Ichabod is itchy

January 28, 2007

The doctor’s wife

Filed under: literature — by ichabodisitchy @ 2:15 pm

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, a Victorian novelist, wrote upwards of eighty novels in her time– and made a name for herself in ‘sensational’ fiction. Her most famous work is arguably Lady Audley’s Secret– a fantastic and shocking tale of crime, bigamy and madness.

In the doctor’s wif, Braddon tries to move away from sensation– she was known to have said that it was her attempt at a literary novel. It still has some elements of a sensation novel– secrets and adultery– but these are side-stories. The thrust of the novel is focused on how a foolish little girl full of dreams is forced into womanhood by the circumstances around her.

Braddon has borrowed a lot of the plot from Madame Bovary (although the wife doesn’t actually commit adultery in the strictest sense of the word) and tells the tale of a young girl, Isabel Gilbert, who lives with her nose permanently stuck in a romantic novel and her head in the clouds.  When she first comes across a little romance, she is carried away and ends up marrying a country doctor who, although charmed by her pretty face and peculiar ways, will never understand her.

Although quite enjoyable, the doctor’s wife doesn’t really measure up to Lady Audley’s secret in my opinion. Braddon seems to try and make the book ‘literary’ by inserting endless references to novels, plays, poems and paintings, which just didn’t quite work for me.

The most interesting character I found was a sensation novelist, Sigismund Smyth– one of Isabel’s old friends. Through Smyth, Braddon shows some of the pressures she must have been under as a sensation novelist. Smyth is often depicted scribbling away at his desk, while the publisher’s messanger stands impatiently at the door, waiting to rush the next chapter off to the printers. And when he comments on what the ‘penny public’ want, you can almost hear Braddon sigh with exasperation– “it wants bodies and plenty of them– several murders and/or suicides are essential for the penny dreadful, although one murder usually suffices for a three-decker”.

The doctor’s wife is worth a read just for Sigismund 🙂



  1. Nice blog!

    Comment by Livette — April 17, 2007 @ 6:25 am |Reply

  2. Sian had a baby! Sian had a baby! Maxine just told us. Congratulations!

    Comment by Susan — February 15, 2008 @ 4:59 am |Reply

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