The Conviction Of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby
To believe in her future, she must uncover her past…
Born in a gaol and raised in a workhouse, Cora Burns has always struggled to control the violence inside her.
Haunted by memories of a terrible crime, she seeks a new life working as a servant in the house of scientist Thomas Jerwood. Here, Cora befriends a young girl, Violet, who seems to be the subject of a living experiment.
But is Jerwood also secretly studying Cora…?
Step into Victorian Birmingham and the life of Cora Burns. . .
If You Dare?
The Conviction Of Cora Burns, tells the life story of Cora Burns. We start with her humble beginnings, born in a gaol and raised in a workhouse. To Cora, eventually starting a position as a ‘between maid’ for Thomas Jerwood Esq. The novel spans 1874-1886, we get a real sense of who Cora was, is and who she intends to be, given the right chance.
The novel is beautifully written, the author brings alive industrial Birmingham, you can almost spell the city if it wasn’t for the fact I was gripped with tension and holding my breath. During the last 50/100 pages, I found myself having to think ‘take a deep breath’, I just became so engrossed with Cora and her story. When the ending is finally revealed I wanted to read the whole novel again!
The novel opens in 1885 with 20yr old Cora being freed from a life of servitude at the Borough Lunatic Asylum. She has served her 19 month sentence and awaits release.
When she is released and as she makes her way to Thomas Jerwoood’s residence we become aware of the very few options open to women in Victorian England. With the obvious one (working girl) Cora firmly rules out. She hasn’t hit rock bottom YET!
The novel details Cora’s upbringing within the workhouse and her best friend (sisterly relationship) with Alice Salt. It is this friendship which gets Cora through the darkest times of her childhood.
‘It’s best not to have a mother. Everyone who does can’t stop blubbing’ – Cora
Cora is tough, feisty and yet you just know she is carrying some emotional baggage. Yet, despite her not being a ‘model citizen’ I warmed to her instantly. I liked her and I rooted for her throughout the entire story.
Thomas Jerwood is a man whose morals we cannot quite guess. We the reader become aware of his research and experiments much before Cora. But even then, I wasn’t sure where it would all lead and what it would ultimately build up to.
‘A baby is no more likely to be born to crime than he is to emerge from his mother’s womb able to play a polka’ –
Mr JW Armstrong
‘An addiction to crime runs through the generations of a family as surely as short stature or red hair’ –
Thomas Jerwood Esq
We also follow the research journals of Dr David Farley M.D the assistant medical officer of the Birmingham asylum. Which I found incredibly fascinating.
My previous employment was in the mental health sector and a huge part of our study would be to study theories of yesteryear. Whether it be the kind and humane treatments of The York Retreat or the callous abuse that took place at Bedlam.
I found the novel to be very authentic and the author had really researched into the individual viewpoints we see in the novel.
Life at the Jerwood residence is far from easy for Cora, when she eventually makes ONE friend Violet. It seems a friendship set to be doomed. Cora is wary of all strangers. . .
‘Nothing of what went on in the servants hall at the asylum must ever happen here. She’d die first’ – Cora
Despite my initial liking of Cora and the way in which she carries herself. I did feel that we the reader, never truly know what she is capable of.
An OUTSTANDING debut novel that covers many aspects of the Victorian era. From the class structure to the poverty inflicted by industrial greed; to the stigma surrounding mental health.