Affinity door Sarah Waters

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Affinity door Sarah Waters
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Title: Affinity
Author: Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters was born in Wales in the year 1966. She has a Ph.D in English literature and has been an associate lecturer with the Open University. She won a Betty trask award, the somerset Maugham award, she was named author of the year three times.and has recieved many other awards.
This book itself got published for the first time in 1999 in Great Britain by Virago Press. The edition I read was published in 2000 and it has been reprinted each following year.

The story / contents:
There are two main characters in this book, Selina and Margaret. They write their feelings, thoughts and the happenings of their daily lives in their diaries. Because the diaries wind together in a way that makes it very hard to write a chronological summary, I will split it into two different parts.

Selina Dawes is a spirit medium. She helps people with their problems by bringing messages to them and to ask the spirits for advise in behalf of the people. She lives with mister Vincy and he teaches her tricks to make people believe in ghosts. One day, Mrs Brink and her maid, Ruth, show up. Mrs Brink sees all the talent of the world in Selina and she believes she has finally found someone to bring her into contact with her dead mother. Mrs Brink takes Selina into her home and let’s her own friends come and visit Selina, for advice and guidance. She is appointed a ‘ protégé’ later on. Selina believes that the little girl has powers much like her own and she wants to teach and guide Miss Madeleine (that’s her name). Unfortunately when Selina’s spirit guide, Peter Quick, comes to help Selina with Madeleine, Madeleine gets so scared that she screams and faints, precisely on the moment when Mrs Brink came barging in. Mrs Brink was literally frightened to death and Selina was charged with Fraud & Assault and sent to Millbank for four years. In the last sentence of her diary we find out that Ruth Vigers (Mrs Brink’s maid) and Selina are lovers.

Miss Margaret Prior has been ill for a long time. To make her mental health better, a doctor advices her to go to Millbank once a week and talk with the prisoners there to keep her mind from her own problems and to give the women in the prison an example for what to be when they would get out of prison. When she goes to the prison for the first time, she gets a detailed tour around the prison. When she walks in a particular gaol, a little ahead of the matrons of Millbank, she looks through an inspection-hole and she sees Selina sitting still on her bed, her work lying on her lap. She has her eyes closed and she holds a violet in her hands. Margaret is wondered by this serene creature being in prison, and especially how she got that violet?! Nothing grows in or around Millbank.. All the prisoners have a name-tag outside their cells, where besides the name, also is stated what the date of release is and what the crime of the prisoner was. When Margaret looks onto Selina’s, she sees Fraud & Assault. She goes home then, she has seen enough for one day.
In the following time, Margaret continues to go to Millbank, with that displeasing her mother greatly. At home things are hectic for her, her sister is getting married and the maid just quit. She claimed she heard ghosts on the attic and lay frightened in her bed at night, not being able to sleep. She couldn’t take it no more, so she left. A new maid is hired then, Vigers.
The bond between Selina and Margaret begins to shape and strengthen. Selina tells Margaret a great deal about her old life, how things were and what she wants for it to be again. The other way around less things get told, but Selina seems to know a lot about Margaret. She says the spirits tell her things about Margaret. At one day she asks why her name is mentioned so often in Margaret’s diary. Margaret does not know what to say.
When Margaret’s sister finally married, Margaret came under a great pressure of her mother. Her mother had nothing left now, except for Margaret. (Margaret’s father died two years before). She wants Margaret to read to her at night and stop her visits to Millbank. Margaret agrees with her mother that she will not go to Millbank anymore, but she goes to Millbank secretly, when her mother is out. When she has been the perfect daughter for nearly two weeks, she decides that it is time to go to Millbank again. When she sees Selina, her heart jumps. The girl had made something loosen inside of her heart. Selina talks of affinities and how everybody has their own affinity and should always give in to that feeling. She says that when you meet your affinity, you know it and there is no questioning or escaping it. Margaret gets a bit confused, she doesn’t see where Selina is heading. Still, she sits and thinks about what Selina had just said, and began to wonder.. was Selina her affinity? Then Selina says something else, she says that the spirits had a special reason for her to be in this prison. And that she finally began to understand what that reason was. To meet Margaret.

In the following weeks Margaret and Selina grow closer and closer to each other, when finally Selina says that she will escape from Millbank, as soon as possible, to flee to Italy together with Margaret. To live happily ever after. Margaret screams and she is scared, but still, she wants to be with Selina so much. She doesn’t want to see her in that hateful prison any longer. So together they plan their trip. Selina thinks of new things they mustn’t forget and Margaret goes home and fixes them. All in secret of course. When Margaret finally had all the things ready, passports, new clothes, suitcases, tickets, money etc. etc. she sets a date together with Selina. Selina says that she will come to her at night, guided by her spirit-friends. A little before sun dawn. Margaret sits on her bed all night, waiting for Selina to show. But she doesn’t.
The next morning Margaret has no other choice but to go to Millbank, to see Selina, her love. But when she gets there, there is no trace of her. There is great panic on the wards of Millbank, for a prisoner has escaped! It was Selina. Then Margaret gets in a shock, she rushes home and finds Mrs Jelf, one of Millbank’s Matron’s before her door. Mrs Jelf tells Margaret that she has helped Selina to get away, because Selina promised her that she would see her dead son again, if she did. Mrs Jelf also shows Margaret a locket, with a pluck of hair in it. Selina told her it was hair of her son, and he sent this to Selina to give to his mother, which he loved so much. Margaret sees that it is her locket that Mrs Jelf holds, and that the hair in it was Helen’s. (Margaret’s best friend and former lover) Then Margaret begins to understand. Selina had tricked both her and Mrs Jelf, to run away with someone else. But who? When Mrs Jelf leaves, Margaret finds out that Ruth Vigers has left. And all the things which Margaret had prepared for Selina and herself were gone too. She realises that Selina has used her, to get to her real affinity, which would be Ruth Vigers. She collapses and falls in a deep black hole. Nothing mattered anymore. She wished that she would die.

