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The Victorian Sensation Novel, 1860-1880 — "preaching to the nerves instead of the judgment"

London, England, UK. Richmond, Surrey, England, UK. Maxwell, W. Mary Elizabeth Braddon was born in London and her parents separated when she was five years old.

Mary worked as an actress to support herself and her mother. In , she met John Maxwell, a publisher, and began living with him despite the fact that he was married with five children; his wife was in an asylum in Ireland. Mary acted as a stepmother to the children until , when Maxwell's wife died and they were able to marry.

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They had six children together, including the future writer William Babington W. Mary was an extremely prolific writer, producing more than 80 novels and numerous short stories. In , she founded Belgravia, a lavishly illustrated magazine that published serialized novels, poems, travel narratives, and essays on fashion, history and science. Links Wikipedia.

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University of Iowa Victorian Wiki page. Mistaken identity, hidden identities, are the staple of Collins's No Name and Armadale , and Mary Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret , and are often concerned with questions of inheritance, with legal identity, but the language of psychology allowed other dimensions of the question to be addressed. What precisely constitutes identity comes into question as the workings of memory are investigated, and found to be lacking [in The Moonstone ].

The features commonly associated with the publishing phenomenon of the s known as the Sensation Novel include the following:. The parodist promises the public graphic accounts of violent crimes, corporal punishments, and animal cruelty, as well as a Sensation Novel presumably in serial full of "hitherto undreamed of" atrocities and written by an "eminent" writer shortly to be released from a penitentiary. The novels that are the subject of this lampoon are not immediately obvious, but were undoubtedly all available for a modest annual "lending" fee at Mudie's Library or in the bookstalls of most railway stations.

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In The Maniac in the Cellar , Winifred Hughes associates the rise of the Sensation Novel in the early s with the continued popular taste for the Gothic Novel of the previous century particularly the goosebump gothicism of Ann Radcliffe and the more gruesome gothicism of Matthew G. Bulwer-Lytton , and Charles Dickens. Conservative critics, she contends, regarded this new subgenre, as exemplified by the early '60s novels of Wilkie Collins, Ellen Price Wood, and M. Braddon, as "brash, vulgar, and subversive" 6.

In his autobiography, novelist Anthony Trollope went so far as to label the Sensation Novel "unrealistic" by the mids in that he held "The novelists who are considered to be anti-sensational are generally called realistic" Vol. He might well have added "dramatic," "theatrical," or "melodramatic" to his indictment since a number of Sensation writers acted and wrote for the stage, and since novels such as East Lynne and Lady Audley's Secret proved popular with audiences when adapted for the theatre.


According to Hughes, "what distinguishes the true sensation genre as it appeared in its prime during the s is the violent yoking of romance and realism, traditionally the two contradictory modes of literary perception" If we take the early novels of Collins as our locus classicus , we can see that the new subgenre indeed fused opposites, both possible and improbable, solidly English and yet exotic, sordid and yet respectable, refined yet violent, scientific and yet superstitious, documentary and yet far-fetched, realistic and yet romantic, rational and at the same time absurdist, but above all romantic and suspenseful, "a kind of civilized melodrama, modernized and domesticated — not only an everyday gothic, minus the supernatural and aristocratic trappings, but also a middle-class Newgate, featuring spectacular crime unconnected with the usual criminal classes.

George Augustus Sala in "On the 'Sensational' in Literature and Art" Belgravia 4 []: , undoubtedly trying to legitimize the extreme form that had recently appeared, attributed the founding of the Sensation Novel to no less a figure than Charles Dickens. Although some of Dickens's later works, especially The Mystery of Edwin Drood , exhibit some of the tendencies of Sensation fiction, in his last novel he was more likely responding to the new form, as produced by his apprentice and associate at All the Year Round , Wilkie Collins, rather than merely aping it.

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Collins and Reade, however, may have borrowed their aesthetic theory from Dickens, dwelling, as Bleak House remarks, upon "the romantic side of familiar things. Lillian Nayder estimates that Dickens was correct in assuming that Reade's candour lost him readers "in droves" Pilgrim Letters , "perhaps as many as three thousand" Nayder Whereas, moreover, in Dickens, plot —no matter how convoluted or complicated — and character — no matter how eccentric or whimsical — are always enlisted in the service of theme, in much Sensation fiction plot and incident —rendered complicated for their own sakes — predominate because the writer's chief intention is to delight and horrify rather than to instruct and reform.

Typically, no sooner has a Sensation writer solved one mystery or resolved one dilemma for us than he or she must introduce another in order to escalate suspense. However, as Hughes is quick to point out, Collins's handling of "drawn-out mystification or impending menace" 19 , particularly in The Moonstone , is so masterful and so controlled and metred out that the reader revels not so much in successive rises as in the final denouement, which harmonizes all competing narratives and executes Nemesis character by character.

About Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Mary Elizabeth Braddon was a British Victorian era popular novelist. She was an extremely prolific writer, producing some 75 novels with very inventive plots. The most famous one is her first novel, Lady Audley's Secret , which won her recognition and fortune as well.


The novel has been in print ever since, and has been dramatised and filmed several times. Braddon also founded Belgravia Magazine , which presented readers with serialized sensation novels, poems, travel narratives, and biographies, as well as essays on fashion, history, science. She also edited Temple Bar Magazine. Braddon's legacy is tied to the Sensation Fiction of the s. She is also the mother of novelist W. Books by Mary Elizabeth Braddon.

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