black Murderess. Which one will save me?”

The Confessions of Frannie Langton was a treat to read.

Our Final Rating...

Our Rating

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