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Rhoda Broughton (29 November 1840 – 5 June 1920) was a Welsh novelist and short story writer. Her early novels earned her a reputation for sensationalism which caused her later and stronger work to be neglected by serious critics, though she was described as a queen of the circulating libraries.
Rhoda Broughton was born in Denbigh in North Wales on 29 November 1840. She was the daughter of the Rev. Delves Broughton, youngest son of the Rev. Sir Henry Delves-Broughton, 8th baronet. She developed a taste for literature, especially poetry, as a young girl. She was heavily influenced by William Shakespeare, as the frequent quotations and allusions throughout her works indicate. Presumably after having read The Story of Elizabeth by Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie, she had the idea of trying her own talent and produced her first work within six weeks. Parts of this novel she took with her on a visit to her uncle Sheridan le Fanu, himself a successful author, who was highly pleased with it and assisted her in having it published. Her first two novels appeared in 1867 in his Dublin University Magazine. Le Fanu was also the one who introduced her to publisher Richard Bentley, who refused her first novel on the grounds of it being improper material, but accepted the second. She in turn introduced to her publishers, Mary Cholmondeley in about 1887. Broughton writing style was to influence other writers like Mary Cecil Hay who is thought to have a similar style of dialogue.
Later on after having made her stretch her first effort to fit the popular three-decker form and to adapt it to the assumed taste of his readers, Bentley also published the one at first refused. Their professional relationship was to last until the end of the Bentley publishing house, when it was taken over by Macmillan in the late 1890s. By then she had published 14 novels over a period of 30 years. Ten of these novels were of the three volume form, which she so detested and found hard to comply with. After the commercial failure of Alas!, for which she received her highest ever pay being at the height of her career, she decided to abandon the three-decker and to create one volume novels. This decision resulted in her writing her finest works. However, she never got rid of the reputation of creating fast heroines with easy morals, which was true enough for her early novels, and thus suffered from the idea of her work being merely slight and sensational.
After the take-over she stuck with Macmillan and published another 6 novels there. By then her popularity was in decline. In a review published in The New York Times 12 May 1906 a certain K.Clark complains that her latest novel is so hard to procure and that one wonders why such a fine writer is so little appreciated.
After 1910 she changed to Stanley, Paul & Co, where she had another three novels published. Her last one, A Fool In Her Folly (1920), was only printed posthumously with an introduction by her long-time friend and fellow writer Marie Belloc Lowndes. It is likely that this work, which can be seen as partially autobiographical, was written at an earlier time but suppressed by herself for personal reasons. The story deals with the experiences of a young writer and reflects her own, like in her previous novel A Beginner. The manuscript is in her own handwriting, which is unusual, because some previous had been dictated to an assistant.
Somerset Maugham, in his short story "The Round Dozen" (1924, also known as "The Ardent Bigamist") observes: "I remember Miss Broughton telling me once that when she was young people said her books were fast and when she was old they said they were slow, and it was very hard since she had written exactly the same sort of book for forty years".
Rhoda Broughton never married, and some critics assume that a disappointed attachment was the impulse that made her try her pen instead of some other literary work like that of Mrs. Thackeray Ritchie. Much of her life she spent with her sister Mrs. Eleanor Newcome until the latter's death in Richmond in 1895. She therefore somehow stands in the tradition of great lady novelists like Maria Edgeworth, Jane Austen or Susan Ferrier. But there are other merits that cause her to be placed in such high company. In his article on her Richard C. Tobias calls her "[...] the leading woman novelist in England between the death of George Eliot and the beginning of Virginia Woolf's career." He compares her work with other novelists of the time and concludes that hers reaches a much higher quality. Indeed her works of the 1890s and the early 20th century are fine novels and good fun to read.
