Sensational Victorian

PLA

by Robert Lee Wolff. Garland, $20.00. Presumably nobody today reads the novels of Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835-1915), but anyone who reads Professor Wolff’s account of the lady will be tempted to try. In addition to wild generosity with murder, arson, secret marriages, and forged wills, Braddon had a sharp eye for the class foibles and social injustices of her time. Her own scandalously improper behavior had given her a good view of just how much, and how little, Victorian proprieties encumbered a woman with brains and nerve. She had a lively style and a nice comic touch, once describing a nouveau riche drawing room as “a howling wilderness of furniture.” She created a character (Sigismund Smyth né Sam Smith) who writes her own kind of novel and shamelessly explains all the tricks of the penny dreadful trade. Throughout her long life, Braddon’s yarns were madly popular, admired even by the likes of Bulwer-Lytton and Thackeray, and Professor Wolff’s choice of quotations makes it easy to see why. Illustrations, notes, appendixes, index.