East Lynne – Ellen Wood

I mentioned the other day that out of all the sensation season reading material so far Ellen Wood’s (or Mrs Henry Wood) ‘East Lynne’ has been by far the most complex and difficult to get through. I want to make it clear that I don’t mean that in a bad way. In fact the main reason it’s quite a book to get through is because of a whole host of characters (initially a village full) and a whole host of plots. This isn’t for those of you who are looking for a throw away sensational read you have to dive in and just go for it. Once you have read the final page though you will be left in no doubt that this is a masterpiece and may, as many say, be the mother of all sensation novels.

East Lynne is a grand old house not to far from the village of West Lynne, you will learn to love the village and all of its wonderful (even if some are downright evil) characters. From the first chapter we are introduced to the main character of the book Isabel Vane or as the first chapter is called ‘The Lady Isabel’ who lives in East Lynne with her father not knowing he has sold the house to local solicitor Archibald Carlyle. We join them as they first meet and naturally Carlyle falls in love with her one site, as one must this is after all a sensation novel.

The very same night Lady Isabel meets Captain Francis Levison a charming man who she instantly falls in love with though he proves a real rogue. Isabel’s father dies shortly after and Isabel finds herself left with a not so nice member of the family before accepting Archibald Carlyle’s hand in marriage admitting to him she doesn’t love him but one day she may. Throw in a possessive half sister, the wonderfully named Cornelia Carlyle, a local girl Barbara Hare who is clearly in love with Archibald and keeps meeting him in secret (though its actually because her brother is wanted for a murder he didn’t commit – see lots of stray storylines) send the delicate Isabel to France for respite where she meets Captain Levison again and you have the perfect recipe for one hell of a sensational novel… and that is not even half of the story. I can’t give away anymore and no one should as it would spoil such a wonderful, wonderful book.

The faults that I have seen reported in other thoughts on this book are that it’s too far fetched and yes in a way the plot is quite implausible… but this is sensation fiction (and fiction in general does this Nineteen Eighty-Four anyone?) and that in part is what its about. Though, if you research it, actually at the time divorce was becoming available in society. This book does look at the social history of the time along with the sanctity of ‘family’ in that period as step mothers who were from second marriages, not from the death of the first wife but of divorce instead, started to appear more things for women were changing again as naturally divorces were always in favour of the male party.

Enough of the social history and back to the book… I just thought the characters were wonderful. I loved the delicate, often flighty and slightly idiotic Isabel. She isn’t calculating just rash and fanciful and in a way her story is quite a tragic one and shows the lengths some people could go to for family, I can’t give anything more away than that. I though the bubbly Barbara Hare was a very interesting character with hidden depths. Naturally it was for me the icy, sister in law spinster Cornelia Carlyle who just for me walked off every page of the book as if she was in the room filling it with her (often wrong or prejudiced) opinions and thoughts. A magnificent character, in fact a magnificent set of characters. Throw in all of the plots, back stories and twists and I was left quite breathless by its brilliance.

This book has not only made me want to read everything that Ellen Wood (or Mrs Henry Wood) has ever written it has in many ways opened me up more to the idea of reading many more books that have such a grand scale and are so filled with several plots and characters which is giving me hope for reading Dickens in the future. I can certainly see why everyone at the time bought this book in their droves; it’s just a shame that they don’t do that now. I am hoping this will help, I will make sure I pop and say thank you to Ellen Wood every time I pass her at Highgate, she deserves more recognition.

If you are wondering why I haven’t used the most famous quote in the book, and it is very famous, it’s because it gives away quite a lot when you know some of the plot, so don’t go searching for it. So who else has read this? If you haven’t why on earth not you must run out and get it now.


Filed under Books of 2009, Ellen Wood, Mrs Henry Wood, Oxford University Press, Review, Sensation Novels

13 responses to “East Lynne – Ellen Wood

  1. My review went up today too …


    Thanks so much for getting me to read this one! I loved it. The complexity and multiple plot lines kept it interesting and it didn’t seem like a very long book while I was in it. I found the writing a little poor in some parts but I think that books like these really depend on plot and it certainly had enough of that!

    I just wish that my Oxford edition didn’t give away the plot so readily on the back of the book. The first sentence of their summary is something that happens almost half-way through the book! It ruined a bit of the character development for me.

    • I have popped over and read your thoughts thank you so much for joining in with me on this. Am doubly pleased that it was such a hit with you.

      I am also totally with you on the plot giveaways on the back of this book, its not just this edition though. ALL sensation novels and their publishers seem to do it. Most vexing. Though isnt this Oxford cover utterly divine!?!

  2. Hi, Simon! I got inspired seeing this book along the sidebar of your blog so I took pains to search this book in our local bookstores here in Manila. I’ve been scouring and scouring for days only to find it last weekend at a bargain bin. It’s condition was almost mint! I’ll definitely be reading this book next.

    • Oh wow you lucky thing. I was jammy enough to have Oxfird University Press send me this so was a real treat when it arrived, am glad have inspired reading in Manila and the USA how very internation the sensation season has gotten. I look forward to your thoughts on this book!!!

  3. I have this saved to read over Christmas – it’s a long one and I want to give it my full attention! Your review has made me very excited to read it!

    • Oh Rachel, sorry for such a late reply I only just got notified of this comment! This will be a wonderful Christmas read. I hope you enjoy it, I utterly adored it. What a lovely Christmas read too!

      I am going to crack on with Great Expectations and Peyton Place over the Xmas period as they are quite hefty.

  4. This is one of the sensation novels I’ve been most interested to read at some point, Simon–glad you found it to be such a rewarding experience! And to add to what Kristen said above: although I love, love, love Oxford and Penguin as publishers, I don’t ever read their introductions to fiction until I’m done with the novels because they give so much away ahead of time. What a shame that this practice is now coming to the backs of the books as well. Scary thought!

    • Richard, seriously do give this book a go. I think its one of THE sensation novels and can completely understand why some people call it the mother of all sensation novels.

      I am not keen about this whole giving everything away on the blurn thing that publishers are doing. I dont mind in the introduction so much as I never read them until afterwards hahaha.

  5. Pingback: Books of 2009 « Savidge Reads

  6. Michael Flowers

    Just came across this very interesting post. Glad you enjoyed it, and it’s not even the best of her works. Did you ever go on to read anything else?

  7. Avan

    I just love the book ” East Lynne “. Each time I read it , I cry. Just cannot bear to see the suffering of the once lovely Lady Isabel and almost wish the smug Barbara would vanish from the scene and Archibald Carlyle and Isabel become one once again. Also feel angry at Mr. Carlyle for not understanding the jealous feelings of his wife for had he been sensitive enough to see and understand her insecurities, it would have spared the gentle Isabel much misery. However I would not say that Isabel is ” slightly idiotic’ , only that she was quite innocent of the ways of the world, ever helpful and careful of the feelings of others and quite an inniocent child bride.

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