Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Pamela K. Gilbert

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online March 2011 | | DOI:
Mary Elizabeth Braddon

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Mary Elizabeth Braddon (b. 1835–d. 1915) was a Victorian popular novelist best known for her sensation fiction. Born in the Soho section of London, on 4 October 1835 (sometimes cited as 1837), Braddon worked as an actress for several years to support herself and her mother Fanny, who had separated from her father Henry in 1840. She also tried writing for local publications, and by 1860 she began publishing “penny dreadful” short stories in the Welcome Guest, the Halfpenny Marvel, and magazines published by John Maxwell, who became her lifelong domestic partner in 1861. Maxwell was already married with five children, his wife being hospitalized for insanity; Braddon lived with him unwed until 1874, when Maxwell’s wife died. They then married. In July 1861 Maxwell’s magazine Robin Goodfellow serialized the first chapters of Lady Audley’s Secret, the first of her two famous “bigamy novels.” Robin Goodfellow went out of business quickly, and Lady Audley’s Secret was taken up by the Sixpenny Magazine, where publishers Edward and William Tinsley noticed her work. The novel made her fortune, helping her transition from penny fiction to the middle-class three-volume novel. Braddon and Maxwell had another six children, and Braddon was the primary breadwinner for the entire family, including her stepchildren. Braddon is estimated to have produced over ninety books (some under pseudonyms, such as Babington White) and a great deal of periodical fiction and nonfiction, poetry, and drama. The runaway best-seller Lady Audley’s Secret (1862) is perhaps still her best-known novel, but that is now changing, as her work has garnered increased interest in the last three decades. Braddon also founded and edited Belgravia Magazine (1866–1876), which published fiction, poetry, and essays, often written by Braddon herself, though many other famous writers contributed regularly. She lived to see a silent film version of her novel Aurora Floyd in 1913. She died on 4 February 1915 in Richmond, Surrey. Since foundational studies on Braddon and on sensation laid the groundwork, scholarship has developed along several lines, among which there is much overlap: studies of gender and sexuality, including, most recently, queer readings; discussion of Braddon’s sensation novels and modernity; her work and Victorian ideas about crime, medicine, and science; her relation to contemporary cultural issues, especially attitudes toward marriage; studies of individual works; issues of reception; history of publishing; theater; and visual arts.

Article.  7546 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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