The Final Confession of Mabel Stark Summary

Robert Hough

The Final Confession of Mabel Stark

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Robert Hough established his reputation in Canada and in the United States with his nonfiction character sketches about unusual people. Hough’s prize-winning first novel, The Final Confession of Mabel Stark, is also drawn from real life.

Kentucky-born Mary Haynie was still a teenager when she met and married her first husband. Finding her unsatisfactory, he locked her up in a mental institution. She escaped, joined a carnival as a cooch dancer, changed her name to Mabel Stark, and then, at the age of twenty- three, found her world, the circus, and her vocation, training tigers. Though during her lifetime she would acquire five husbands, she never felt even for the last and best of them the passion she felt for her tigers, and especially for Rajah, the Bengal who was the love of her life.

The Final Confession of Mabel Stark is shaped as a memoir, written in 1968, when Mabel is turning eighty and about to be dismissed by an animal park in Florida. She looks back on her life, dwelling at length on her rise to fame in the 1920’s, when her act was the main attraction of the famed Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus.

Drawing upon newspaper clippings, interviews, and Mabel’s letters , Hough found what strikes one as his subject’s authentic voice. Outspoken, earthy, sometimes repentant, always indomitable, Mabel leaps into life with the vigor of her beloved tigers. The result is a novel as fascinating as its heroine.