Things Little Girls Have No Business to Know Anything About: The Crimes of Aurora Floyd

By Ward, Ian | Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Things Little Girls Have No Business to Know Anything About: The Crimes of Aurora Floyd


Ward, Ian, Columbia Journal of Gender and Law


The case of Aurora Floyd horrified mid-Victorian England. It is true that her fate evinced sympathy too, but the horror was the greater. We would not be so horrified today, though the offence she committed remains proscribed in English criminal law. Aurora Floyd was a bigamist; her crime, and even more so her sin, was to have two husbands living concurrently. And newspaper editors knew then, as they know today, that the English-reading public likes nothing better than to speculate on a spot of sex and crime over the breakfast table. Aurora was pretty too, and had married fortunately, or at least she had the second time. Her husband was a stolid member of the landed Yorkshire aristocracy. The story of Aurora Floyd came to the attention of mid-Victorian middle England over the winter of 1862, as the nation struggled to come to terms with the murderous bigamy of Lucy Audley, discovered the year before. Aurora and Lucy had something else in common too, aside from their shared criminality, They were fictive, the eponymous heroines of the two "sensation" novels with which Mary Elizabeth Braddon had taken literary England by storm in the first years of the 1860s. The fact that Aurora and Lucy were fictional did not, of course, lessen the threat that many perceived in their creation. On the contrary, it made their crimes all the greater. The case of Lucy Audley has long attracted critical commentary; Lady Audley's Secret is still recognised as the one of the canons of mid-Victorian fiction, more particularly still mid-Victorian "sensation" fiction. Literary history has not been so kind to Aurora Floyd, which has in comparison, largely evaded critical attention during the last century and a half. (1) The purpose of this article is to revisit Aurora Floyd, and more particularly the crimes of its protagonist, as an exercise in legal and literary history.

The 'sensational' novel: vain if not vicious

During the early 1860s, sensation novels enjoyed an extraordinary popularity, not just amongst the novel-buying public, but also, and just as importantly, amongst the novel-borrowing public. It is estimated that the reading audience for the sensation novel during the decade was around five million, predominantly female, and middle class. (2) This audience was greatly shaped by newspaper editors and the acquisitions policy of the circulating libraries favoured by middle-class women. (3) The "queen of the circulating libraries" was undoubtedly Mary Elizabeth Braddon.

Everyone, it seemed, wanted to read the latest Braddon. As Fraser Rae testified in 1865:

   Others before her have written stories of blood
   and lust, of atrocious crimes and hardened
   criminals, and these have excited the interest
   of a very wide circle of readers. But the class
   that welcomed them was the lowest in the
   social scale, as well as in mental capacity. To
   Miss Braddon belongs the credit of having
   penned similar stories in easy and correct
   English, and published them in three volumes
   in place of issuing them in penny numbers.
   She may boast, without fear of contradiction,
   of having temporarily succeeded in making the
   literature of the Kitchen the favourite reading
   of the Drawing Room. (4)

Aristocratic daughters and their scullery maids were brought together in one voracious common readership. Rae was not, however, an admirer. Sensation novels, he observed, were "one of the abominations of the age." (5)

Anthony Trollope described the public as reading sensational novels "as men eat pastry after dinner not without some inward conviction that the taste is vain if not vicious." (6) Few were so sanguine. "There is," wrote one of the more vehement critics, Dean Mansel, "something unspeakably disgusting in this ravenous appetite" for this particular species of literary "carrion." (7) Critical anxieties were various. (8) First was a concern about decency. Sensation novels were, almost invariably, about sex and crime.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Things Little Girls Have No Business to Know Anything About: The Crimes of Aurora Floyd
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.