The book is available for free at project Gutenberg
I used to love Victorian literature but I gradually began to find it tiresome. The descriptions were too lengthy, the characters stereotypical and the plots sentimental. They were like the forerunner of those American films where everything is so wholesome and things always turn out well in the end. Now don’t get me wrong I like a happy ending and I enjoy reading descriptive passages but the long-winded passages where the scenery prefigures a plot doesn’t do it for me.
However, despite skipping a few of the more long winded descriptions this was a good book. Not only did it keep my interest but it is very subversive. Basically, a woman gets married has a baby her husband loses/spends all his money they have a row he runs off to sea. After three years of no communication with his wife, he comes back having made lots of money to hear from his father-in-law that his wife has just died. He is not surprised about this, after all without his presence what would any woman do but pine and deteriorate. However, he meets up with his friend when he is the depths of despair, his friend takes him to his family home where his uncle lives with his latest wife. This latest wife is the same woman the man had married he isn’t too happy that she hasn’t waited for him pining in abject poverty but found herself a wealthy husband. They row and she pushes him down the well. She thinks she has killed him. His friend takes it upon himself to find out what has happened to his friend and the whole detective piecing together of clues is started as the story starts to unravel and she becomes more desperate.
Project Gutenberg link to the book
I liked the subversion of the domestic angel of the health and home transformed into a sexual woman and her independence and resourcefulness were quite refreshing. Of course, her conformity to the behaviour expected of her was rather annoying the simpering and being so nice to everyone. In Victorian terms, this niceness just made her crime all the heinous. There is a strong undercurrent of homosexuality between her first husband and his best ‘friend’ who disturbingly marries the husband’s sister at the end of the book. A sister who, rather significantly in my mind, closely resembles her brother. There are some very telling misogynist passages against all women taking this one person as the archetype of half the population. All this from a man who has basically had every whim catered for and done very little with his life up to this point.
The husband turns up alive at the end of the book but the wife is packed off to a sanatorium in Belgium for the rest of her life, despite not actually killing her first husband as far as I could gather her crime was lying to her first husband about her death and marrying a second husband but since she married before she knew her first husband was still alive it seemed a bit of a harsh punishment. She does manage to kill the man who is blackmailing her but I can’t feel much sympathy for him.
Perhaps she was punished for being a gold digger, or, tellingly she may be punished for being attractive and deceiving them all or for her lack of sincerity. I can’t help thinking that her punishment which is as much a being buried alive as any medieval horror was due to her unconformity and selfishness. Any woman who does not conform to the patriarchal society must be evil. This is quite apparent in paternalistic societies today.
The book reminded me of Dracula or Frankenstein or Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, gothic horror but with underlying layers of meaning. For instance, in a society where towns were growing into huge cities who could know where a strange woman had come from one might have had to take her word for it. Everyone it would appear had his or her place in this worldview God appointed and perhaps part of the blame is because this woman has dared to move up through society to a different stratum.
The only thing I found it hard to empathise with is the abandonment of her baby son to his alcoholic grandfather. Whether my scruples are due to my conventional upbringing or morality I can’t tell. However, I can’t see myself abandoning a baby or marrying someone for his money, although a number of women do that and in victorian days most women one would have thought married for security and a home.
Written by a woman who lived with her partner who was married to someone else the someone else being in an asylum he had five children as well as the children they had together she hardly led a conventional victorian life and the book she wrote was intriguing. In addition, it made her enough money to become financially secure. The issues are also detailed in the case of Constance Kent the young girl who murdered her step brother and the basis of the film “The Suspicions of Mr Whitcher”. Isn’t it amazing how things that appear disparate are so interconnected?
Anyway that’s all for now
Love your mother