Monday, November 23, 2015

EAST LYNNE by Ellen Wood

I think I might be laboring under the misconception that I love Victorian era literature. The more I read, the more I am coming to believe that I may just love Dickens and Trollope.

I was annoyed throughout most of the first half of East Lynne because the author heavily foreshadowed EVERY plot point. This is not unique to Victorian literature, of course. I also realize that this does not bother some readers; I know that people go to see Shakespeare tragedies performed even though they are fully acquainted with the knowledge of who dies at the end; however, when I read a new-to-me book, I LIKE TO BE SURPRISED. I was a little heartened when a murder mystery storyline was introduced, but then I figured out who the murderer was in about two pages …*sigh*.  I also found it obnoxious that in order for this tragic novel to work, the characters had to be completely OBTUSE and never tell anyone the truth, until it is too late, of course.

I did enjoy the second half more; I still knew which way the train of tragedy was chugging, but I was along for the ride by then and Ellen Wood had stopped telegraphing every move and got a little nutty it a sort of fun, soap opera like-way with characters showing up in disguise, some serious teeth-gnashing and self-recrimination and a wonderfully over the top deathbed scene.

East Lynne is considered a sensation novel, which means that people read it in the 1800s for its scandalous, scurrilous nature. I imagine Victorians read sensation novels in the same way one might now read true crime or harder edged fictional crime novels; the reader can address and “enjoy” their fears in a safe setting.  The back of the Oxford Words Classics paperback edition that I read (pictured above) suggests that East Lynne can viewed as specifically tackling Victorian ethical unease vis-à-vis divorce and adultery.  Personally, however, I found Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon or He Knew He was Right by Anthony Trollope to be better dramatizations of the difficulties that many women faced in the Victorian Era in terms of divorce laws, marriage rights and child custody.

This title was my choice for the “Classic Written by a Woman” in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2015 hosted at the blog Books and Chocolate. If you like high melodrama with lots of foreshadowing, this might be the book for you, but for my tastes, it was a bit too much.


  1. There's no doubt that there are some pretty schlocky Victorian novels, but I have to pipe up to defend George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, the Brontes, Thackerey, Wilkie Collins, and even Mrs. Oliphant! I do love a good sensational novel, but with the emphasis on good. This one sounds like it was a victim of poor writing.

    Don't you love the Back to the Classics challenge--I know I do, and it's interesting to see how to make what I just read fit neatly into one of Karen's categories!

  2. You are right; I haven’t really read enough to say one way or another! I have never read Thackeray and I have only read one of each from Eliot, Gaskell, C. Bronte and E. Bronte. I LOVED the Woman in White, but no other “sensation” novel has managed to live up to it (yet). Maybe the bar is just too high.

    I do love the Back to the Classics Challenge for the same reason you do. It is such fun to see what I can fit in from my shelves or TBR and also what I can discover which was previously unknown to me.