MARY ELIZABETH BRADDON
The Publication History of the Novel
Reprint published by Spencer Blackett, circa 1890.
'Asphodel,' Athenaeum, 26 February 1881.
'Asphodel' is a story written in Miss Braddon's latest manner. It does not depend upon intricacy of plot, upon crime or mystery; it is as simple a tale as could be contrived, with its interest centred upon one character. The style is wonderfully easy and fluent; the conversations are brilliant, pointed, and vigorous; and the description, of which there is a great deal, is always vivid enough not to be tedious. The tale is one of mutual love at first sight. The early scenes are charming. There is a schoolgirl sketching in the forest of Fontainebleau while her friend sits apart during wool-work. A stranger looks over the artist's shoulder, amused at her energy, and makes a comment upon her work. Then comes an extemporized picnic, and next day a more or less accidental meeting at the château. The girl is perfectly frank and perfectly inquisitive, and amongst other things finds out that the stranger is engaged to be married. Soon afterwards she goes home, and when her sisters fiancé appears, he turns out to be the stranger of Fontainebleau. Then the trouble begins. Both strive against their love, and it is not till near the end of the story that it bursts out on all sides. The power of the author of 'Lady Audley's Secret' is shown in her latest book not so much in her invention as in the ease with which she makes events suit her purpose and happen so naturally as to leave the impression that they could not have been otherwise. Here and there a masterful touch is obvious. The love of the two sisters for each other shows an imagination and a delicacy which those who have only read the author's earlier works would hardly expect from her. It must be confessed, however, that the book shows skill of a kind which is rather to be regretted. Having really but a short story to write, Miss Braddon fills it out by taking her people to Stratford-on-Avon, and so making an opportunity for a great deal of discursive talk about Shakespeare, and afterwards to Switzerland, when the book becomes in effect what used to be called a 'picturesque tour.' But in spite of all this the reader will find himself forced to admit that the book is readable throughout.' (Please note that transcripts were originally made as rough research notes by Jennifer Carnell and that anyone wanting to quote them in their own work is advised to consult the original for complete accuracy.)
Bibliography and Recommended Reading:
Jennifer Carnell, The Literary Lives of Mary Elizabeth Braddon (Sensation Press, 2000).
Robert Lee Wolff, Sensational Victorian: The Life and Fiction of Mary Elizabeth Braddon (New York: Garland, 1979).
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