Finally. A breakthrough! And it is, unsurprisingly, thanks to the Victorians. To Mary Elizabeth Braddon to be exact. Nothing like a little melodramatic, Victorian, sensational storytelling to get a person out of their Classic reading slump. Looking through my list of reads so far this year, there is not a single "Classic" finish yet. Granted several could easily be considered modern classics, and they count too, but I am thinking along the lines of Canon-Classic-pre-20th century. So, maybe M.E. Braddon might be a little bit of a stretch, and it is only a novella, but it is my way of easing back into Classic Literature. Just a little taste, a teaser (literally today), to whet my appetite and make me want to reach for more. Which, indeed, I do want to do.
I had been thinking of reading M.E. Braddon's The Lawyer's Secret ever since I bought it earlier this year. It is a Hesperus Classic--they do those smart novella length classics, of which I have a number of on my shelves. It's just over 110 pages long, and on closer perusal yesterday I realized the book actually contains two novellas, "The Lawyer's Secret" as well as "The Mystery at Fernwood". Have you had the pleasure of reading any of Braddon's work? If not, and if you like Wilkie Collins, do give her a try. I read her Lady Audley's Secret a number of years ago and was suitably entertained and impressed.
This is the sort of story you can easily apply the term "delicious" to. Braddon knew well (and being a contemporary of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins could easily hold her own against) how to pull the reader into a story and then string them along, turning those pages quickly. I just started reading a couple of days ago and already am nearly finished with the first novella. The premise: a young woman is set to inherit a fortune, but only if she agrees to marry the man who was the dead man's adopted son. Her lawyer/guardian encourages her to do so, but several married years later she is unhappy and a victim to her husband's miserly control over her inherited fortune. There's more to the story, of course--she harbors a secret love for . . . oops best not to reveal too much to you.
Let me give you a proper teaser instead, M.E. Braddon's own wonderful storytelling--a few things about our heroine:
"She was very handsome. Her hair was of the darkest brown, her eyes grey--those large grey eyes, fringed with long black lashes, which are more dangerous than all other eyes ever invented for the perdition of honest men. They looked like deep pools of shining water, bordered by shadowy rushes; they looked like stray stars in a black midnight sky; but they were so beautiful, like the signal lamp which announces the advent of an express upon the heels of a slow train, they seemed to say, 'Danger!' Her nose was aquiline; her mouth small, clearly cut, and very determined in expression; her complexion brunette, and rather pale. For the rest she was tall, her head set with a haughty grace upon her sloping shoulders, her hands perfect."
She sounds a little formidable, don't you think? If not quite "formidable" then at least she is of independent nature--and I would expect nothing less from a Victorian heroine à la Mary Braddon! I am now glued to the pages in order to find out just what that secret is. I am curious about the cover illustration, which seems to have a briefcase as well as barbed wire around the handle. I'm not even sure there was barbed wire in Victorian times? Just how does it relate to that secret, which I am hoping will soon be revealed.
I mentioned I am ready to pick up another classic when I finish this one. I have a few selections already. Elizabeth Gaskell's The Poor Clare is a story of murder and revenge. I have the Melville House Art of the Novella edition. Another potential quckie with fewer than 100 pages. And then there is the more M.E. Braddon, The Trail of the Serpent which involved another orphan, a murder and a mute detective. And then there is Trollope. He is one of those 'mean to read' authors. Maybe it is finally time for Can You Forgive her?. The latter two are chunky and full fledged stories. Having a few books tempting me means I stay focused on my reading (and would in any case really since this is real suspense!) so I have something new to look forward to very soon.