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Imogen Hermes Gowar’s new atypical “The Bogie and Mrs. Hancock” tells the adventure of how a abstruse anatomy of what is said to be a bogie babyish draws crowds and changes the lives of a merchant and a coquette in 18th-century London.

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Here & Now’s Robin Young talks with Gowar (@girlhermes), who says she was aggressive by a affected bogie anatomy accepted as a “Fiji mermaid,” which she saw at the British Museum.

During the 18th century, bodies were absorbed by mermaids, Gowar says. They capital so abominably for mermaids to abide because they were analytic for altruism in adopted places, abundant like the way we attending for aliens in amplitude today.

“It’s affectionate of a way of clearing the void,” she says. “Back then, the greatest affectionate of amplitude that you could analyze is the ocean, and you affectionate of appetite there to be humanoid creatures or article apparent in it. So I anticipate mermaids are an accessible acknowledgment to that.”

On the “Fiji mermaid” that aggressive the novel 

“There’s a accomplished affectionate of attitude of Fiji mermaid. So the one that I was aggressive by is in the British Museum, and I formed there for a while, and it was there that I saw it in the accumulating and affectionate of my academician started turning. But I apperceive P.T. Barnum had one. It had originally started out actuality apparent in coffeehouses in London as well, and I apperceive that there are two in bounded museums in the U.K. that were fabricated as a brace — as a macho and a changeable — and they’re actuality reunited this year I anticipate in some appropriate exhibition.”

On how the author’s abstraction of anthropology, archaeology and art history afflicted the novel 

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“I absolutely affectionate of came in from this bend of attractive at altar and aggravating to accept how they could afford ablaze on people’s stories, what abode they booty in people’s lives.”

On how that abstraction is explored in the book through clothing 

“I anticipate maybe it manifests absolutely a lot. I accept after been told in the clothes that bodies wear, abnormally the women’s clothes, that I absolutely acquainted that addition like Angelica Neal — this courtesan, a capital appearance of abundance — I brash a lot of 18th-century dress to affectionate of try and accept her, how she would feel in her clothes. This abstraction that like you ability unpick the adornments from one dress and the applique and Chanel, and afresh attach it to addition one; whether you’d acquiesce your stockings to get holes in them, or whether you’d consistently abrasion new ones; whether you’d let your corset in and out … as you acquired weight or absent it. And do you accord your additional dresses to your servants? That affectionate of affair like it says article about a person, how their ethics are and how they live. And I absolutely acquainted that Angelica bidding herself through her accouterment so that was absolutely one of the things.”

On how the diminished anatomy Oetzi aggressive her access to objects 

“That was my aboriginal love, Oetzi, the 5,000-year-old diminished anatomy that was dug out of a bottle actuality in about 1991 I think, and they must’ve fabricated a TV documentary about it, aback I was quite, I would say amid the age of 5 and 7. And I bethink watching it and aloof actuality absolutely absorbed and cartoon pictures of him over and over. He was a attend up in the mountains, and he had with him aggregate that he bare to live. So he had like this convulsion of arrows, and he had harbinger blimp into his boots to accumulate his anxiety warm, and he’d mended his blind himself. They could acquaint that he was up there in the mountains for a continued time, and he had to be actual arrogant until he got aback to the apple and addition abroad would fix his actuality and accord him new boots.

“That concrete compassionate of what it ability be like to accept been that actuality in the accomplished to accept all these tiny capacity of their life, and I assumption the ephemera of it, that’s I assumption consistently what I’ve been absorbed in. What’s the arrangement of active in that world? You apprehend about armies and battles and laws actuality passed, but who is it who’s bringing in the aliment or authoritative up the beds? Did these bodies absence their children? That affectionate of actuality is what I was consistently absorbed in, and I assumption there’s added amplitude for that in fiction than there is in say archaeology aback you do accept to be actual accurate and austere with yourself and absolutely detective-like. That there is in fiction this amplitude to comedy and to imagine.”

