A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle #1)

A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle #1)

Libba Bray

For Barry and Josh


This book couldn’t have been written without the sage advice and welcome help of many people. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the following:

The Trinity of Fabulousness: my agent, Barry Goldblatt; my editor, Wendy Loggia; and my publisher, Beverly Horowitz.

Trish Parcell Watts, who created such a delicious cover; Emily Jacobs, for her invaluable input; and Barbara Perris, copy editor extraordinaire.

The tireless staffs of the British Library and the London Transport Museum, especially Suzanne Raynor.

Professor Sally Mitchell, Temple University, who gave me some great leads in my research, for which I am very much indebted. For anyone interested in the Victorian age, I strongly recommend her books, The New Girl and Daily Life in Victorian England.

The Victorian Web, Brown University.

The supportive writing communities of YAWriter and Manhattan Writers Coalition.

The generous, big-hearted Schrobsdorff family: Mary Ann, for the wonderful resources and actual Victorian clothes for study; Ingalisa, for the terrific jacket photo; and the ever-great Susanna, for cheering, baby-sitting, and correcting my terrible French.

Fran?oise Bui, for correcting even more of my terrible French.

Franny Billingsley, who read the first draft and gave me ten pages of in-depth insight.

Angela Johnson, for telling me to write the book I needed to write.

Laurie Allee, for helping me find the heart of it.

My friends and family, who cheered me on and excused me from returning phone calls, checking the expiration on the milk, and getting birthday cards in the mail on time because (sigh) “she’s writing that book.”

And especially Josh, for being so patient when Mommy had to finish “just one last thing.”

There she weaves by night and day

A magic web with colours gay.

She has heard a whisper say,

A curse is on her if she stay

To look down to Camelot.

She knows not what the curse may be,

And so she weaveth steadily,

And little other care hath she,

The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror clear

That hangs before her all the year,

Shadows of the world appear.

There she sees the highway near

Winding down to Camelot . . .

? ? ?

But in her web she still delights

To weave the mirror’s magic sights,

For often through the silent nights

A funeral, with plumes and lights

And music, went to Camelot;

Or when the Moon was overhead,

Came two young lovers lately wed.

“I am half sick of shadows,” said

The Lady of Shalott.

? ? ?

And down the river’s dim expanse

Like some bold seer in a trance,

Seeing all his own mischance—

With a glassy countenance

Did she look to Camelot.

And at the closing of the day

She loosed the chain, and down she lay;

The broad stream bore her far away,

The Lady of Shalott.

—from “The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson


JUNE 21, 1895

Bombay, India

“PLEASE TELL ME THAT’S NOT GOING TO BE PART OF MY birthday dinner this evening.”

I am staring into the hissing face of a cobra. A surprisingly pink tongue slithers in and out of a cruel mouth while an Indian man whose eyes are the blue of blindness inclines his head toward my mother and explains in Hindi that cobras make very good eating.

My mother reaches out a white-gloved finger to stroke the snake’s back. “What do you think, Gemma? Now that you’re sixteen, will you be dining on cobra?”

The slithery thing makes me shudder. “I think not, thank you.”

The old, blind Indian man smiles toothlessly and brings the cobra closer. It’s enough to send me reeling back where I bump into a wooden stand filled with little statues of Indian deities. One of the statues, a woman who is all arms with a face bent on terror, falls to the ground. Kali, the destroyer. Lately, Mother has accused me of keeping her as my unofficial patron saint. Lately, Mother and I haven’t been getting on very well. She claims it’s because I’ve reached an impossible age. I state emphatically to anyone who will listen that it’s all because she refuses to take me to London.

“I hear in London, you don’t have to defang your meals first,” I say. We’re moving past the cobra man and into the throng of people crowding every inch of Bombay’s frenzied marketplace. Mother doesn’t answer but waves away an organ-grinder and his monkey. It’s unbearably hot. Beneath my cotton dress and crinolines, sweat streaks down my body. The flies—my most ardent admirers—dart about my face. I swat at one of the little winged beasts, but it escapes and I can almost swear I hear it mocking me. My misery is reaching epidemic proportions.

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