Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Lawyer's Secret by M. E. Braddon

The Lawyer's Secret by M. E. Braddon was originally published in 1862, and was recently reprinted by Hesperus Press with a foreword by Matthew Sweet and the addition of the shorter work "The Mystery at Fernwood." Braddon was a master of "sensation fiction," "a species of writing...'aimed at electrifying the nerves of the reader.'" The genre flourished in the 1860s as part of a larger cultural trend. Braddon's focus was on domestic strife with a mysterious edge; rather than in exotic mansions or haunted houses, her heroines find terror in seemingly ordinary lives. In The Lawyer's Secret, Ellinor inherits her uncle's estate on the condition that she marry his protege. It's fairly obvious that the lawyer is hiding something (not least from the title) and to a modern reader, the secret is easy to guess. Because the genre is driven by plot rather than character development, the lack of surprise squelches the "electrified nerves" experienced by Victorian readers. As mysteries, these stories really do not stand the test of time to be engaging to the modern reader, in the way that, say, Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte continue to inspire readers. However, the Hesperus Press reissue puts these works into their historical context with a foreword, biographical note, and footnotes, making it a worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in Victorian fiction.

Source disclosure: I received this book from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

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