Small image of a man handing a book to a women across a counter.

At the Circulating Library

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: Bessy Rane

Author and Title: Ellen Wood. Bessy Rane: A Novel

First Edition: London: Bentley, 1870. 3 volumes, post 8vo, 31s 6d.

Serialization: Argosy, illustrated by James Abbott Pasquier, January 1870 to December 1870 (monthly)

Summary: The novel concerns the lives of two interconnected families in the town of Dallory. John North and Thomas Gass owned a factory and both made fortunes. The works are now run by North's son Richard and Gass's widow. North has three children by his first wife—the industrious Richard, the sickly Edmund, and the prudent Bessy—and two children by his vain and spendthrift second wife. The imperious Mrs. North was the widow of Major Bohun and she has one son Captain Arthur Bohun from her first marriage. Gass's sister married Captain Rane and went to India. She (now as the widowed Mrs. Cumberland), her son Dr. Oliver Rane, and her ward Ellen Adair have returned to the town. Inexplicably, Mrs. North has a prejudice against Dr. Rane, so she favors the surgeon Alexander and Rane's medical practice suffers. At their births, Bessy North and Oliver Rane were entered into a tontine of newborns, ensuring a modest fortune for the last surviving child. The novel begins with the death of Edmund North: after receiving an anonymous note exposing a co-signed note with Alexander, he lapses into a brain fever and dies. When Rane accidently drops his pocketbook at Mrs. Gass's house, she finds a draft of the note among Rane's papers. (Later Rane reveals he wrote the note to damage Alexander's reputation in the town.) Shortly after the funeral, Rane marries Bessy with North's blessing and Mrs. North's wrath. They learn shortly after that they are the last surviving members of the tontine—however, the money must wait for the death of one of them. Meantime, Arthur falls in love with Ellen—in order to avoid his mother's interference, they plan to secretly wed in London. She learns of the proposed wedding at the last moment and calls Arthur away. She explains her opposition by telling him that Ellen's father William Adair is a convict who ruined his father and precipitated his suicide. Meantime, the factory workers of the town join a trade union and strike for higher wages and shorter days. The strike drags on for months as Richard reasons with the men to give up their demands. Eventually, starvation and sickness affect the town and Richard eventually hires new workers from abroad. (The depiction of the workers is rather unsympathetic—as many of the characters point out, the men get what they deserve due to their "foolishness.") During the fever outbreak, Bessy herself dies of fever: her death appears mysterious due to the rapidity of the burial and the appearance of her ghost to a servant. After Mrs. North instigates an inquest (as a means of further tormenting the doctor), Rane confesses that he and Bessy conspired to fake her death as means of getting the tontine money and emigrating to America, which they do soon after. Due to her jilting, Ellen fades away. The return of her father from Australia reveals the truth: William Adair and Major Bohun were best friends in India but Mrs. North was a gambler who incurred huge debts. She forged promissory notes in her husband's and Adair's names. The scandal is kept quiet, but Major Bohun destroys himself in shame. A chastened Arthur renews his love with Ellen but too late. Richard loses money due to the strike but avoids bankruptcy. He ends by marrying a rich heiress. (TJB)

Title Tags:

References: BL; EC


  • Search for title at The Online Books Page (please note: the search will take you out of At the Circulating Library)