From Sensation to Society: Representations of Marriage in the Fiction of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, 1862-1866

From Sensation to Society: Representations of Marriage in the Fiction of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, 1862-1866

From Sensation to Society: Representations of Marriage in the Fiction of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, 1862-1866

From Sensation to Society: Representations of Marriage in the Fiction of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, 1862-1866

Synopsis

From Sensation to Society tracks the evolution of Mary Elizabeth Braddon's critique of Victorian marriage in the early phase of her long and prolific novel-writing career. The study begins with Braddon's two famous sensational novels, Lady Audley's Secret (1862) and Aurora Floyd (1863); it ends with her first novel of society, The Lady's Mile (1865). In the novels of this period, Braddon proved herself to be a relentless critic of the patriarchal powers and privileges that determined the conditions of marriage for women. As she depicted in the lurid excesses of sensationalism, at its worst marriage for women amounted to a sentence of cruel and unjust imprisonment in a world of insanely distorted values. Subsequent novels rigorously dissect the contradictions in the Victorian ideal of middle-class marriage and dramatize how the conditions of marriage undermine marital happiness and result in the compromise of marital fidelity.

Excerpt

In VICTORIAN CONVENTIONS, John R. Reed argues that victorian popular fiction depicted marriage as an ideal, “as the happiest state in life, implying that most marriages were successful, save only those where an obvious vice upset domestic order.” Mary Elizabeth Braddon knew better. She understood that a fiction that posits engagement and a wedding as guarantors of future happiness fosters appealing, but dangerous illusions for women. At the beginning of the second volume of Aurora Floyd (1863), Braddon writes:

Now my two heroines being married, the reader versed in the physi
ology of novel writing may conclude that my story is done, …. Yet,
after all, does the business of real life-drama always end upon the
altar-steps? Must the play needs be over when the hero and heroine
have signed their names in the register? Does man cease to be, to
do, and to suffer when he gets married? And is it necessary that the
novelist, after devoting three volumes to the description of a court
ship of six weeks’ duration, should reserve for himself only half a
page in which to tell us the events of two-thirds of a lifetime? Aurora
is married, and settled, and happy; sheltered, as one would imagine,
from all dangers, safe under the wing of her stalwart adorer; but it
does not therefore follow that the story of her life is done. She has
escaped shipwreck for a while, and has safely landed on a pleasant
shore, but the storm may still lower darkly upon the horizon, while
the hoarse thunder grumbles threateningly in the distance.

By mocking the conventions of sentimental popular literature, Braddon signals that her fiction moves in a decidedly different direction. As the ominous meteorological metaphor at the close of the passage intimates, married life can be as turbulent and unstable as the prenuptial journey that brings the heroine to the altar.

As a commentator on women and marriage, Mary Elizabeth Braddon quickly established herself as a voice in Victorian popular fiction that spoke with some authority. Her ascent to fame was meteoric. It began with the enormous success of Lady Aud-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.