One of the great thing of the many great things about belonging to a book club (friends, books, refreshments, gossip, books, chat, books…) Is being introduced to books you’ve never heard of, or have heard of but decided for whatever reason you didn’t want to read it.
The book for this month’s ‘read’ is Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon; I had never heard of it, and for a while had it muddled with Lady Windermere’s Fan which obviously is completely different as it is a play by Oscar Wilde and not a novel by a nineteenth century woman writer. I am actually very surprised, astonished even, that I have never heard of it before; I studied English literature at school and for my degree and we looked at nineteenth century writing, so how the author and her books passed me by, I’m not sure. Maybe she wasn’t fashionable in literary circles when I was at college…
Mary had an extraordinary life; she was born in 1835 and in what must have been quite an unusual thing at the time, her parents separated when she was only young, her mother leaving her father because of his affairs with other women. Mary left home when she was seventeen and became an actress, under an assumed name. It was while she was working in the theatre that mary began writing, at first poetry but then progressing to a novel. After the publication of the novel, Mary began to write in earnest and now wrote as M.E. Braddon, which disguised the fact that she was a woman.
When Mary was only in her twenties met a publisher, John Maxwell, who serialised her next work, Lady Audley’s Secret. She began to live with him, even though he was married, unable to divorce his wife who was rumoured to be detained in an asylum, although she was actually living with her family. Mary took on the role of step-mother to his five children. The original Mrs Maxwell died in 1874, and Maxwell and Mary were able to marry.
Step-mother to five children, six children of her own, Mary also managed to write eighty novels, plus short stories and other work. What an incredible woman!
So… On with Lady Audley’s secret, and looking forward to book club on Sunday!