The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber is a 2002 epic postmodern novel set in Victorian-era England. The main characters include William Rackham, the unwilling heir to a perfume business; Agnes, William's brittle, long-suffering "mad wife in the attic"; and Sugar, a decidedly unconventional and strong-willed young prostitute whose intense affair with William gives her the opportunity to climb to a higher perch in the rigidly stratified class system of the time. Other characters include Henry Rackham, William's pious brother who wants to be a clergyman and his friend Emmeline Fox, a widow who works in the Rescue Society that tries to reform prostitutes. The novel is told from the perspective of all of the main characters, and the omniscient narrator occasionally addresses the reader directly. There is also a metaliterary aspect, as Sugar is working on her own novel, Henry writes sermons, and Agnes keeps a diary. The novel was generally well-received by critics, though faulted by some for what was perceived as an abrupt and unsatisying conclusion.
Canongate published The Apple, a selection of short stories based on characters from The Crimson Petal and the White, in 2006.
As of January 2007, a movie production with the same title is slated for release in 2009, directed by Curtis Hanson.
The title originates from a 1847 poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson entitled "Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal", the opening line of which is: "Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white".
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