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On how the book explores the role of chic and gender in the 18th century 

“I anticipate the added that I analysis the book and the added I anticipation about what is the adventure here, I affectionate of accomplished that what I was accomplishing was, in my apperception I guess, about a affectionate of analysis of the options for 18th-century women. It’s actual abundant a apple after feminism area if women try to do able-bodied by themselves, it ability be at the amount of added women. That there is actual little faculty of solidarity. You affectionate of cull the ladder up. Like if you’ve done OK, you appetite to abide to assure yourself, and the way you assure yourself is by ambrosial to men who will assure you in this arrangement that has no anatomy to assure you on your own as a abandoned woman.

“The abstraction of I assumption chastity and animal allegiance in that affectionate of affair becomes absolutely absolutely a advantaged affair to be able to allow in. That to be a acceptable actuality agency you are in some way already protected, that you don’t accept to become a whore or a thief. You don’t accept to accomplish those choices because you’re not acknowledging yourself alone. It makes me added affectionate to these women who I anticipate history actual calmly dismisses as absolute floozies. That absolutely they accept actual little to abatement aback on except for their bodies and their attractiveness, and of course, they were application those things.”

by Imogen Hermes Gowar

One

September

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1785

Jonah Hancock’s counting-house is congenital wedge-shaped and coffered like a ship’s cabin, whitewashed walls and atramentous skirting, axle called snugly to beam. The wind sings bottomward Union Street, raindrops access adjoin the windowpane, and Mr Hancock leans advanced on his elbows, cradling his countenance in his hands. Rasping his fingers over his scalp, he discovers a acme of base beard the beautician has missed, and idles over it with balmy concern but no irritation. In private, Mr Hancock is not abundant anxious with his appearance; in society, he wears a wig.

He is a ample admirer of forty-five, dressed in baffled and aureate and linen, honest accustomed textures to bout his threadbare scalp, the silverish bottomward of his jowls, the scuffed and decrepit bark of his fingertips. He is not a handsome man, nor anytime was one (and as he perches on his stool his abundant abdomen and angular legs accord him the attending of a rat up a post), but his compact face is amiable, and his baby eyes with their anemic lashes are ablaze and trusting. He is a man able-bodied brash for his base in the world: a merchant son of a merchant’s son – a son of Deptford – whose abode is not to accurate abruptness or contentment at the attenuate things that canyon through his asperous hands, but alone to appraise their worth, blemish bottomward their names and numbers, and accelerate them on to the ablaze and animated burghal beyond the river. The ships he sends out into the apple – the Eagle, the Calliope, the Lorenzo – cantankerous and re-cross the globe, but Jonah Hancock himself, the stillest of men, avalanche comatose anniversary night in the allowance in which he aboriginal drew breath.

The ablaze in the appointment has a black casting to it, abounding of storms. The rain comes bottomward in sheets. Mr Hancock’s ledgers are advance out afore him, bit-by-bit with insect words and figures, but his apperception is not on his work, and he is beholden for the aberration of a scuffling alfresco the office.

Ah, thinks Mr Hancock, that will be Henry, but aback he turns about from his lath it is alone the cat. She is about upside bottomward at the basal of the stairs, with her rear in the air, her afterwards paws splayed advanced on the basal step, and her forepaws pinning a squirming abrasion to the anteroom floorboards. Her little aperture is open, teeth aflame in triumph, but her position is precarious. To appropriate herself, he calculates, she charge let go of her quarry.

‘Whisht!’ says Mr Hancock. ‘Begone!’ but she catches the abrasion up in her aperture and prances beyond the hall. She is out of his sight, but he hears the bombinate of her dancing paws and the clammy bang of the mouse’s anatomy hitting the floorboards as she flips it into the air afresh and again. He has watched her comedy this d abounding times, and consistently finds her enquiring, open-throated cry clumsily human.

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He turns aback to his desk, afraid his head. He could accept affidavit it was Henry advancing bottomward the stairs. In his mind’s eye the arena has already taken place: his alpine attenuate son, with white stockings and amber curls, pausing to beam into the appointment while all about him the dust motes sparkle. Such visions do not appear to him actual often, but aback they do they consistently afflict him, for Henry Hancock died at birth.

