The Wet Nurse's Tale (Paperback)

By Erica Eisdorfer

Berkley, 9780425234471, 320pp.

Publication Date: August 3, 2010

Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (8/6/2009)

List Price: 15.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.

August 2009 Indie Next List

“Susan Rose's mother is a wet nurse, whose profession is to feed and care for other women's babies until they can be weaned and returned home. When Susan gives birth to a baby and a desperate mother calls for a wet nurse, Susan finds herself sold to the highest bidder. This is the story of a smart, plucky, adventurous lower-class woman in Victorian England, and it is everything a reader wants in a historical novel. Susan is overweight and not particularly attractive--and she frequently makes poor decisions regarding men--but you will love her immediately. Her narration is pitch-perfect, blending humor and heartbreak while giving a fascinating glimpse into a mostly unknown profession. I loved it.”
— Jake Hallman, A Great Good Place for Books, Oakland, CA
View the List


A debut novel set in Victorian England with a delightfully cheeky heroine who will have everyone talking.

Susan Rose is not your average Victorian heroine. She's promiscuous, lovable, plump, and scheming. Luckily for Susan, her big heart is covered by an equally big bosom, and her bosom is her fortune- for Susan becomes a professional wet nurse, like her mother before her, and she makes it her business to know all the intrigues and scandals that the upper crust would prefer to keep to themselves.

When her own child is caught up in a family scandal, Susan must use all of her street smarts to rescue her baby from the powerful mistress of the house. The scheme she weaves is bold and daring, and could spell ruin if she fails-but Susan Rose has no intention of failing.

About the Author

Erica Eisdorfer was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina, and graduated from Duke University. She was the book reviewer for WUNC, an NPR affiliate, for eight years. Eisdorfer has managed the Bull’s Head Bookshop, the trade bookstore on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for twenty years. She lives in Carrboro with her husband and two daughters.

Conversation Starters from

  1. “I was always a good girl.” Susan asserts at the start of the novel. Do you believe this? Does following Susan’s adventures throughout the book change your opinion?
  2. How did her sister Ellen’s death affect Susan? Had she not died the way she did, do you think Susan’s life would have gone down a different path? 
  3. Susan defends her affair with Master Freddie, saying “Master Freddie is not a bad man. He took advantage, yes he did. And he was wrong to do it. If I’m to be honest, though, I must confess the whole of it and that’s that I let him, didn’t I.” Do you think this is true? What do you make of Susan’s relationship with Freddie, both at the beginning and later in the novel? 
  4. When Susan’s first son, Joey, dies, the family whose child she’s nursing gives her a gift out of guilt. Susan says “I thanked him kindly for the gift, but did not think it was enough, considering.” Is she being mercenary or sarcastic, or merely practical? Do you think she blames herself for the death of her son? Should she also blame the family she was working for? 
  5. To what extent does Susan have to repress her emotions in order to make a living as a wet nurse? Does it seem to you like an emotionally rewarding job or a distressing one? 
  6. How do the voices of the other narrators—the “customers” of Mrs. Rose, Susan’s mother—round out the story of wet-nursing as a profession? Which ones affected you most and why?
  7. When Susan is raped by the coach driver and makes a deal to exchange sex for his taking her to London, she says “After I understood how to make him do as I wished, it mattered to me not at all to do as he wished. It cost me but little.” Is this another example of Susan’s ruthless practicality? What does this episode say about Susan’s attitude towards sex itself? What does it say about the times she lived in? 
  8. When Susan schemes to get her son back from Mrs. Norval she justifies herself saying: “I would not shrink from any horrid thing at all in my mission.” Does she actually do anything “horrid”? Do you believe Susan has any pity towards the obviously ill Mrs. Norval or is her kindly treatment of the lady purely manipulative?
  9. Would Mr. Brooks have been so quick to give David back to Susan if he had been from a rich home instead of “but a foundling?” Was he motivated purely by concern for the baby, or a desire to wash his hands of the situation? In what ways is his sending David off with Susan a reflection of the class divide in Victorian England? 
  10. Do you think Susan will be happy in the Jewish community? Why would she prefer to find a home there instead of returning to her mother’s home in Leighton? Will she and Harry live happily ever after? What do you think is the next chapter in Susan’s tale?