Since it is February already I thought it was time to drag out my copy of Victorian Love Stories: An Oxford Anthology edited by Kate Flint, which I found at the last library sale. Since I now have a variety of short story anthologies, they are coming in handy for Kate's Short Story Reading Challenge and giving me an excuse to randomly dip into them. The anthology has an excellent selection of stories by authors from Elizabeth Gaskell to Oscar Wilde. I opted to read a story by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Although I have yet to read any of her novels, I know her reputation, and I was wondering what a short story by her would be like--especially one chosen for an anthology of love stories.
"Her Last Appearance" is very Victorian in nature. Barbara, young and attractive woman, also a parson's daughter, comes to London to visit an aunt and there meets Jack Stowall--"an actor of small parts at Covent Garden--a cold-hearted rascal with with a fine person, a kind of surface cleverness which had a vast effect on simple people, an ineffable conceit." He is caught up in Barbara's beauty. He believes that with such a "Juliet he could not fail as Romeo."
"He loved her as much as his staled and withered heart was capable of loving, and he foresaw his own advantage in marrying her. So, with a little persuasion, and a great many speeches stolen from the British Drama, he broke down the barriers of duty, and wrung from the tearful, blushing girl a hasty consent to a Fleet marriage, which was solemnized before she had time to repent that weak moment of concession."
It's not until too late (always) that she discovers what he is. She has taken to the 'boards' as well and with some success. And she attracts an admirer with whom she falls in love. "This was Sir Philip Hazlemere, a young man of fashion and fortune--neither fop nor fribble, but a man of cultivated mind and intense feeling." No matter the circumstances, however, she will not leave her husband--remember the times. It wasn't done. I'll let you ponder whether this story has a happy ending or not. Of course you only have to consider the times.
The story seemed somewhat formulaic, though still entertaining. Given the author's reputation there was no shocking twist, though perhaps nothing seemed shocking to my more modern sensibilities, but to a Victorian it might have. Apparently love "is a constant theme of Victorian short stories, just as it is a staple of the period's longer fiction." The introduction goes on to say:
"For the Victorians, to write of love almost always meant offering some kind of reflection on the position of women within society."
Now that's what I expect from the Victorians and this story fit perfectly. Perhaps I'm just jaded, but I wonder if any of these stories are really happy love stories. I'll have to give a few more of them a try.