Name: Raina Bretton
Parents: Poor working class, and now deceased.
Siblings: None living
Places lived: Spitalfields, London; Rothburne Abbey in Somerset
Jobs: Restorer and seller of rags
Friends: Sullivan McKenna, fiddle-playing Irish transplant who’s the son of the local vicar in Spitalfields.
Enemies: Victor Prendergast, solicitor and lady’s maid, Simone (although I’m not sure why we’re enemies)
Dating, marriage: Secretly in love with childhood best friend Sully, Sullivan McKenna
Children: None yet
What person do you most admire? The little old widow who shares my flat. She has more spunk than ten men.
Overall outlook on life: it’s tough, but I’m tougher. Yet there’s a lot of beauty to be found outside these crowded slums, and plenty to appreciate right here, too, if you’ve an eye for it.
Do you like yourself? I’m a restorer of rags, and I cringe at that part of myself, but I’m also a restorer of castoff people. That alone makes a soul worth keeping on this earth, in my opinion.
What, if anything, would you like to change about your life? Anyone could stand to have a bit more coin in her hand. Yet more than that, I secretly wish to be rid of these terrible rags that are a label and a barrier to people seeing the true me. I’d never admit it out loud, but I’d love to be swathed in vibrant colors and lush fabrics that match my artistic heart.
How are you viewed by others? I’m a thief if I’m hanging about too close, a schemer if I stand too long staring at a gent, and a dirty, common woman to be avoided if I’m anywhere near respectable folk. I’m as much an outcast as the rags I peddle, but one day that’ll all change. Maybe not this side of eternity, but it will.
Physical appearance: People always look twice at my face when I’m not in rags, and that’s the best mirror I have. I’m the rag woman, but a young one with a fresh face. With a good wash and fresh clothing, you’d think me a lady. Spending hours trapped indoors has left me as pale as the rich, and my aristocratic bloodlines have given me high cheekbones, delicate features, and soft, thick hair that begs to be piled high.
Hair: Long, thick waves
Voice: Low and firm, with an edge when it’s needed.
Right- or left-handed? Right
How would you describe yourself? I’m loyal to a fault—count me a friend once, and you’ll find it hard to be rid of my help. I gravitate toward the abandoned, the castoff and the broken, drawn to repair as much as I can. I wear nothing of beauty on the outside, but do all I can to shore it up inside.
Characteristics: Made strong by adversity, plucky and independent, wary of everyone yet childishly eager to trust.
Strongest/weakest character traits: Natural ability to see the good in people—whether or not I actually should.
How much self-control do you have? A great deal—mostly because I set few limits on myself. I obey the rules that make sense and focus on people over laws. I obey my own set of rules quite nicely.
Fears: Becoming as worthless as society at large thinks I am.
Collections, talents: Rags find their way into my hands and no matter their condition, I can make something useful of them. I am the giver of second chances, of renewed life.
What people like best about you: Sully once told me I had the oddest combination of pluck and delicate beauty, and that I always stand out among the rich and the poor. I liked that. Those who have come to know me have experienced firsthand the restoring influence I bring to both rags and people.
Interests and favorites: A lifetime of restoring rags has given me a great variety of opinions on fabrics, embellishments, flounces, and ribbons. I love color and rich fabrics, and a well-done trim.
Food, drink: I’d be in heaven if you gave me a bowl of raisin pudding.
Books: I’ve devoured every written page I’ve ever come across in my life. I’m never above losing myself in a good story, be it ha’penny novels or rich scholarly work.
Best way to spend a weekend: Lying on the roof of my tenement with Sully, staring up at the stars and giving them names. The only words between us are the ones Dickens has penned that we’ll read together.
What would a great gift for you be? A luscious, vividly colorful gown with no trimmings, so I may adorn it with all the embellishments I’ve enjoyed creating on gowns that are not mine.
When are you happy? When I am with Sully—that’s when I most know who I am.
What makes you angry? Total disregard for any human on this earth.
What makes you sad? Knowing that no matter what I accomplish or know or do, I will always be simply, “the rag woman.”
What makes you laugh? The songs Sully creates on his fiddle. With the right words and a silly little grin, he never fails to make me laugh.
Hopes and dreams: A life outside of Spitalfields, where I can see the sky beyond the buildings and walk through the streets with the respect of a normal woman.
What’s the worst thing you have ever done to someone and why? I gave the Vicar a tongue-lashing once—the vicar! Near as bad as saying it to the Almighty himself.
Greatest success: Bringing something cast away back to life—once it was a lovely red gown, another time a widow who’d lost all hope.
Biggest trauma: I’ll never forget the day I received word that my Sully’s ship had been lost. I’d sent my heart out on that boat, and it sank with him. I never had the courage to tell him of my love for him.
What do you care about most in the world? Finding life everywhere—in little hidden pockets throughout the slums, in the rags that are cast aside, in the people whose spark has gone.
Do you have a secret? Everything I am is about to become a secret, if I choose to accept the new life offered to me. No one can know I was ever Raina Bretton the rag woman.
What do you like best about the other main characters in your book? Victor is charming and so different than the rough Spitalfields men I know, even if he scares me a little. Sully—dear Sully—there’s no one more dear to me than my fiddle-playing, star-gazing, best friend who taught me to read.
What do you like least about the other main characters in your book? I don’t feel I know them thoroughly, but neither do they know me. In Spitalfields, everyone sees me as “merely the rag vendor.” In Rothburne, I’m something entirely false.
If you could do one thing and succeed at it, what would it be? Rescue Sully the way he’s rescued me from a lifetime of scrapes. That’s what best friends do.
Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you: I was arrested once. I never like to talk about it, and I’m ashamed it happened. Everyone assumes, when you’re the rag woman, and no one stops to ask why you carted off with the clothing left on the curb. Even if you had perfectly good intentions, those bobbies will assume and drag your hide off to prison anyway. I never want anyone to know about the night I spent there.
Joanna Davidson Politano is the award-winning author of Lady Jayne Disappears and A Rumored Fortune. She freelances for a small nonfiction publisher but spends much of her time spinning tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives. She is always on the hunt for random acts of kindness, people willing to share their deepest secrets with a stranger, and hidden stashes of sweets. She lives with her husband and their two babies in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan and shares stories that move her at www.jdpstories.com.