Virago has signed lawyer Justine Cowan’s mix of family memoir and history of the Foundling Hospital – including the story of her own mother who grew up in its care.
Pubisher Sarah Savitt bought UK and Commonwealth rights from Caspian Dennis at Abner Stein on behalf of Mollie Glick at the Creative Artists Agency. The Secret Life of Dorothy Soames will be published in spring 2021.
The synopsis explains: “The Secret Life of Dorothy Soames follows the touching journey American lawyer Justine Cowan makes as she pieces together her mother’s childhood alongside the history of the Foundling Hospital: from its idealistic beginnings, its role in the development of solitary confinement and human medical experimentation in the 18th century, to its closure after the Second World War. This was the environment that shaped a young girl then known as Dorothy Soames, who was left behind by a mother forced by stigma and shame to give up her child; who withstood years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of a sadistic headmistress, dreaming of escape as German bombers circled the skies, unaware all along that her own mother was fighting to get her back.”
Rose Tomaszewska, senior commissioning cditor covering for Savitt’s parental leave, said: “This remarkable piece of writing reads like a novel – yet it’s more astonishing than fiction. Like Philomena or Educated, it tells one person’s story while illuminating a rarely seen side of humanity and history. This will be a major publication for Virago in 2021 and a book that readers will be excited and moved to discover.”
Cowan added “It is particularly meaningful that my book is going to be published in the United Kingdom where my family’s story originated, and where much of the book takes place. And I am delighted to partner with Virago, which has a long history of raising women’s voice, to tell this story of the resilience of women and children in the face of centuries of abuse and trauma.”