The year is now 1859 and Grace, while still imprisoned, is working in the house of the prison Governor. Of the Governor’s wife Grace says, “She must make the most of her social position and accomplishments, although an object of fear, like a spider, and of charity as well, I am also one of the accomplishments.” Grace describes the many women who come to the Governor’s home on Tuesdays to discuss politics and on Thursdays to hold séances. Grace also thinks the women come to get a glimpse of her.
This passage quickly introduces the reader to Grace’s keen observation skills and her perceptive understanding of social/class dynamics. Grace’s feeling of being on display as one of the Governor’s wife’s “accomplishments” is one that will be revisited throughout the novel—Grace often feels she is being treated as a kind of intriguing spectacle, rather than as a complex human.
Grace says that sometimes when she is dusting at the Governor’s house, she looks in the mirror and wonders how she can be “all of the different things” that were said about her in the paper. She mentions that her lawyer, Mr. Kenneth MacKenzie, had the idea to depict her as an idiot in an attempt to have her sentence commuted. Grace says of MacKenzie, “I wonder if he ever believed a word I said.”
This passage gives the reader a sense of the conflicting narratives about Grace; it also indicates that Grace herself finds these narratives disorienting because they make her question her own identity. Furthermore, this passage establishes the stakes of Grace’s soon-to-come interviews with Dr. Simon Jordan. Because Mr. MacKenzie likely did not believe Grace’s story, it is even more important that Dr. Jordan—and the reader—does.
Grace describes the scrapbooks that the Governor’s wife and her daughters keep. The daughters, Misses Lydia and Marianne, keep letters from friends, while the Governor’s wife fills her scrapbook with newspaper articles about criminals. Grace claims that the real reason anyone is interested in her story is not because they want to know whether she is a murderess, but because they want to know if Grace and McDermott actually were lovers.
This passage shows how obsessed Grace’s society is with female sexuality. At the same time that society does not want women to be openly sexual, it is fascinated by the fact that women do, in fact, have sexual desires. Grace expresses her frustration at society’s focus on her sex life, which suggests that she feels there are other parts of her life that are more important and foundational. This is inherently a challenge to societal norms, since women in Victorian society were meant to exist primarily (if not exclusively) in the domestic sphere, meaning that their role in society, as mothers, was defined solely by their reproductive capabilities. This passage also reflects the fact that women are confronted with a lose-lose situation, in which society considers them at once too sexual and not sexual enough.
Grace reveals that today she is waiting not for the ladies who usually come to the house, but for a doctor, who she has been told is writing a book. As she waits, she recalls the day James McDermott was hanged, saying, “There were many women and ladies there; everyone wanted to stare, they wanted to breathe death in like a fine perfume.” When the doctor arrives, Grace screams and loses consciousness at the sight of his “bagful of shining knives.”
Like the preceding passages, this shows how eager society is to view Grace as a spectacle—to reduce her to a vehicle via which they can experience the “illicit” components of human existence, like sex, death, and murder. This passage also begins to demonstrate the power that memory has over Grace, since the very sight of the doctor triggers memories so powerful that she blacks out.