Monday, March 16, 2015
Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
So -- just back from vacation, where I did actually have time to get some reading done, what with long flights, layovers, and jet lag. I can hardly go on a vacation without a big fat Victorian novel, and this time I read Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, the queen of the Victorian sensation novel.
Set in the 1850s, this is the story of the Aurora Floyd, who is young, spoiled, and rich. Her father is a wealthy banker who fell in love late in life with -- gasp! -- a beautiful actress from a poor family. Knowing a good thing when she saw it, Eliza Prodder married rich Archibald Floyd, nearly 20 years her senior. However, they seemed genuinely happy despite all the sneering from the rich neighbors, but sadly, Eliza died in childbirth after just a year of marriage, leaving behind the eponymous Aurora Floyd and her doting but bereaved father.
Fast-forward seventeen years -- Aurora is beautiful, spoiled and used to getting her own way. After some naughty behavior, she's shipped off to school in France. She returns home to Kent after a year, looking poorly. There are hints of some secrets -- is she being secretly blackmailed? However, Aurora perks up eventually and is joined by her sweet cousin Lucy as a companion during the Season of balls during which all young ladies are essentially on the marriage market. Two potential suitors stand out -- Talbot Bulstrode, the proud heir of a long line of aristocrats who is short in cash; and John Mellish, a blustering but lovable Yorkshire squire. Both fall in love with Aurora, and at first it seems like Bulstrode is the lucky winner, though Lucy is secretly in love with him and pining away.
However, there's trouble in paradise. A few months after their engagement, Talbot learns from a cousin that Aurora ran away from school and was MIA. Suspicious, he confronts her, but she refuses to reveal her secret, and he breaks off the engagement. Eventually, she marries Mellish, who promises never to ask her secrets and love her and trust her no matter what. Of course, this promise comes back to haunt him when a handsome groom named James Conyers comes to work for her husband. His appearance throws everything into turmoil, and that's when the book really gets rolling.
This book had a lot of great elements to it -- a strong heroine with flashing dark eyes, two men competing for her hand in marriage, blackmail, scandal, gossip, a detective -- it's a classic Victorian sensation novel. A couple of years ago, I read Lady Audley's Secret by the same author, and loved it. It's the second book I've read by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Aurora Floyd has a lot of the same themes, but I felt liked it dragged a little in comparison. There's an omniscient narrator that editorializes a bit too much for my taste. I did find some of the plot points pretty obvious, and the author definitely depends on the deus ex machina as a too-convenient plot savior more than once. Overall, though, I'm accepting this book as a product of its time -- Mary Elizabeth Braddon was pretty groundbreaking as a Victorian author, not just as a woman author. She wrote more than 80 novels, which is impressive for any author, during any time period. Most of them are out of print but a lot of them are available for free on Gutenberg.org.
I'm counting this as my Classic by a Woman Author for The Back to the Classics Challenge, and this also counts for the Reading England Challenge.