I've just read Ellen Wood's short biography on Wikipedia and couldn't resist a smirk. Despite the fact that it was her writing that provided a living for her husband and four children she was better known as Mrs Henry Wood. Such were the times but wouldn't it be interesting to know how the author felt about that particular situation? And as a heads up, Ellen Wood is buried in Highgate Cemetery if you're planning a tour in the future. You're not allowed to run willy-nilly around the cemetery but if you ask about a particular tomb the guides will do their best to point them out.
East Lynne is my Victorian 'swish of silk' book of choice for the change of season. The list of characters isn't all that expansive so there's no need to create spreadsheets featuring lineage. The large estate, East Lynne, passes from a deeply in debt Earl of Mount Severn to a hard-working lawyer named Archibald Carlyle. This would appeal to the masses of readers of the day who would rejoice in seeing someone from the aristocracy being brought to their knees by such everyday troubles as an anemic bank account. Rather than rub his hands together with Scrooge-like greed, Carlyle is a benevolent man who treats the transaction with every note of respect so as to protect the Earl from shame. The teen-aged, and stunningly beautiful, Lady Isabel, is left with only a few diamonds to her name and faces an uncertain future without her father's support. The picture is starting to take shape - can there be any doubt of a wedding in the cards?
One of my favourite characters, nay...the favourite, is Archibald's sister, Cornelia. It's a fascinating social study, regardless of era, how two people can be raised in the same household and turn out to be polar opposites. While Archibald is kind and generous, Miss Carlyle is dour and frugal beyond belief. She constantly usurps her brother's authority in his own home and in my mind's eye would forever be walking around his stately pile blowing out the candles and fires in the grate. The more miserable she gets the more fun the reading gets for me.
Another family's story intersects with the Carlyles; they are headed by Justice Hare. A more no-nonsense man you could never find, he is not a man of the law for nothing as everything is black and white. His son Richard is on the run after being accused of murder and a daughter, Barbara, is runner-up to Lady Isabel when it comes to being the catch of nearby counties. Barbara wears a cross of seven emeralds and is as saintly as they come. Her mother is, I think, drawn very much in the likeness of the author as she is 'a martyr to pain'. Needless to say, Barbara spends a great deal of time at the gate waiting for something, anything...or anyone...to pass by, alleviating the monotony of her days.
I'm at the three-quarter mark with East Lynne and it has become quite the riveting page-turner. At this point, one of the storylines is absolutely heartbreaking. If I had any negative comment to make it would be that during the first third of this book the setting is a bit sterile when compared to the writings of George Gissing, for instance, but Ellen Wood has rectified that. For my thoughts on the book as a whole once I'm finished...watch this space.