It was only when I’d reached chapter 7 that I learned (from another source) that this was a classic example of the “sensation” novel that was so popular during the Victorian period (1860-1880). According to the Wikipedia definition “The sensation novel typically focused on shocking subject matter such as adultery, theft, kidnapping, insanity, bigamy, forgery, seduction and murder”. Not my idea of a “good read” by a long shot! You may remember from an earlier post that I’m a huge fan of Anthony Trollope who purposely wrote against the sensational grain of popular fiction of his time. But I have to take my hat off to the Victorians for writing about such subjects without making them tawdry. This particular book (as well as another example of the genre, Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White) manages to touch on these taboo subjects without dragging the reader through the mud.
The first half of the book is very calm and well-written with not a cliff-hanger chapter in sight. I began to think that “sensational” in 19th Century England must have had a very different definition from the word today. But the book starts to live up to its reputation at around chapter 30 with its many surprising turns of events. Nothing prepared me for the biggest surprise of all in the penultimate chapter. I was delighted with the final outcome of the book and with all due respect to Trollope I have to give a humble nod of approval to Braddon for an intriguing and well-crafted story. Apparently this was her first of EIGHTY novels. If you like excellent, old-fashioned writing you’ll enjoy this book.