The Rag Nymph is about an orphan's struggle to remain chaste in the slums of mid-nineteenth century Newcastle, where prostitution is often the only way to survive. The setting is Newcastle, England in 1854. Laura Forester is trying to look after her and her nine year old daughter, Millie. The only way she can make any money and prevent them both from going to the workhouse, is through prostitution. Laura is caught by the police and jailed. Millie is taken in by Raggie Aggie Winokovski who lives with Ben Smith, Jones or Robinson. Ben is an orphan and Aggie took him in the save him from the workhouse. He helps her with her business which is trading in old rags and clothes. Millie is an exceptionally well mannered nine year old and both Ben and Aggie find her charming, if a little too talkative. Aggie takes Millie to the court the following day, to see what is going to happen to her mother. Her mother has to pay a fine or go to jail for a month - as she has no money, it is jail. While in the court, Millie calls out to her mother and is spotted by the local pimp, Boswell. Aggie quickly hurries Millie out of the courtroom and takes her home.
Click here to see the rest of this review
Millie helps with the selling of the clothing and cleans house for Aggie. She tells Aggie that her mother was a maid that was how she learnt how to clean. As much as Aggie is enjoying Millie's company, she decides she will pay the fine to get her mother out of prison. Aggie sends Ben to pay the fine, only to find out that Boswell had already paid it and taken Laura. Laura is locked in a windowless room in the brothel and can take no more, so she hangs herself. Her body is thrown into the river.
Aggie and Ben are very aware that Boswell has his eyes on Millie. Boswell tries to grab Millie while she is in the street sitting in the cart, waiting for Aggie. Millie screams and Boswell scuttles away. Aggie decides to send Millie to a convent to get her away from Boswell's clutches. Aggie enjoys the convent and befriends a young lady called Annabelle Quinton. Unfortunately, after one the nuns cut off one of Millie's plaits, Millie punches her and is asked to leave the convent.
Time passes and Millie is now a young lady, helping Aggie run her business and baking cakes and bread - a skill she learnt at the convent. Millie and Annabelle still communicate with each other and Annabelle asks Millie to come to her house, where she will hear something to her advantage. Annabelle, her parents and her siblings live in a grand house and poor Aggie is rather out of her depth sipping tea with Mrs. Quinton. Mrs. Quinton tells Aggie that she would like Millie to work for them as a nurse maid. She also said that Annabelle had mentioned this awful man, Boswell and that it would be safe for Millie on their estate. Aggie and Millie agree that it is a good plan. Millie thoroughly enjoys working for the Quentins.
On one of Millie's weekends off, Aggie tells her that she is most concerned about Ben. She said that twice a week he dresses up in his Sunday best and disappears for the evening, she asks Millie to try and find out what he was doing. Millie goes upstairs to Ben's room and Ben is washing. Millie then sees that Ben is a partial hunchback. Ben is first angry and then embarrassed. Millie, on the other hand, is not phased by his deformity. Ben tells Millie that he is attending night school twice a week to try and better himself. He said he is actually the star pupil and doing a little bit of teaching himself.
Mr. Crane-Bolder lives on the estate next to the Quinton's and bumps into Millie one day and is obviously smitten with her - even though he is 30 years old than her. Mrs. Quinton tells Millie that Mr. Thompson, from the house next door, is having his coming of age party and Millie has been invited to go to the servants' party - Mr. Crane-Bolder specifically asked for her to go. Millie is hesitant but says she will attend. Aggie makes her a beautiful dress for the occasion, but when Millie arrives everyone else is in uniform, so she feels rather foolish. Mr. Thompson asks her to dance and it appears to be love at first sight. Mr. Crane-Bolder then asks Millie to dance and is totally inappropriate and this is witnessed by his mistress. She leaves the room and asks her two younger sons to follow her and says she has a surprise for them. She then summons Millie and another of the maids to come into one of the rooms. As soon as Millie and her co-worker arrive, the young men try to rape the girls. Their screams are heard and Mr. Crane-Bolder appears, followed by Mr. Thompson. Mr. Crane-Bolder says that he will take Millie home, but Mr. Thompson said that it was his behavior in the first place that caused the problem and that he would take Millie home.
