A creepy father, a lustful music teacher, four virgins — and one genuine love affair

The characters in Katharine Grant's Sedition, full of glittering meanness and incomprehensible cruelty, are an immense draw

1 February 2014

9:00 AM

1 February 2014

9:00 AM

Sedition Katharine Grant

Virago, pp.289, £14.99, ISBN: 9781844089846

London, 1794. It’s a different world from that portrayed by the Mrs Radcliffes and Anons of the time: rich young women are not all naïve and swoony in Katharine Grant’s first novel for adults. In Sedition, five girls (two of them sisters, the others unrelated) are more or less put up for sale by their calculating parents, who want to attract titled sons to help them complete a leap from trade into the aristocracy.

From the start, the parents’ scheme of buying a pianoforte and hiring a music teacher to help the girls appear eligible seems destined to backfire momentously. One of the daughters, Alathea, is not at all innocent (her creepy father, who visits her bedroom every night, can take much of the credit for this), and the teacher is a libidinous French cad who has been offered a bribe to deflower all five of his new pupils.

Sedition is filled with coldness, expediency and self-interest, and yet its most guarded character, Alathea, also happens to enter into the novel’s one genuine love affair, with Annie, the disfigured and disregarded daughter of the pianoforte-maker. There’s no particular plot, only the constant (and sex-filled) music lessons, Alathea’s romance, much violence, and a hasty and farcical dénouement, but it’s a strange, troubled novel, and it works well. Grant evokes her vision of the era deftly, and although the minor plots and figures feel more peripheral than they perhaps should, the main characters’ glittering meanness and at times incomprehensible cruelty are an immense draw.

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