The Game and the Candle (1899) is like Jane Austen's Persuasion (1818) rewritten. Only this time the heroine has married for rational reasons and is freed in the beginning for her true love, which reason forbade her to marry years before. Her dying husband's last will forces her to decide between love and fortune. In the renewed encounter with her former lover, she, however, is forced to discover that it was actually a good thing she had not married him. His love turns to be too shallow for her happiness. The novel is one of a mature and wise woman who has seen the world. In A Beginner (1894) Broughton devices a young writer who has her work secretly published and then later torn apart by unknowing people right in front of her face. The novel deals with the moral issues of writing and whether it is appropriate for a young woman to write romantic or even erotic fiction. Scylla or Charybdis? (1895) has a mother hiding her infamous past from her son and obsessing about his love even to the extent of being jealous of other women, a plot slightly anticipating Lawrence's Sons and Lovers (1913). The novel questions social conventions in its revealing how destructive they can be to quiet people who might have once stepped aside from the proper path. In a different way the same criticism is being made in Foes in Law (1900), where the main question is which lifestyle is the one productive of the highest degree of happiness: the one according to convention or that according to one's own private needs. Her next novel, Dear Faustina (1897), deals with a heroine that is drawn to a girl of the New Woman type. This New Woman Faustina cares nothing for social conventions and dedicates her time to fight social injustice. Or so it seems at least at first sight, however, the reader gets the feeling that Faustina is more interested in getting to know and impressing other young women. That can also be interpreted as criticism of the New Woman. The homoerotic touch reappears in Lavinia (1902), but this time it is a young man who is frequently made to appear unmanly and even uttering the wish to have been born rather a woman. That novel also concerns itself with Britain's craze about war heroes. Very subtly it questions dominant notions of masculinity. Always a very important feature in every of her novels is the criticism of woman's role and position in society. Very often Broughton's women are strong characters and with them she manages to subvert traditional images of femininity. This culminates in A Waif's Progress (1905), in which Broughton creates a married couple who turns everything traditional upside down and the wife fulfills the stereotypes of an older, rich husband.
Broughton's collection Tales for Christmas Eve (1873, also known as Twilight Stories) was a collection of five ghost stories. Robert S. Hadji describes her "short ghost fiction as not as terrifying as her uncle's, but it is skilfully wrought". Hadji also describes Broughton's story "Nothing But the Truth" (1868, vt. "The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth") as "one of her cleverest stories".
During her lifetime Broughton was one of the Queens of the Circulating Libraries. Her fame and success was such, that some found it worthwhle to satirise her in works like "Groweth Down Like A Toadstool" or "Gone Wrong" by "Miss Rody Dendron." It is a pity we do not know how she took such things. Perhaps she stood up to them as she did to people like Oscar Wilde or Lewis Carroll, who bore her no love. The latter is said to have declined an invitation because Broughton would be present. The former found a match in her when it came to ironical comments in Oxford society, where she was not liked much, either, due to her ridicule of that set in her novel Belinda (1883). Nevertheless, she also had many friends in literary circles, the most prominent of them being Henry James, with whom she stayed friends until his death in 1916. According to Helen C. Black, James visited Broughton every evening, when they were both in London.
Literature and popular culture
"Black Sheep retreated to the nursery and read Cometh up as a Flower with deep and uncomprehending interest. He had been forbidden to open it on account of its ‘sinfulness’..." From Rudyard Kipling's short story, Baa Baa Black Sheep, published 1888.
- Not Wisely, But Too Well – (1867)
- Cometh Up as a Flower – (1867)
- Red as a Rose is She – (1870)
- Good-bye, Sweetheart! – (1872)
- Nancy – (1873)
- Tales for Christmas Eve – (1873); republished as Twilight Stories (1879)
- Joan – (1876)
- Second Thoughts – (1880)
- Belinda – (1883)
- Doctor Cupid – (1886)
- Alas! – (1890)
- A Widower Indeed (With Elizabeth Bisland) – (1891)
- Mrs. Bligh – (1892)
- A Beginner – (1893)
- Scylla or Charybdis? – (1895)
- Dear Faustina – (1897)
- The Game And The Candle – (1899)
- Foes In Law – (1900)
- Lavinia – (1902)
- A Waif's Progress – (1905)
- Mamma – (1908)
- The Devil and the Deep Sea – (1910)
- Between Two Stools – (1912)
- Concerning a Vow – (1914)
- A Thorn in the Flesh – (1917)
- A Fool in her Folly – (1920)
- The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth. By the author of "Cometh Up as a Flower."