Miss Margaret Prior
Miss Prior is a wealthy woman. She is in her late twenties and has no longing for marriage whatsoever. She is a kind of outcast in her family, very different than the rest. Her passion of heart lies with women, not with men. She has a great desire for the love of a woman, but somehow she gets betrayed every time. Helen, whom she once loved, wound up marrying Margaret’s brother. Selina, whom she loved then, ran off with her maid, and took all she had. She loved her father most of all probably, but he died and at that time Helen left her too. She becomes physical ill every time a negative event happens in her life. This does not make her a very strong person.

Selina Dawes
Selina Dawes is an orphan and she used to live with Mr Vincy, a spiritualist. He taught her the wonders of spiritualism and how you can make a living out of it. She also feels attracted to women rather than to men. She has an amazing knowledge of people and she can trick anybody into believing what she wants them to believe. She seems a very nice and good person, but she fools everybody for hers and her lovers’ sake.

Mother is of course Margaret’s mother. I do not know of a first name for mother. Just Mss. Prior and mother. She wants the best for her children but since Margaret spent all of her time with her father rather than with her, she doesn’t know or understand anything about Margaret. She calls in a doctor every time Margaret feels weary or depressed. With that just drugging Margaret more with Laudanum or Chloral. She fails to see what Margaret really needs, but of course in that time it wasn’t appropriate to talk of your feelings and certainly not to talk about feelings for your own gender. Besides all of this, mother is a good person, just trying to do what lies in her power to do.

Helen is Margaret’s best friend and they used to be lovers. Or rather, they used to share kisses together and they treasured feelings for each other. But Helen didn’t feel to good about it and wound up marrying Margaret’s brother. Why she did that? I do not know. Maybe to be closer to Margaret, maybe because she knew it wasn’t going to work with her and Margaret or maybe both. She doesn’t love him but she states that he is very kind to her and makes a good husband. She still cares for Margaret a lot, but she doesn’t know what to do when Margaret is ill again and she’s completely shutting herself out from the world.

Mrs Jelf
Mrs Jelf is a matron upon Milbank’s wards. She is the kindest matron on the ward, often helping the prisoners out by bringing some extra food or an extra blanket when they were ill. She is a very unhappy person, having nothing left in her own life. At the end of the book we learn that Mrs Jelf was married once and had two daughters with her husband. She wasn’t too satisfied with him and found a gentleman, who could love her better, so she thought. When she became pregnant of his child, her husband threw her out on the streets, keeping their daughters with him. She wanted to come to her lover, but he wouldn’t take her and cast her out too. Then she lived like a madman, out on the streets, working her ass off to earn some money to feed to her new baby boy, which she loved so dearly. He died when he was four years old and she misses him very much. She is a very naïve woman and that is also why she got tricked by Selina. Selina told her that if Mrs Jelf would help her escape from Millbank, she would bring her her dead son. Mrs Jelf wanted her boy so bad, that she agreed with Selina. And she got ripped off in the end.

Ruth Vigers
Ruth Vigers is probably the most treacherous person out of this whole book. She used to be Selina’s maid and then became her lover. Together they tricked a whole lot of people into believing in spirits and spiritualism. When Selina got locked up, Ruth just had to find a way to get her out of prison, and to run off together towards a better life. She threatened Margaret’s old maid to leave, so that she could take her place. Then she arranged all kinds of things and read Margaret’s diary so that she knew what to say to Selina to say to Margaret again. They even got Mrs Jelf to bring packages and letters from Selina to Ruth and the other way around. I can’t really blame Ruth for what she did I must say. She just tried to get back to her love and she succeeded, with that hurting both Mrs Jelf and Miss prior.

Time & place:
The story takes place from approximately August 3rd 1872 until 1874.
It takes place on different places. Margaret’s part of the story takes place at home, in a Victorian kind of “suburb”. The people there are wealthy and have all kinds of servants about them. Selina’s part of the story takes place in Sydenham & in Millbank prison. The prison is situated on the left bank of the Thames, close to the Vauxhall Bridge.

The story is not outlined in a chronological way. Selina’s diary ends when Margaret’s starts. On the time Selina goes to Millbank. This could be interpreted as being chronological but since Selina’s and Margaret’s diaries are mingled into one book, it is not.

Point of view:
The story is told throughout the I-perspective. It is written in a diary-style. Every chapter holds a new date and new happenings. Both Selina and Margaret write in their diary in the simple past, because obviously that is what you and anybody would do in a diary.

Title explanation:
The title of the book is “affinity”. This literally means a bond between two people by marriage. But in the book it is used in a whole different way. In the book, the word affinity is used to describe utmost love between two souls. Not even humans, souls. It tells us that two people are made out of one whole. When they are on earth they will desperately try to find each other but they won’t always succeed. Luckily we are also told that when we get to the next stage of our lives, after death, you are naturally drawn towards your affinity. I guess I could best explain it as “true love”.

Dedication / motto:
I hadn’t heard of Sarah Waters or this book before, I just went to the media room to look for an English book and I found it. At first I saw the cover, that made me wonder what the book was about and when I had read the description on the back, I decided to read it, because it seemed like a great book to me.


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