Summary for Trade Publicity and Events
Set in the eighteenth century London underworld, this bawdy, genre-bending novel reimagines the life of thief and jailbreaker Jack Sheppard to tell a profound story about gender, love, and liberation.
Recently jilted and increasingly unhinged, Dr. Voth throws himself into his work, obsessively researching the life of Jack Sheppard, a legendary eighteenth century thief. No one knows Jack’s true story—his confessions have never been found. That is, until Dr. Voth discovers a mysterious stack of papers titled Confessions of the Fox.
Dated 1724, the manuscript tells the story of an orphan named P. Sold into servitude at twelve, P struggles for years with her desire to live as “Jack.” When P falls dizzyingly in love with Bess, a sex worker looking for freedom of her own, P begins to imagine a different life. Bess brings P into the London underworld where scamps and rogues clash with London’s newly established police force, queer subcultures thrive, and ominous threats of an oncoming plague abound. At last, P becomes Jack Sheppard, one of the most notorious—and most wanted—thieves in history.
Back in the present, Dr. Voth works feverishly day and night to authenticate the manuscript. But he’s not the only one who wants Jack’s story—and some people will do whatever it takes to get it. As both Jack and Voth are drawn into corruption and conspiracy, it becomes clear that their fates are intertwined—and only a miracle will save them both.
An imaginative retelling of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, Confessions of the Fox blends high-spirited adventure, subversive history, and provocative wit to animate forgotten histories and the extraordinary characters hidden within.
Please refer to the United Kingdom cover below for the Summary for Academic Publicity and Academic Events.
Summary for Academic Publicity and Academic Events
Confessions is a formally experimental novel, combining fiction, metafiction, critical theory and archival sources to re-envision the life of notorious prison-break artist, Jack Sheppard (1702-1724), who was also the inspiration for Bertolt Brecht’s 1928 Threepenny Opera and John Gay’s 1728 Beggar’s Opera. In my retelling, I draw out the previously unremarked extent to which archival representations of Sheppard as sexually deviant were central to his crafting as an icon of resistance. In this sense, I encounter the official archives symptomatically – as evincing but not fully articulating the obsessions, authorizing conditions, and utopian potentials latent within their material. My aim in the novel was thus to literalize and exacerbate those aspects of Sheppard’s gender and sexual deviance that I saw symptomatized within the archives, and to connect those particulars with the broader history of British imperialism. Building on the history of sexology, prison records, early-modern memoir, jailhouse confessions, and the birth of British policing and colonial projects, I created a version of Sheppard’s life that doubles as an explicitly fictionalized and speculative history of queer and trans sexuality. In this sense, the novel both creates a narrative life-world for readers to imagine and to connect with alternate histories of sex and gender, as well as presents and proposes an innovative methodology for working with – and pushing the boundaries of – the official archives. Confessions is as much about what escapes the grasp of recorded histories as it is about the archive as such. It is, in this way, an argument for fiction as the necessary complement to the archive – a shadow liming the contours of the occluded, elided and sequestered potentialities crystallized within recorded history.