Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Neglected classics: East Lynne by Mrs Henry (Ellen) Wood

I think this book would have to come under the heading of “guilty pleasures” for me; the Victorian sensationalist novel I could not put down.  I’ll try to give a taste without ruining the plot.
When Lady Isabel’s dissolute father dies (an early death, of course), she is shocked to find her comfortable world crumbling under the weight of his debts.  A young lawyer, Archibald Carlyle, comes to her rescue with an offer of marriage.  Alas, the path of conventional motherhood and the vocation of being the ‘angel in the home’ is not enough for the bored, neglected Isabel, and she falls for the charms of the caddish aristocrat Francis Levison.  Thus begins a satisfyingly intricate plot fueled by passion, crime, ‘ghosts’, hidden identities, and of course fitting moral retribution for all sins committed. 
This was a bestseller of its day and spawned several stage versions that, between them, kept the story in the theatre for decades.  East Lynne offered many a Victorian lady, stuck in her own respectable marriage, a chance to enter forbidden worlds.  It also offered Mrs. Henry Vane, through her ‘respectable’ married name, an opportunity to explore issues ladies should not discuss, let alone write about.  And, now it’s a classic, you too can enjoy the melodrama while assuming the literary moral high ground!


  1. You know, the name sounds vaguely familiar, but I don't have a clue where I might have heard it. Thanks for the tip! It sounds like fun.

  2. I'd forgotten about this one, I must revisit it!