Pages: 120 pages
Finished: Mar. 4, 2010
First Published: 1862 (Hesperus Classics edition, Nov. 2009)
Genre: Victorian sensation fiction
"It is the most provoking clause that was ever invented to annul the advantages of a testament," said the lady.
Acquired: Received a review copy through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program.
Reason for Reading: I love Victorian literature.
Comments: Published as part of the Hesperus Classics series, which publishes obscure or little known titles by well-known classic authors, this book actually contains two titles: "The Lawyer's Secret", a novella, which was originally published as a serialization and a short story entitled "The Mystery at Fernwood".
In "The Lawyer's Secret" a woman receives a large inheritance from her uncle with the stipulation that she marry his adopted son. At first she refuses but is then convinced by her lawyer and guardian to accept the situation. Shortly after the marriage she realizes the man she has married is not the caring man she thought he was and her long marriage becomes an enduring torture.
In "The Mystery at Fernwood" a young woman becomes engaged to a lively young man, Laurence, and with her aunt goes down to his estate to meet the family. Here she finds a friendly yet morose group of people, especially her fiance's sister. Then she learns that the sister is very committed to looking after an invalid relation who lives in a wing of the house. This relation has always been locked up in that wing ever since Laurence was a young boy and yet he has never seen him, not even once.
Both of these stories revolve around a secret being kept beyond all manner of sense for the sake of honour, promises, or the perceived good of others because of a grave matter unacceptable to decent society. Neither of these stories is much of a mystery; it doesn't take long to figure out the lawyer's secret or to know exactly what is the mystery of Fernwood. But that is not really the point in the enjoyment of these stories to the modern reader. They are both wonderful examples of sensation fiction and Braddon was prolific in the field, writing over seventy books in her lifetime.
Both stories make delicious use of foreshadowing. Right from the start we're told how absolutely terrible the final outcome will be and all throughout this is repeated often, so if we dare get a thought in mind that things are working out nicely it is quickly squashed. "The Lawyer's Secret" is divided into chapters, I'm supposing where it would have left off each issue as it was serialized and every chapter ends with lines announcing the "utter wretchedness" of the situation, making one anxious to read on.
The topics dealt with, while certainly not sensational to the modern reader, are perfect examples of Victorian sins and secrets. My favourite of the two is "The Mystery at Fernwood" simply because I love the mysterious person locked in the west wing/attic/secret room plot and this story while predictable was wonderfully Gothic and kept the one especial mystery a secret until the tragic ending. Simply delightful to read!