Book Review

The Foundling by Stacey Halls

Two women, bound by a child, and a secret that will change everything…

London, 1754. Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst, that Clara has died in care, Bess is astonished to be told she has already claimed her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why.

Less than a mile from Bess’s lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.

From the bestselling author of The Familiars comes this captivating story of mothers and daughters, class and power, and love against the greatest of odds…


I love the premise of The Foundling, which sees Bess give birth to Clara, a beautiful moment overshadowed by the knowledge that she can’t adequately provide for a child.  She leaves her at London’s Foundling Hospital, knowing that she will be taken care of and fully intending to reclaim her when she can.  Saving as much as she can in the six years following this, she returns to collect Clara, only to find that she was claimed the day after she was left by someone purporting to be Bess.  It’s a heart-breaking situation, and she’s determined to find her daughter, despite having no idea of who claimed her or how.  This raises the potential for an intriguing mystery, and while it’s not that kind of novel, I did expect Bess to have to put in at least a little effort in finding her daughter, but the search is concluded far too easily.  It was too convenient for me, and I personally would have liked to have seen that element of the narrative played out a little. 

Aside from that, I found this to be an enjoyable novel.  It’s told from the perspectives of Bess and Alexandra, and I enjoyed the contrast between them and their situations which perfectly highlights the inequalities of the time.  Bess lives in a state of poverty, sharing two rooms with her father and brother, struggling to make ends meet as a shrimp seller and reliant upon second-hand clothing.  Alexandra is a wealthy widow, she has a large and comfortable house with two members of staff, and an abundance of, well, everything.  The two could not be more different.  These are two women whose paths would not normally have crossed, and yet they find themselves thrown together by circumstance, leading to several awkward moments between them. 

My sympathy throughout the narrative was firmly with Bess.  Her situation is a heart-breaking one, and I liked her character.  She is noble and loyal – even when that loyalty is misplaced – and remains true to herself throughout the novel.  Some of her actions are less than ideal, but I understand her motives and why she does what she does.  Alexandra, on the other hand, I found more difficult.  She has experienced more than her share of tragedy and hides away from the world, leaving her house only – and I do mean only – to attend church once a week.  Unfortunately, she applies the same restrictions to her daughter, Charlotte, which is no way for a child to live.  She holds herself distant from everyone, including the reader, and I felt it difficult to sympathise with her as a result. 

That said, I did enjoy Alexandra’s development over the course of the novel.  I think that she is the character who changes the most as a result of these events, and in ways that I didn’t expect.  The Alexandra of the final chapter is very different to the one that the reader first meets, and I was pleased by her development, liking her much more by the end of the novel. 

The Foundling is a story of mothers and daughters and the joy that can be found in that relationship as well as the difficulties that it can bring.  It’s beautifully written and successfully evokes the London of the time.  I did find some elements of the plot a little too convenient, but this is an enjoyable work of historical fiction that brings to life London’s Foundling Hospital and the situation that many mothers found themselves in when they weren’t able to provide for a child, or were forced to give them up due to their family’s shame over their situation.

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