- 1868 Feb, in Temple Bar Vol.22, pp. 340–348
- The Man with the Nose. By Rhoda Broughton, author of "Cometh Up as a Flower."
- 1872 Oct, in Temple Bar Vol.36, pp. 328-
- Behold, it was a Dream! Unsigned.
- 1872 Nov, in Temple Bar Vol.36, pp. 506-
- Poor Pretty Bobby. By Rhoda Broughton.
- 1872 Dec, in Temple Bar Vol.37, pp. 61–78
- Under the Cloak. By Rhoda Broughton.
- 1873 Jan, in Temple Bar Vol.37, pp. 205–212
- TALES FOR CHRISTMAS EVE. 1873 Bentley; TWILIGHT STORIES. 1879 Bentley
- The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth. (1868)
- The Man with the Nose. (1872)
- Behold, it was a Dream! (1872)
- Poor Pretty Bobby. (1872)
- Under the Cloak. (1873)
- What it Meant. By Rhoda Broughton.
- 1881 Sep, in Temple Bar Vol.63, pp. 82-
- Betty's Visions. By Rhoda Broughton, author of "Nancy," "Red as a Rose is She," &c.
- 1883 Dec 15, 22, 29, in The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, p. 6
- Mrs. Smith of Longmains. By Rhoda Broughton, author of "Cometh Up as a Flower," "Good-Bye Sweetheart," "Not Wisely, But Too Well," "Nancy," "Red as a Rose is She," &c., &c.
- 1885 Oct 31, Nov 7, in Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, Supplement pp. 2–3, p. 3
- BETTY'S VISIONS AND MRS. SMITH OF LONGMAINS. 1886 Routledge Paperback; 1889 Blackett
- Betty's Visions. (1883)
- Mrs. Smith of Longmains. (1885)
- Was She Mad? By Rhoda Broughton.
- 1888 Dec 26, in The Belfast News-Letter, p. 3
- Across the Threshold. By Rhoda Broughton, author of "Red as a Rose is She," "Nancy," &c.
- 1892 Jun 11, in The Penny Illustrated Paper Vol.62, pp. 372–373
- His Serene Highness. Signed Rhoda Broughton.
- 1893 May, in The Pall Mall Magazine Vol.1, pp. 8–19
- Rent Day. By Rhoda Broughton, author of "Good-Bye Sweetheart," etc.
- 1893 Jun, in Temple Bar Vol.98, pp. 228-
- A Stone's Throw.
- 1897 May, in The Lady's Realm Vol.2, pp. 11–17
- Robert Hadji, "Rhoda Broughton" in Jack Sullivan (ed) (1986) The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural Viking Press, 1986, ISBN 0-670-80902-0 (p.285). (pp. 58)
- McCormack, W. J. (1997). Sheridan Le Fanu. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-1489-0.
- ODNB entry on Mary Cholmondeley by Kate Flint: Retrieved 4 May 2012.
- Gilbert, edited by Pamela K. (2011). A companion to sensation fiction (1. publ. ed.). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. p. contents. ISBN 1444342215.
- B. F. Fischer IV, "Twilight Stories". In Frank N. Magill, ed. Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature, Vol 4. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, Inc., 1983. (pp. 1989-1991). ISBN 0-89356-450-8
- Literary Heritage – West Midlands – profile and e-texts of five of her novels
- Works by Rhoda Broughton at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Rhoda Broughton at Internet Archive
- Works at the Victorian Women Writers Project
- Victorian Secrets: Rhoda Broughton
- Archival material relating to Rhoda Broughton listed at the UK National Archives
- Rhoda Broughton at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Cooper, Thompson (1884). "Broughton, Rhoda". Men of the Time (eleventh ed.). London: George Routledge & Sons.
- Beach, Chandler B., ed. (1914). "Broughton, Rhoda". The New Student's Reference Work. Chicago: F. E. Compton and Co.