Millie now stays with Aggie and leaves her job. Ben is asked to teach full time and decides that is what he would like to do. Bernard Thompson visits to see how Millie is and asks her to ride out with him one day. Millie says she would be delighted. Ben is exceptionally jealous and therefore most rude to Bernard and accuses him of flouting labor laws in his factory. Millie goes to Bernard's new house to meet his Aunt Chrissie. Aunt Chrissie obviously has Alzheimer's but her family had put her in a mental institution for years, so Bernard bought this lovely house so his Aunt had somewhere to live. Bernard declares his love for Millie and Millie says she loves him too. It is agreed that Bernard will come and talk to Aggie the following week.
Late one evening, the outside bell rings and when Millie gets to the gate, a man introduces himself as Reginald Forester - her father. Millie is shocked as she had been told her father was dead and that was ten years ago. She doesn't believe that this uncouth man is her father, as she remembers a well educated, well spoken man with a kind face. Ben's cousin, Nellie, works for Boswell and she tells Ben that Reginald Forester is working for Boswell.
When Bernard comes to speak with Aggie, Aggie is ill so they postpone the chat. Millie's father arrives just as they are leaving and gives her a ring. Millie still does not believe this man is her father and treats him coldly which annoys her father intensely. Ben is not sure that Bernard's intentions are honorable, as he points out to Aggie, they have never had a chaperone with them, which would have been a requirement if Bernard considered Millie to be a 'lady'. When Bernard and Millie arrive at Bernard's house, Millie begins to realize that Bernard has no intention of marrying her and just wants a live-in mistress. Millie leaves in tears and begins the long walk back to town. A carriage stops and, as it is getting dark, Millie reluctantly accepts a lift. Sitting in the back of the carriage is Boswell. Millie is taken to Boswell's brothel where she is forced to take some medication to calm her down. Boswell recognizes the ring on Millie's finger and asks where she got it, she said her father gave it to her. Ben's cousin, Nellie, realizes that Millie is Ben's friend. She quickly runs out to tell Ben where Millie is and says that she will leave the side gate open for him.
Boswell sends his henchmen to see Millie's father and ask about the ring. They kill him and dump his body in the river
Meanwhile, Boswell has informed Mr. Crane-Bolder that he has Millie and that he should come and visit. Crane-Bolder arrives and initially is pleasant to Millie until she refuses to lie down on the bed and then he attacks her. Ben has now found his way into the brothel and Boswell see him and attacks him. Ben stabs Boswell in the heart. He rushes towards Millie's screams and Crane-Bolder attacks him and stabs Ben with his own knife. Millie hits Crane-Bolder over the head and her falls to the floor. Nellie appears and tells them to run home. Ben is seriously injured and Aggie calls the doctor. Millie sits with Ben all night, mopping his brow. They both realize how much they love each other and cannot bear to be parted.
The following morning, Ben is over the worst and they know that he will survive. One of the local policemen arrive, one of Aggie's friends. Panic sets in and they cover Ben's wound with a blanket and pretend he has a cold. The policeman tells Millie that her father has been found dead and that Boswell has been found murdered. He also mentioned that Crane-Bolder had been beaten. As he is leaving, he says he hopes that Ben's cold doesn't go to his shoulder. He obviously knows that Ben was involved, but as the police had been trying to get rid of Boswell for years without success, they were obviously grateful to Ben.
Mr. Thompson comes to visit and asks Millie to marry him. Millie immediately says 'no'. She explains that even though Ben and her were now betrothed, Ben had told her that she was free to say yes to a man of substance. Millie said it wasn't until Bernard asked her to marry him that she realized just how much she loved Ben. Millie and Ben get married. Millie and Aggie open a bakery in an upmarket part of time and Ben becomes and full time teacher.
Best part of story, including ending:
I enjoyed learning how exceptionally hard life was for your average man/woman in nineteenth century England.
Best scene in story:
One of my favorite scenes was witnessing Millie's happiness with the Quinton children.
Opinion about the main character:
Millie's fortitude, hard work and loyalty, ensured that she succeeded in life.