Monday, October 13, 2008

East Lynne

Glutted by the history of Henry VIII, I have abandoned Ford Madox Ford’s historical novel,The Fifth Queen, a strange, stilted, literary pageant which revolves around Katherine Howard. (if it’s not the Boleyns, I have to consult Weir’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII.)

So I have returned to the Victorian age, and am very much enjoying Ellen Wood's East Lynne. Her work was introduced to me by The Virago Book of Ghost Stories, and thus I am now reading East Lynne, her most popular novel,

Considered a sensation novel, it emphasizes sexual jealousy among women and the resulting smoldering triangles, of which Archibald Carlyle, at the apex, seems amazingly oblivious. Lady Isabel, the main character, marries Archibald Carlyle only after the gorgeous Captain Levison rejects her; Barbara Hare, who had expected Archibald to marry her, is furous that the insipid, beautiful Iabel has usurped her place; and Isabel is also jealous of Barbara, who is consulting Archibald "on business" at every opportunity. Exhausted by childbirth and what sounds like post-partum depression, Isabel loses her sparkle and goes abroad to recover. Captain Levison appears on the scene, idly flirting with her, bent on the destruction of her marriage.

Isabel becomes far less insipid as the novel goes on, and when she needs to support herself, she demonstrates remarkable intelligence and self-reliance. But I don't want to give away the plot.

Wood writes plainly and well, and the story is so compelling that I was able to read half at one sitting.. There are flaws and awkward transitions, but it races along. She asks questions about adultery and women: Who supports women when the marriage fails? How can women support themselves unless they marry? What happens to adulteresses?

This novel is also being discussed at:

  • Trollope Discussion Group listserv

    Ellen said...

    There's a certain wild, mad improbability at the heart of the sexual seduction. We are really to believe Isabel had no agency in her sexual life.

    You're right about how when it comes to areas outside sex and children, she does just fine. So what should we conclude from this?


    Nicola said...

    Hi, visited your blog after seeing a quote from it in the current Persephone biannually. Much as I adore the work of both Emily and Charlotte, I think Anne Brone's Agnes Grey is acutally my favourite Bronte novel regards, Nicola

    Mad Housewife said...

    Ellen and Nicola,

    I have already replied to Ellen by e-mail, but thanks for your recommendation of Agnes Grey. I did read this long ago (too long ago) and since Ellen, too, has mentioned Anne, I must go back and read it.

    I hope this blog will work: I've had so much trouble with comments lately that I usually respond by e-mail.