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At the Circulating Library

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: The Golden Calf

Author and Title: Mary Elizabeth Braddon. The Golden Calf: A Novel

First Edition: London: John Maxwell, 1883. 3 volumes.

Serialization: Pictorial World, 2 September 1882 to 14 April 1883 (weekly)

Summary: The novel begins at a private school in London. Ida Palliser, daughter of a retired army officer, is the star pupil. She is friends with Bessie Wendover, a good-hearted girl from wealthy country family, and Urania Rylance, the haughty daughter of a physician. Ida comes from an old and respected family, but her branch is poor. Ida is training at the school to become a governess. Despite being the best pupil, Ida is constantly teased for being poor, especially by Urania. The sting of poverty and the condescension of her peers leads her to proclaim that she intends to marry for money, not love. Ida holidays with Bessie at her family’s country estate. Bessie has two cousins, both of whom are named Brian. Brian Wendover is the head of the family; he is rich and lives in the family Abbey. Brian Walford is an idle young man training to be a barrister; he is poor, shallow, and worldly. Bessie distinguishes them as “rich Brian” and “poor Brian.” Ida falls in love with the Abbey, admiring its architecture, history, and prestige. Poor Brian comes to visit. As a practical joke, Bessie and Urania introduce him to Ida as rich Brian. Poor Brian becomes smitten with Ida and follows her back to London. Ida and poor Brian are seen having a conversation, and the news makes it back to the headmistress of the school, who dislikes Ida. The headmistress uses the information to justify firing her and to refuse to provide her letters of recommendation for future employment. Ida is disgraced and faces the looming prospect of poverty. Taking advantage of her situation, poor Brian insists that they marry immediately. Ida, who still believes he is rich Brian, reluctantly agrees. They are married the following day. After the ceremony poor Brian reveals his true identity. They argue, and Ida renounces him and goes to her father’s house in France. Bessie’s aunt offers Ida a service job in her household. Ida lives for a year with the Wendovers. During this time, rich Brian returns from his international travels. He and Ida fall in love. Rich Brian proposes to Ida, who refuses because she is already married. That same day poor Brian returns to claim Ida as his wife in front of his family. Ida, embarrassed because it appears like she married poor Brian for money, submits to him as a wife, though she swears she will never love him. Ida soon learns that her wealthy cousin has died. Her family’s land, title, and fortune are transferred to her father. Ida and poor Brian, who is lazy and relishes the opportunity of living off of his wealthy father-in-law, move in with her family on their estate. Four years pass, and Ida’s father dies, leaving the family inheritance to Ida’s younger step-brother, Vernon. Poor Brian spends most of the four years in London, living off of Ida’s father’s wealth and drinking heavily. He begins to suffer—both physically and mentally—the effects of heavy alcohol abuse and returns to the country estate to recover. Vernon befriends a mysterious vagabond named Cheap Jack. Poor Brian begins to have violent delusions and mood swings. The doctors warn that he must give up drinking, but he refuses. Ida and the household keep watch over him and lock up all of the alcohol, but poor Brian’s symptoms continue to worsen. He blames Ida for driving him to drink by not loving him, even though she has been a dutiful wife. A secret stash of alcohol is found hidden in poor Brian’s bathroom, explaining his continued decline. One night, in the midst of violent delusions, poor Brian sets the house on fire and then jumps out of his window to his death. Ida is rescued unexpectedly from the burning building by Cheap Jack. A year passes and Ida reconnects with rich Brian, who reveals that he had disguised himself as Cheap Jack to watch over her and renews his marriage proposal. (SCT)

Title Tags:

References: BL; Wolff


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