This was a good fast-moving whodunit with particularly edgy female characters for that time that it was written. Braddon has written an entertaining novel that I would think was rather shocking at that time of Victorian England.
Why so shocking? Because it is what has been termed a “sensation novel” (cue Wilkie Collins and his ilk) and featured generally female characters who were anything but rule-followers – they were the rebels of the mid-nineteenth century and did not do what their fathers / husbands / brothers / uncles told them to do. There’s murder. Infidelity. Madness. Lies. Money. I can only imagine the illicit thrill Braddon’s work would have given to a well-bred young Victorian lady reading this subversive text in her father’s or husband’s drawing room.
So, with that said, this is a thrilling novel and one that I was completely sucked into. It may have all the pieces of a vaudevillian melodrama, but I did not find it overwrought or heavy-handed in any way. (And it’s not often that you get to link “thrilling” and “Victorian” in the same sentence!)
The plot revolves around Sir Michael Audley, a middle-aged wealthy widower who marries the unlikely choice of a neighbor’s beautiful governess. Everyone around Sir Michael can see that she is marrying for money, and when Sir Michael’s nephew, an idle London barrister, comes into the mix and spots what is happening, the plot really gears up.
However, this is not just a straightforward murder mystery as there are tons of unpredictable twists and happenings along the way. (And you know how I likes me some unpredictable in my plots.)
Forget Dickens. Forget boring. Forget what you had to read in school. Introduce your reading mind to Braddon (or any other sensation novelist) and enjoy a well-written and well-told story. These authors do not claim to be pronouncing judgment on society’s ill (a la Dickens et al.) – they just tell you a good story that sucks you in, and, when you reach the end, makes you sigh with satisfaction.
See also “East Lynne” by Ellen Woods (1861) or Wilkie Collins (“The Woman in White” or perhaps “The Moonstone”). I read these pre-blog, but there is loads of info and e-copies out there on the web for your further review.