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A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: East Lynne

Author and Title: Ellen Wood. East Lynne

First Edition: London: Bentley, 1861. 3 volumes, post 8vo., 31s. 6d.

Serialization: New Monthly Magazine, January 1860 to September 1861 (monthly)

Summary: The novel begins with the death, from gout, of William Vane, Earl of Mount Severn. His dissipated life has led to the ruin of both his health and his fortune. Shortly before his death, he sells one of his estates, East Lynne, to the wealthy country lawyer Archibald Carlyle and hides the proceeds from his creditors. Lord Mount Severn's death leaves his only daughter, Lady Isabel Vane, penniless and reliant on his nephew (the new earl) for support. (The arrival of the creditors to the dead man's house, including two who "arrest the body," is affecting.) Carlyle assists the new earl in handling the creditors and Carlyle falls in love with the pathetic Isabel. Meantime, back in West Lynne, Barbara Hare meets with her fugitive brother Richard, who has fled the town to avoid conviction on the murder of Hallijohn years earlier. Barbara convinces Carlyle, who she loves unrequitedly, to attempt to clear her brother's name. On a visit to Lord Mount Severn's house, Carlyle meets a downtrodden Isabel, made miserable by Lady Mount Severn who treat the poor orphan contemptuously. In a moment, Carlyle proposes to Isabel and brings her back to her home East Lynne. Carlyle's domineering older spinster step-sister Cordelia ("Miss Corny") comes to live at the estate where she usurps domestic control of the household from the ineffectual Isabel. Years pass. Now the mother of three children, Isabel suffers from ennui. After the last birth, she is sent to France alone to recuperate her health. There, she meets a former lover and distant cousin, Francis Levison, an profligate dandy who lives in hope of his rich uncle's fortune. Carlyle agrees to help repair Levison's credit and invites him back to East Lynne. There, Levison seduces Isabel by convincing her that Carlyle has fallen in love with Barbara—Carlyle has been secretly meeting with Barbara to report on his progress with her brother's case and Isabel misinterprets the meetings as romantic interludes. Due to the supposed alienation of her husband's affections and the poor treatment by Cordelia, Isabel runs off with Levison. Carlyle divorces his wife, Levison inherits his uncle's estate, and Isabel gives birth to an illegitimate child after Levison refuses to marry her. Abandoned, Isabel suffers injuries and loses her child in a railway accident. Reported dead, Isabel uses the opportunity to change her identity and become a governess. Thinking his divorced wife is dead, Carlyle marries Barbara. The solution to the murder of Hallijohn converges on the identity of a Captain Thorn, a mysterious dandy who frequently visited Hallijohn's daughter Afy. Isabel, now calling herself Madame Vine, returns to East Lynne as the governess to her own children depending on tinted glasses and the changes to her appearance from her accident to hide her identity. Her humiliations and humbling experiences in her own household serve as her penance. Despite her eerie likeness to Carlyle's first wife, no one sees through Isabel's disguise. Meanwhile, the town of West Lynne asks Carlyle to stand for parliament and the opposition convinces Levison to oppose him. He loses the election handily, but several townspeople identify Levison as Captain Thorn and he is arrested. After a trial, Levison is found guilty of the murder of Hallijohn and sentenced to death (later commuted to life in prison). Isabel's suffering reaches its acme when she attends her son's deathbed as his governess. On her own deathbed, she reveals her identity to Carlyle and she dies a chastened woman. (TJB)

Title Tags:

References: BL; EC; Sutherland


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