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?
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