Mary Elizabeth Braddon

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Mary Elizabeth Braddon by William Powell Frith, 1865

Mary Elizabeth Braddon (4 October 1835 – 4 February 1915) was an English popular novelist of the Victorian era.[1] She is best known for her 1862 sensation novel Lady Audley's Secret.


Born in London, Mary Elizabeth Braddon was privately educated. Her mother Fanny separated from her father Henry in 1840, when Mary was five. When Mary was ten years old, her brother Edward Braddon left for India and later Australia, where he became Premier of Tasmania. Mary worked as an actress for three years in order to support herself and her mother.

In 1860, Mary met John Maxwell (1824–1895), a publisher of periodicals. She started living with him in 1861.[2] However, Maxwell was already married with five children, and his wife was living in an asylum in Ireland. Mary acted as stepmother to his children until 1874, when Maxwell's wife died and they were able to get married. She had six children by him, including the novelist William Babington Maxwell.

Braddon was an extremely prolific writer, producing more than 80 novels with very inventive plots. The most famous one is Lady Audley's Secret (1862), which won her recognition as well as fortune. The novel was a bestseller,[2] has been in print ever since its publication, and has been dramatised and filmed several times. R. D. Blackmore's anonymous sensation novel Clara Vaughan (1864) was wrongly attributed to her by some critics.

Braddon wrote several works of supernatural fiction, including the pact with the devil story Gerald, or the World, the Flesh and the Devil (1891), and the ghost stories "The Cold Embrace", "Eveline's Visitant" and "At Chrighton Abbey".[3][4] From the 1930s onward, these stories were often anthologised in collections such as Montague Summers' The Supernatural Omnibus (1931) and Fifty Years of Ghost Stores (1935).[5]

Braddon also founded Belgravia magazine (1866), which presented readers with serialised sensation novels, poems, travel narratives, and biographies, as well as essays on fashion, history and science. The magazine was accompanied by lavish illustrations and offered readers a source of literature at an affordable cost. She also edited Temple Bar magazine. Braddon's legacy is tied to the sensation fiction of the 1860s.

She died on 4 February 1915 in Richmond, which was then in Surrey and is now in London, and is interred in Richmond Cemetery. Her home had been Lichfield House in the centre of town; it was replaced by a block of flats in 1936, Lichfield Court, now listed. She has a plaque in Richmond parish church which calls her simply 'Miss Braddon'. A number of streets in the area are named after characters in her novels; her husband was a property developer in the area.

There is a critical essay on Braddon's work in Michael Sadleir's book Things Past (1944).[2]

In 2014 the Mary Elizabeth Braddon Association was founded to pay tribute to Braddon's life and work.[6]

Partial bibliography[edit]



  • Ralph the Bailiff and Other Tales (1862)


Dramatisations of her works[edit]

Several of Braddon's works have been dramatised, notably:



  1. ^ "Braddon, Mary Elizabeth (Maxwell)". Who's Who, 59: pp. 201–202. 1907. 
  2. ^ a b c Victor E. Neuburg, The Popular Press Companion to Popular Literature, Popular Press, 1983. ISBN 0879722339, (p. 36-7)
  3. ^ Mike Ashley "BRADDON, M(ary) E(lizabeth)" In St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, & Gothic Writers, Ed. David Pringle. Detroit: St. James Press/Gale, 1998. ISBN 1558622063 (p. 80-83).
  4. ^ Bleiler, E. F. (1983). The Guide to Supernatural Fiction. Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP. ISBN 0873382889 (p. 77-78)
  5. ^ Mike Ashley and William Contento, The Supernatural Index: A Listing of Fantasy, Supernatural, Occult, Weird, and Horror Anthologies. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995. ISBN 0313240302 (p.134).
  6. ^ Feminist & Women's Studies Association (UK & Ireland). Retrieved 7 August 2014.
  7. ^ a b G. C. Boase, Megan A. Stephan, "Hazlewood, Colin Henry (1823–1875)", rev. Megan A. Stephan, (quoting The Britannia diaries, 1863–1875: selections from the diaries of Frederick C. Wilton, ed. J. Davis (1992)) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (accessed 3 December 2011)


External links[edit]