Precious Bane is the story of a sister and a brother in rural 19th-century England. Prue Sarn has a hairlip and is considered not just unmarriageable but also sinister. Gideon Sarn is ruthlessly ambitious. He’s determined to be rich, and in service to that goal he works his mother and sister like slaves on the family farm, promising Prue that he will take care of her well once he’s rich. Gideon won’t let anything stand in the way of his desire, not his long-suffering love or even his mother’s life.
Written entirely in the hard-to-understand Shropshire dialect, Precious Bane is not a quick read. The way of life and attitudes of its characters come off as anachronistic today. So why does it continue to attract readers? Author Mary Webb was not locked into the prejudices of her own or earlier times. Modern readers respond to her message that deformity does not define a person or doom her future. Prue finds love with a brave man who can see past her harelip into the goodness of her heart. But Precious Bane is not a polyannish story. Gideon’s fate is not happy.
For a reader who likes to see goodness rewarded and justice done, Precious Bane is the ticket.
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