It is 1792 and Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence. Lizzie Fawkes has grown up in radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism. But she has recently married John “Diner” Tredevant, a property developer who is heavily invested in Bristol’s housing boom, and he has everything to lose from social upheaval and the prospect of war. Soon his plans for a magnificent terrace built above the two-hundred-foot drop of the Gorge come under threat. Tormented and striving, Diner believes that Lizzie’s independent, questioning spirit must be coerced and subdued. She belongs to him: law and custom confirm it, and she must live as he wants—his passion for Lizzie darkening until she finds herself dangerously alone.
Weaving a deeply personal and moving story with a historical moment of critical and complex importance, Birdcage Walk is an unsettling and brilliantly tense drama of public and private violence, resistance, and terror from one of our greatest storytellers.
It was past nine o’clock now and he was still absent. Sarah and Philo had gone to their attic, while I sat by the fire, in a good light, with my work. I was making a shirt for him. He didn’t like to see me sewing when we were together—I should send the work out, he said—but he would change his mind when he put on the shirt. The linen was fine and I had measured him exactly. There were gussets under the arms so that he could stretch and move freely, as he had to. I sewed well and quickly, and my eyes were strong. I intended to make him half a dozen shirts, with his initials embroidered into the hems. He would pay four times as much for shirts of this quality from a tailor.
I knew that Diner had sunk a great deal of money in the building of the terrace. The whole of his capital, I suspected, and he had borrowed many times more. The profit, he said, would come once all the houses were sold. The two large houses at each end of the terrace would have elegant columns and fine detailing in the stonework. The architect, Mr Fellingbourne, had designed the terrace so that these end houses would be more than twice the width of ours. They would not only be splendid, but they would have all the latest conveniences. A cold plunge bath was to be installed in the basement of each of the end houses, to attract the wealthiest and most discerning purchasers. But first, there must be foundations.