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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835–1915)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
WHATEVER objections may be made to the sensational character of many of Miss Braddon’s earlier novels, her place is certainly in the ranks of the “born” story-tellers. Although still in the prime of life, she has been before the public for thirty-seven years. Her books have been produced in amazingly rapid and continuous succession. She was born in London, wrote little stories in her early teens, and was fond of entertaining her companions with startling original tales.  1
  When a young girl she conceived a passion for the stage, and a dramatic—or melodramatic—element is conspicuous in most of her novels. She was barely twenty-one when she had completed a comedietta, ‘The Lover of Arcadia,’ which, after many alterations and revisions, was put on the stage of the Strand Theatre in 1860, with—naturally—but moderate success. Her disappointment was extreme. She gave up the hope of becoming a successful dramatist. Her next venture, like that of most young authors, was a small volume of poems, of which Garibaldi was the chief theme. About this time she also wrote a number of highly colored, much strained tales in the Temple Bar and St. James’ magazines. These tales drew attention, and awoke an echo which neither the comedietta nor the poems had done, making it clear to her that in narrative fiction lay her strength. She was ambitious, she wanted money even more than reputation, and she has followed narrative fiction most diligently ever since, with widening and indisputable success.  2
  In 1862 appeared her first full-fledged novel, ‘Lady Audley’s Secret.’ It achieved instantaneous distinction and an enormous sale, six editions being disposed of in as many weeks. She had finally hit the mark, though not by accident. She had carefully thought out a new scheme, and had corrected literary mistakes by her late experience. She knew that the first desire of novel readers is for novelty, a characteristic usually preferred to originality, which is often much more slowly recognized. Mrs. Gore’s fashionable novels, correct in portraiture and upholstery, clever but monotonous, had had their day; Mrs. Trollope’s coarse and caustic delineations; G. P. R. James’s combats, adventures, skirmishes, disguises, trials, and escapes, and Bulwer’s sentimental and grandiloquent romances, had begun to pall upon the public taste. Miss Braddon perceived that the time had come for something new, so ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ was a striking innovation.  3
  Hitherto, wickedness had been ugly. She endued it with grace and beauty. She invented a mystery of crime surrounded by everyday circumstances, yet avoiding the “detective novel” mechanism. A new story, ‘Aurora Floyd,’ repeated the immense success of ‘Lady Audley.’ Novel after novel followed, full of momentous incidents, of surprises leading to new surprises. All the time Miss Braddon was observing much, correcting much in her methods and ideas. She studied manners closely; drew ingenious inferences; suggested dramatic and startling conclusions. She has, too, introduced into modern fiction the beguiling female fiend, who, like the Italian duchess of the Middle Ages, betrays with a smile, and with one arm about her lover beckons to the hired bravo to do his bloody work. Her plots, though sometimes forced, are ingenious and exciting. The movement of her stories is swift, and the scenes and personages contribute to the appointed end. As the author has grown in literary stature, a finer and often admirable effort is made to analyze or to develop character, as an element subservient to the exigencies of the stirring catastrophe.  4
  Her style and treatment have matured with practice and with years, and her later novels display artistic form and finish. Her ‘Mohawks’ is in many respects a superb study of fashionable life, with several historical portraits introduced, of London in the time of Pope, St. John, Walpole, and Chesterfield—a tableau of great movement and accuracy of composition. In a life of active literary production extending over more than half a century there were few years in which she did not publish two novels, one being issued after her death, which took place on February 4th, 1915. Several of her earlier fictions have been successfully dramatized. An exquisite little tale for Christmas-tide, ‘The Christmas Hirelings,’ is an evidence of her lightness of touch and refinement of conception in a trifle. In 1874 Miss Braddon married John Maxwell, a well-known London publisher. Her later years were gladdened by the literary success of her son.  5
 
 
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