In the early 1800s, Louise, a French peasant woman, fearing she is about to die, calls for her priest. She has a secret to confess. Though the priest is impatient, she wants to tell her tale from the beginning. The story opens in Stoke Newington, London, in the 1780s, with Jemima Boote, arriving at Miss Mary Wollstonecraft’s school. Jemima follows her beloved teacher to Paris wanting to be part of the erupting revolution and then – six months pregnant – retreats to the tiny village of Louise’s youth. Her arrival coincides with that of another young mother-to-be, Annette, who has been sent by her parents to the country to hide her disgraceful pregnancy and to get over her infatuation with William, a young English poet. In an abandoned convent they take up their waiting: waiting for their babies, waiting for their men.
While drawing hints and facts from the lives and secret affairs of two of the most famous and passionate figures of the late 18th century – Mary Wollstonecraft and William Wordworth – the intriguing mystery surrounding these two women, is Michèle Roberts own fascinating creation.