I had heard of Ellen Wood (a.k.a. Mrs. Henry Wood) and her novel East Lynne but it took the prompting of Simon of Savidge Reads and his Sensational Sundays to get me to commit to reading it this fall. Oh, how perfect this book was! I have been in a bit of a reading funk lately -- reading too many books that I didn't love and in some cases barely even liked. But then East Lynne came into my life and reminded me that I love sensational Victorian novels!
East Lynne is the name of the estate just outside the town of West Lynne -- some miles from London. It is one of a few properties owned by Lord Mount Severn and one he must part with as he has run through all of his funds and needs the ready cash. He makes the sale in complete secrecy, even keeping his teenage daughter in the dark as to his financial woes. He sells the home to a respectable attorney, Archibald Carlyle, from West Lynne. Lord Mount Severn and his daughter, Lady Isabel Vane, return for a visit and Carlyle, in his generosity, allows them to stay at East Lynne to continue the protective secrecy of their agreement. Unfortunately, while they are there, Lord Mount Severn's gout gets the best of him and he dies, leaving his beautiful and gentle daughter with not a cent to her name. Carlyle is thoughtful enough to send her off with one hundred pounds to live with her uncle, the new Lord Mount Severn, and his dreadful wife. From this point on, Lady Isabel is ruled by inexperience and makes many decisions -- some that are fortunately in her best interests and others that are woefully bad.
Simon frequently called East Lynne "the mother of all sensation novels" and I will only dispute that to suggest that it is perhaps tied in that distinction by Wilkie Collins' Armadale. Any story with villains so despicable that it turns your stomach in knots and tragedies so painful that they bring tears to your eyes is a satisfying sensational read. This book is already on my "must read again" list and I hope that any of you who love Victorian novels will pick this one up.
Rediscovering the joy in reading,
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