When I created all that suspense about the novel where I saw a convincing description of love, I was referring to Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Aurora Floyd. Braddon was a hugely popular Victorian writer of sensation novels. She is most famous for Lady Audley’s Secret, a novel that provided Braddon with financial means for life. If you are choosing whether to read Lady Audley’s Secret or Aurora Floyd, my recommendation is Aurora Floyd. It was written a few years later when Braddon was a more experienced writer and I found it more original than the more famous first novel.
Braddon had a very interesting life. She fell in love with a married man whose wife was in a lunatic asylum. (It feels like every other man had a wife in a madhouse in the Victorian era). Braddon helped him raise his children by the institutionalized wife and had 6 children of her own with him. One of those children was W.B. Maxwell, the author of one of my most favorite novels ever. This explains why W.B. Maxwell was so hung up on extramarital sexual relations.
Nobody knew that Braddon and her husband were living together without being officially married. When the couple’s servants discovered that their employers “were living in sin”, they were so scandalized that they all gave their notice on the same day. Braddon, of course, couldn’t care less and continued writing her hugely popular novels.
Aurora Floyd perfectly epitomizes the saying, “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go wherever they want.” Aurora Floyd does whatever she feels like, leads a very unconventional lifestyle, yet everybody adores and celebrates her. Aurora’s cousin Lucy is the embodiment of the Victorian Angel in the House and the opposite of the flamboyant, powerful, and secretive Aurora. Lucy’s life is an open book and this is precisely what makes her so insipid. Lucy’s own husband is irresistibly drawn to the much more complex Aurora.
Braddon, whose lifestyle was quite unconventional, pokes fun at the boring good girls who efface themselves to such a degree that nobody would notice if they live or die. Aurora Floyd, on the other hand, is rewarded for being the opposite of the Angel in the House with being loved by her husband with the kind of love that I find unmatched anywhere else in fiction.
I’m putting the rest of the post under the fold because it includes spoilers.
I love Victorian literature because it never ceases to surprise me. Victorian sensibilities are so different from ours that I always fail at predicting the reactions of the characters. To give an example, in Braddon’s novel, a character shares the following with other people (this is not an exact quote, this is my brief retelling): “When I was young, I ran away with my father’s groom and married him. Within a month, I was bored with the groom, so I paid him off, lied to my father that my husband was dead, and started living as an unmarried woman. Then, I heard news that the groom had, indeed, died. I married my second husband, only to realize that the first husband was still alive. He started blackmailing me that he would let everybody know that I’m a bigamist. Then, somebody murdered him, and now I’m the prime suspect in the murder.”
“Oh God,” people invariably respond to this string of revelations. “You married a groom! A man who isn’t a gentleman!”
Yes, forget about bigamy, living with a man without being married to him, blackmail, murder, and other small things like that. Who cares about any of this when there is a real tragedy: a woman married somebody of a lower social standing.
There are many Victorian novels on my Classics Club list, so I know I will have a great time reading them.