Don't Buy the Rackham Sugar, Dear - It is Unrefined!
Updated: Apr 22
As you all may remember from class, I have a bit of a theory of how Faber's Sugar relates to the well-sought after commodity "white gold" - AKA sugar. After finishing the novel, I am still convinced Sugar goes through her own refinement process. However, I now think that Sugar's refinement was not successful/not completed in Part 3 considering the novel's outcome. What is interesting is how once Sugar enters William's home, the other ladies of the household, Sophie and Agnes (not the servants since they are, after all, merely servants) also start to lose their "refinement." Follow me through a recap of my presentation/Sugar refinement theory and perhaps by the end of this post, we will have an idea as to why Sophie and Agnes become less refined.
As I have said, the first two parts of Faber's novel represents the "raw" Sugar. It is in these two sections which the reader sees Sugar as a prostitute living with Mrs. Castaway and navigating the streets. This is Sugar's natural form - a lady of the street. Yet just like the commodity sugar, this raw, unprocessed Sugar is also quite valuable considering her popularity. It is here in Part 3 where Sugar's social refinement commences after agreeing to be William's mistress.
Recall how I paid attention to the real sugar refinement through Howard's Vacuum Pan. Back in 1813, a British chemist named Edward Howard invented this device where you would put raw sugarcane juice in a pot of slow, boiling water and then leaving it there in a partial vacuum until the refinement process is over. I then suggested how Part 3 is Sugar's own Howard's Vacuum Pan process. Sugar is kept in a partial vacuum considering how her only personal interactions are with Caroline and William. Sugar also constantly bathes in this section. This is where Sugar, a once hard substance, simmers in hot water sometimes several times a day. In this process of constant bathing, Sugar softens. It is after this softening that Sugar is then allowed to break her isolation and join the Rackham house as a "refined" governess.
This is where my previous theory ended. Back in those days (a mere like two weeks ago before I had finished the novel), I was convinced that this sugar process would set Sugar up for success in the household. However, I was quite wrong. This moment for Sugar is not a "refining" process - It is instead her "unrefinement" process. In the last two parts of the novel, we see Sugar bathe less and less as she acts as a well-mannered governess (as a refined Sugar would do). Her isolation also ends as she starts to mingle with Sophie and the other household workers. Her refinement process has ended in this sense.
Let's now consider how Sugar is the catalyst of the "unrefinement" of Agnes and Sophie and then circle back to Sugar. When Agnes first sees Sugar in white outside the house waving by the gate, this marked the "unrefinement" process of Agnes. After this initial encounter, Agnes changes. She enjoys the Season, thus ending the isolation created by William's refinement process of keeping her inside the house. We can see through Agnes' diaries how her mental stability doesn't start to degrade until she is in his household. However, once she enters the house, her mental stability starts to waver almost as if the house itself is the true catalyst of unrefining women. It is also Sugar who convinces Agnes to physically leave the house even though Agnes has been mentally escaping the house for years.
It is with Sophie, though, that we really can see the similarities with Sugar. Whereas Agnes came into the Rackham house as a lady (already completed her own societal refinement), Sophie is still learning how to be a proper lady, slowly refining her manners and education. Like Sugar in Part 3, Sophie is constantly bathing because she wets the bed at night. However, it is Sugar who helps Sophie to stop wetting the bed, thus eliminating extra time in the bath water (symbolic of cutting her refinement short). Sugar also ends Sophie's isolation considering how her relationship is very close with Sophie compared to Beatrice. And in the end, like with Agnes, Sugar takes Sophie from this social class, thus stopping William's patriarchal refinement of his daughter.
In the end, all three of the significant women leave the Rackham house. As I will further discuss in my Resource Page, this is all due to Sugar's entrance into the household. She causes the social unrefinement process of both Sophie and Agnes because Sugar was already refined by her natural autonomy before entering the household. In other words, Sugar was already in a state of empowerment/feminist refinement when she was a trollop. But then in Part 3, she starts to lose her freedom. Each time she takes another step towards social "refinement" through William's process, she loses her raw power as a woman. This directly contrasts to Sophie and Agnes. Agnes grew up without that initial raw power considering her class. Sophie was slowly losing her raw power she was born with through William's plan of raising her away from her mother and keeping her locked under is his house. Sugar, however, brings those two trapped women into society away from the Rackham house in order to help their unrefinement process. In this sense, therefore, Sugar's unrefinement process (in direct contradiction to William's social refinement process) frees all the Angles in the Rackham house.