Michael Faber’s Crimson Petal and the White has is a Neo-Victorian novel that largely follows the fall and rise and shift of Sugar, first introduced as a highly acclaimed prostitute who manages to secure a position as an in-home lover to William Rackham and eventual governess to his daughter Sophie. The narrator for this novel begins the directly addressing the reader, seducing them into the narrative, keeping reader’s attention from beginning to end (at least this reader’s attention). The narrator is never named in the novel, never characterized overtly from the characters we know in the story, but I found consistencies in the text that suggest our narrator could, in fact, be our principal character who intended to write a novel since before we met her.
The first affirmation of Sugar’s likely role as reflective narrator can be found in the first two lines of the text: Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them” (3). The narrator speaks directly to the reader here, a tactic that Sugar uses in the revenge novel she started writing before this text’s plot begins. She uses the second line word-for-word in a draft, as William reads from pages he found dropped by Sugar during her escape with Sophie (876). Sugar also uses the first line to warn William to watch his step as they walk streets she is familiar with but is aware he does not have that same relationship to (115). Though this line can be found throughout the text spoken by other characters, Sugar’s value of watchfulness is significant.
When Sugar first meets William, she quotes Shakespeare to demonstrate her unattachment to names: “What’s in a name, after all?” (110). Sugar also assures him later that his identity isn’t necessary to share either (129), recognizing the likely desire for anonymity to protect his image, something we later find to be of great importance to William Rackham, though he resolves to tell her regardless. Though the identity of the narrator is not the most essential piece of this text, the mystery reigns intriguing to the final page, where the narrator themself acknowledges in the final paragraph of the novel that they “don’t even know [our name],” when we have never acknowledged that we don’t know the name of the narrator either (895). The narrator doesn’t express a desire, necessarily, to know, but they do understand that distance. At least in part, the mystery seems to be a part of the allure
Sugar’s regard for discretion is carried throughout the text as a character who understands the precarity of her circumstances from the beginning of the novel to the end, though there are certainly moments where her careful attention was distracted in her attachment to William and eventual connection with Sophie Rackham. Even so, she successfully, at least from the end of the novel’s perspective, abducts Sophie and begins a journey away from prostitution and gives Sophie a chance to live away from the toxic environment of the Rackham house.
Though Sugar does recognize that her revenge novel would not come to fruition, she does not lose her connection to writing, confirmed when readers told that the verses she wrote for Sophie during their lessons “ignited in [Sugar] a candle-flame of hope that she may yet be a writer” (757). I think her freedom from her identity and her connection to Sophie, together, gave Sugar the freedom she needed to tell her story, to tell their story.