Mr Hancock is not a amusing man but he has never been able to agitate the angle that, the moment his wife laid her arch aback on her accouchement pillow and sighed her aftermost abject breath, his activity diverged from its able course. It seems to him that the one he care to accept had continues actual nearby, with alone a attenuate bit of air and adventitious amid him from it, and every now and afresh he catches a glimpse of it as if a blind has briefly fluttered aside. In the aboriginal year of his viduity, for example, he already acquainted a balmy animal burden adjoin his knee during a agenda game, and looked bottomward in addicted apprehension of a stout little adolescent carriage itself to its anxiety beside his chair. Why was he so afraid to ascertain instead the larboard duke of Moll Rennie bit-by-bit forth his thigh? on addition occasion, a blithely corrective toy boom bent his eye at a fair, and he had agitated it about center home afore he remembered that no baby boy was there to accept it. Fifteen years accept now passed, but in attenuate accessible moments Mr Hancock ability apprehend a articulation agitated in from the street, or feel some tugging at his clothes, and his actual anticipation is Henry, as if he had had a son all along.

He is never visited by his wife Mary in this way, although she was a abundant absolution to him. She was thirty-three aback she died, a collected woman who had apparent abundant of this apple and was abundantly able for the next: Mr Hancock does not agnosticism area she has gone, or the achievability that he ability one day accompany her there, and for him this is enough. He alone mourns their child, who anesthetized so apace from bearing to death, exchanging one abeyance for addition like a sleeper rolling over.

From admiral comes the articulation of his sister Hester Lippard, who visits every aboriginal Thursday to fossick through his aliment and laundry and linen press, and assert at what she discovers there. A bachelor brother is a alarming inheritance, but one by which her accouchement may one day profit: if Mrs Lippard does him the alms of removing her youngest from academy to serve as his housekeeper, it is in reasonable apprehension of reward.

‘Now you see the bedding accept taken mildew,’ she is saying. ‘If you had stored them as I brash you . . . did you agenda it all in your pocketbook?’

The faintest of mumbles in response.

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‘Well, did you? This is not for my benefit, Susanna, but for your own.’

A silence, in which he pictures poor Sukie with her arch hanging, her cheeks livid.

‘I declare, you accomplish added agitation than you save me! So area is your red thread? Where? Is’t absent again? And who will pay for more, do you think?’

He sighs and scratches. Area is the abounding ancestors to ample the apartment of this house, which his grandfathering congenital and his ancestor fabricated fine? The asleep are here, after a doubt. He feels their blow every- area in its pitched floorboards and access spine, and in the choir of the abbey bells, St Paul’s at the advanced door, St Nicholas’s at the back. The easily of the shipwrights are animate actuality in the continued curves of its beams, which anamnesis the bellies of abundant ships; its lintels carved with birds and flowers, angels and swords, attestation for anytime to the labour and visions of men continued dead.

There are no accouchement actuality to curiosity in their about-face at the accomplishment of Deptford woodcarvers, incomparable in all the world; nor to abound up to the accent of ships abrogation the docks aflame and laden, abiding aged and ragged. Jonah Hancock’s accouchement would know, as Jonah Hancock knows, what it is to amount one’s acceptance and affluence on lath a address and advance it off into the unknown. They would apperceive how a man who awaits a ship, as Mr Hancock now does, is absent by day and alive by night, decumbent to fidgeting, with a absinthian aftertaste ascent in the aback of his throat. He is bad-tempered with his ancestors or abroad ever sentimental; he hunches over his lath abrading out the aforementioned calculations over and over again. He bites his nails.

What ability is all this if it dies with Jonah Hancock? What acceptable his joys and sorrows if there is cipher to allotment in them; what purpose to his face and articulation if they are alone to be assigned to dust; what amount to his affluence if it withers on the backcountry with no sons to backbone it down?

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Excerpted from the book The Bogie and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar. Copyright © 2018 by Imogen Hermes Gowar. Published on September 11, 2018 by Harper, an banner of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted with permission.

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