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A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: Helen Cameron

Author and Title: Stallybrass. Helen Cameron: From Grub to Butterfly

First Edition: London: Chapman and Hall, 1872. 3 volumes, post 8vo, 31s 6d.

Summary: Helen Cameron is the motherless daughter of a leading English merchant living in St. Petersburg, Russia, in the 1820s. A beauty, her family considers her promised to a childhood friend and fellow Englishman Frederick Randal. While attending a royal procession, Helen meets Captain Maleenovsky, a dashing young Russian officer, whom she quickly grows to admire. Her first ball, given by Anna Princess Donskaya, leads to the unwelcome advances of Prince Boriatinsky, an aged dandy—she rejects his marriage proposal, favoring the honorable Maleenovsky instead. Meantime, Maleenovsky's estate becomes embroiled in a lawsuit which he loses as a result of legal corruption. Now a comparative pauper, he feels he can no longer court Helen and they part. A subplot involves intrigues at the court of Emperor Alexander I between his dutiful wife and the scheming Anna. The 1824 flood of the Neva River is graphically depicted, during which Maleenovsky rescues Helen from her collapsing house. In order to recover from her ordeal, Helen's father sends his daughter to England for her health. On board the ship, she is mercilessly harassed by Boriatinsky until rescued by Maleenovsky (who had concealed himself on board). The ship wrecks and once again Maleenovsky saves Helen's life. In England, Helen meets Mrs. Beresford (really Agnes Randel, Frederick's aunt) who takes her home and offers her protection. Returning to Russia, Helen hears that Maleenovsky died in a duel with Boriatinsky. However, he was seriously wounded, recovered, and returned to Russia where he is arrested as a conspirator in the Decembrist Revolt of 1825 (instigated by the death of Alexander I). He is sentenced to death, but Helen works to get the sentence commuted to exile in Siberia. Helen heroically follows Maleenovsky into exile where the two marry. (Even the new Russian emperor is forced to pay homage to her determination.) The novel ends in 1856 with the amnesty of the Decembrists. Helen and Maleenovsky return to St. Petersburg and he regains his estate. (TJB)

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References: Bodleian; BL; EC