The plight of a nineteenth century schoolteacher, trapped by her duty to her job, is mirrored by a modern day woman’s fight to escape the shackles of a broken marriage. Bess Hardemon, a tough and canny young teacher living in the mid-nineteenth century, is determined to make a difference at her new school, Priors Heath. Under the austere gaze of the Reverend Carnegie and his deputy, Miss Simms, the young girls remain underfed and unstimulated — until the arrival of the bright, motivated young Bess.
At the cost of her own chance of finding love, Bess remains trapped by her duty, a confinement echoed a century later by Sarah, a teacher at the modern-day Priors Heath who must make her own choice between her duty to her pupils and her efforts to save a broken marriage.
The inspiration for Confinement came from the lives of those two great Victorian educators and suffragists, Dorothea Beale and Frances Mary Buss. The former has an intriguing link to Charlotte Bronte, whose appalling education at the School For Clergy Daughters, at Cowan Bridge, is immortalised in Jane Eyre. Dorothea Beale’s first post as head-teacher was at the Clergy Daughter’s school set up as a successor to the notorious Cowan Bridge, and she resigned because the board refused to implement her recommended reforms.
‘Convincing, dramatic and authentic.’
CHRISTINA KONING, THE TIMES
There is a careful sense of history at work in Katharine McMahon’s Confinement…and the book is satisfyingly seeded with small ironies and interconnections. Altogether a superbly crafted novel about duty, compromise and inspiration, and the perhaps unenviable lives of those who (to use Bess Hardemon’s word) ‘resort’ to school teaching.
THE SUNDAY TIMES
The figure of Jane Eyre presides over this lively debate in fictional form about what women really want. Modern and Victorian values battle it out in McMahon’s cool look at the benefits of education.
JUDY COOKE MAIL ON SUNDAY
An excellent thought-provoker which interweaves the plight of two schoolmistresses, separated by a hundred years, both trapped by duty and dedication.