Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer
Published by Pantheon Books, 2019
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
When a young woman claims to have given birth to a dead rabbit, the eyes of a nation descend upon her. Through the framework of this true story, Palmer examines the conflict between science and superstition in 18th century England.
The year is 1726 and the sleepy town of Godalming has been rocked by scandal. Called to the bedside of Mary Toft, surgeon John Howard watches in horror as she appears to give birth to the dismembered body of a rabbit. Miracle or abomination, the events draw attention from respected doctors and tongue-wagging gossips alike. Worse still, the birth proves to be the first of many. Summoned to London by the King himself, there is only so long Mary can insist upon the integrity of her story; just as those who offer to help her cannot mask their own pursuits of fame and fortune indefinitely.
Despite being the book’s eponymous heroine, and the nucleus around which the entire narrative revolves, it’s important to note that Mary is not the one telling us her story. Her weary perspective is confined to a couple of chapters — the rest being relayed to us by a chorus of male doctors and clergymen who claim knowledge of the female body far beyond their means.
Read my full review over at BookBrowse by clicking here. I also wrote a piece for BookBrowse about exploitation as a means of entertainment in the Georgian era, to hopefully provide extra context for the book’s setting and themes. You can find it by clicking here.