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At the Circulating Library

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: Phantom Fortune

Author and Title: Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Phantom Fortune: A Novel

First Edition: London: John Maxwell, 1883. 3 volumes, post 8vo, 31s 6d.


Summary: The novel begins amidst swirling rumors of disreputable conduct by Lord Maulevrier, governor of Madras. Maulevrier is dismissed from his position and returns to England to face trial. His wife, Lady Maulevrier, wants to go to their estate, Fellside, in Westmoreland. Lord Maulevrier becomes ill on the journey. During a storm, they take refuge at a local inn, where the innkeeper’s wife’s brother lies dying in an upstairs apartment. In an sudden and unexpected decline in health, Lord Maulevrier is pronounced dead at the inn. Forty years pass. Lady Maulevrier has remained at Fellside, and now raises her grandson, the current Lord Maulevrier, and two granddaughters, Lesbia and Mary. Lesbia is beautiful, adored by her grandmother, and raised to be marry wealth and power. These ambitions are instilled in her from her youth by her grandmother. Lady Maulevrier secretly desire Lesbia to marry Lord Hartfield, the son of her former lover (whom she past over to marry for money and power rather than love). Mary is generally ignored and grows up loving the outdoors and pursuing more “masculine” hobbies, such as hiking, riding, and playing with dogs. Lord Maulevrier returns from his youthful adventures with a mysterious friend, John Hammond. Hammond is handsome and accomplished, but he does not appear to have money or aristocratic heritage. Hammond and Lesbia fall in love and Hammond proposes. Lesbia declines because she has been raised to marry into a wealthy and aristocratic family. Hammond leaves Fellside after his rejection, and Lesbia is sent away to spend time with Lady Kirkbank, an old friend of Lady Maulevrier’s. Lady Maulevrier suffers a stroke after being approached by a disgraced Indian prince claiming that her husband stole his family’s fortune and threatening legal action. Now physically incapacitated, she allows Lady Kirkbank to be Lesbia’s chaperone as Lesbia enters London society for the first time. Lady Kirkbank, though, runs with a fast and shallow crowd. Lesbia becomes the star of London life but quickly runs up very large debts, at the encouragement of Lady Kirkbank. Mr. Smithson—a middle-aged, self-made millionaire—becomes Lesbia’s primary suitor. She declines his first proposal of marriage because she does not love him and because he is not an aristocrat. Smithson and Lady Kirkbank conspire to entrap Lesbia in marriage by making her feel the weight of her debts and lack of ready money. Meanwhile, Maulevrier and Hammond return to Fellside, and Hammond and Mary fall in love. Just before their wedding, Hammond reveals that he is actually Lord Hartfield, come to Fellside in disguise to win a wife by his own merits and not by his wealth or social position. Lesbia is horrified by this revelation and feels pressured to outdo her sister by marrying the wealthy Smithson. During their engagement period, however, Don Gomez de Montesma appears, an old acquaintance of Smithson’s from his time in Cuba. Montesma decides to steal Lesbia from Smithson. Smithson cannot oppose him because Montesma knows Smithson’s dirty secret about how he made his money through the illegal slave trade. Montesma convinces Lesbia to run away with him. Maulevrier and Hartfield get wind of the potential danger to Lesbia, both to her reputation and person, as Montesma is known to be a disreputable, dangerous, and already married man. They catch the couple fleeing on Smithson’s stolen yacht and convince Lesbia to return. While all this is happening, Mary, who has remained at Fellside, discovers a mysterious old man living in the old part of the house. He suffers from dementia but reveals that he has a large fortune in Indian jewels hidden in his room. It comes to light that he is the disgraced Lord Maulevrier and has been hiding at Fellside for forty years to escape prosecution and maintain the family’s reputation. Lady Maulevrier dies, quickly followed by her husband. Hartfield and Mary move to London, and Maulevrier gets married. Lesbia is left to live off of her brother and serve as an example to his new bride of what not to do in society. (SCT)

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References: Bodleian; EC; Wolff