A young servant girl desperate to learn.
An ambitious philosopher in search of the truth.
A story lost from history.
‘excellent… an entirely unsentimental love story, with a memorable and engaging heroine‘
The Times, Book of the Month
Good Housekeeping, Ones to Watch
LoveReading, Debut of the Month
‘An absorbing and moving read.’
The Words in My Hand is the reimagined true story of Helena Jans, a Dutch maid in 17th-century Amsterdam, who works for Mr Sergeant the English bookseller. When a mysterious and reclusive lodger arrives – the Monsieur – Mr Sergeant insists everything must be just so. It transpires that the Monsieur is René Descartes.
This is Helena’s story: the woman in front of Descartes, a young woman who yearns for knowledge, who wants to write so badly she makes ink from beetroot and writes in secret on her skin – only to be held back by her position in society.
Weaving together the story of Descartes’ quest for reason with Helena’s struggle for literacy, their worlds overlap as their feelings deepen; yet remain sharply divided. For all Descartes’ learning, it is Helena he seeks out as she reveals the surprise in the everyday world that surrounds him.
When reputation is everything and with so much to lose, some truths must remain hidden. Helena and Descartes face a terrible tragedy and ultimately have to decide if their love is possible at all.
’17th-century Amsterdam sparkles into life in this delightful, playful and beautifully written debut. I loved it!’
Rachel Hore, bestselling author of A Week In Paris
‘Guinevere Glasfurd’s writing is fresh and elegant. I loved the subject and the way she brings Amsterdam in the 1600s into vivid, believable life. A lovely book‘
Dinah Jefferies, bestselling author of The Tea Planter’s Wife
‘A quietly powerful novel of love, ambition and betrayal. Glasfurd’s depiction of the eternal tension between domestic realities and intellectual ambition is precisely nuanced, and suffused with all the cool charm of its Dutch Golden Age setting’
Kate Worsley, author of She Rises
‘The Words in My Hand, Guinevere Glasfurd’s captivating debut novel of a Dutch maid’s affair with Descartes, is compelling, lush, impressive’
Kate Mayfield, author of The Undertaker’s Daughter
‘The Words In My Hand tells a moving story with quiet confidence and masterful restraint. Glasfurd’s evocation of 17th century Holland through the voice of young Helena – servant girl and mistress of Descartes – is vivid, plausible, and hugely engrossing. An astonishingly accomplished and mature first novel’
Shelley Weiner, author of The Last Honeymoon
Guinevere Glasfurd‘s short fiction has appeared in Mslexia, the Scotsman and in a collection from The National Galleries of Scotland.
The Words In My Hand, her first novel, was written with the support of a grant from Arts Council England.