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Mary Elizabeth Braddon

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Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Portrait of Braddon, circa 1875
Portrait of Braddon, circa 1875
Born(1835-10-04)4 October 1835
London, England
Died4 February 1915(1915-02-04) (aged 79)
London, England
Genresensation novels
Years active1860—1910
Notable worksLady Audley's Secret (1862)
Aurora Floyd (1863)
SpouseJohn Maxwell

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, which has also been dramatised and filmed several times.



Born in Soho, London, Mary Elizabeth Braddon was privately educated. Her mother Fanny separated from her father Henry because of his infidelities 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, when she was befriended by Clara and Adelaide Biddle. They were only playing minor roles, but Braddon was able to support herself and her mother. Adelaide noted that Braddon's interest in acting waned as she began writing novels.[2]

Mary met John Maxwell (1824–1895), a publisher of periodicals, in April 1861 and moved in with him in 1861.[3] However, Maxwell was already married to Mary Ann Crowley, with whom he had five children. While Maxwell and Braddon were living as husband and wife, Crowley was living with her family. In 1864, Maxwell tried to legitimize their relationship by telling the newspapers that they were legally married; "however, Richard Brinsley Knowles wrote to these papers, informing them that his sister-in-law and true wife of Maxwell was still living, thereby exposing Braddon's 'wife' status as a façade".[4] Mary acted as stepmother to his children until 1874, when Maxwell's wife died and they were able to get married at St. Bride's Church in Fleet Street. Braddon had six children by him: Gerald, Fanny, Francis, William, Winifred Rosalie, and Edward Herry Harrington.

Tomb of Mary Elizabeth Maxwell in Richmond Cemetery

Her eldest daughter, Fanny Margaret Maxwell (1863–1955), married the naturalist Edmund Selous on 13 January 1886. In the 1920s, they were living in Wyke Castle, where Fanny founded a local branch of the Woman's Institute in 1923, of which she became the first president.[5]

Their second eldest son was the novelist William Babington Maxwell (1866–1939).

Braddon died on 4 February 1915 in Richmond (then in Surrey) and is interred in Richmond Cemetery.[6] Her home had been Lichfield House in the centre of the town, which was replaced by a block of flats in 1936, Lichfield Court. There is a plaque commemorating Braddon in Richmond parish church, which calls her simply "Miss Braddon". A number of nearby streets are named after characters in her novels – her husband was a property developer in the area.[7]




Portrait of Mary Elizabeth Braddon by William Powell Frith, 1865

Braddon was a prolific writer, producing more than 80 novels with inventive plots. The most famous is Lady Audley's Secret (1862), which won her recognition and a fortune as a bestseller.[3] Braddon began publishing the first chapters of her novel serially in July, 1861, in Robin Goodfellow, a literary magazine owned by Maxwell, and then later Sixpenny Magazine. Lady Audley's Secret was then republished as a novel and sold through nine editions in its first year of publication. It has remained in print since its publication and been dramatised and filmed several times, with the first stage adaptation opening in London by the winter of 1863.[8]

In addition to Lady Audley's Secret, Braddon's other best-known novel, Aurora Floyd, was published in 1863. Since it also featured a woman trapped in a bigamous relationship, Aurora Floyd and Lady Audley's Secret have been referred to as Braddon's "bigamy novels." Like Lady Audley, Aurora Floyd was first serialized in Temple Bar, a magazine, before appearing in novelized form.[8]

R. D. Blackmore's anonymous sensation novel Clara Vaughan (1864) was wrongly attributed to Braddon by some critics.

Braddon wrote several works of supernatural fiction, including the pact with the devil story Gerard or The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1891), and the ghost stories "The Cold Embrace", "Eveline's Visitant" and "At Chrighton Abbey".[9][10] From the 1930s onwards, these stories were often anthologised in collections such as Montague Summers's The Supernatural Omnibus (1931) and Fifty Years of Ghost Stories (1935).[11] Braddon also wrote historical fiction. In High Places depicts the youth of Charles I.[12] London Pride focuses on Charles II.[12] Mohawks is set during the reign of Queen Anne.[12] Ishmael is set at the time of Napoleon III's rise to power.[12]


Braddon founded Belgravia magazine (1866), which presented readers with serialised sensation novels, poems, travel narratives and biographies, along with essays on fashion, history and science. It was accompanied by lavish illustrations and offered a source of literature at an affordable cost. She also edited Temple Bar magazine.


There is a critical essay on Braddon's work in Michael Sadleir's book Things Past (1944).[3] In 2014 the Mary Elizabeth Braddon Association was founded to pay tribute to Braddon's life and work.[13]

Partial list of fiction


Some bibliographical material in this incomplete list comes from Jarndyce booksellers' catalogue Women's Writers 1795–1927. Part I: A–F (Summer 2017).



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


  1. ^ "Braddon, Mary Elizabeth (Maxwell)". Who's Who. Vol. 59. 1907. pp. 201–202.
  2. ^ Kay Boardman; Shirley Jones (2004). Popular Victorian Women Writers. Manchester University Press. pp. 189–190. ISBN 978-0-7190-6450-0.
  3. ^ a b c Victor E. Neuburg, The Popular Press Companion to Popular Literature, Popular Press, 1983. ISBN 0879722339, pp. 36–37.
  4. ^ "Biography". Mary Elizabeth Braddon. 2 July 2014. Retrieved 5 August 2022.
  5. ^ "Fanny Margaret Maxwell". Sensationpress.com. Archived from the original on 12 May 2008. Retrieved 11 January 2013.
  6. ^ Meller, Hugh; Parsons, Brian (2011). London Cemeteries: An Illustrated Guide and Gazetteer (fifth ed.). Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press. pp. 290–294. ISBN 9780752461830.
  7. ^ The Streets of Richmond and Kew, Richmond Local History Society, fourth edition, 2022. ISBN 978 1912 314034
  8. ^ a b Mullin, Katherine (2004). "Braddon [married name Maxwell], Mary Elizabeth (1835–1915), novelist". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/34962. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8. Retrieved 25 May 2023. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  9. ^ 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 pp. 80–83.
  10. ^ E. F. Bleiler (1983), The Guide to Supernatural Fiction. Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP. ISBN 0873382889 pp. 77–78.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ a b c d Jonathan Nield (1925), A Guide to the Best Historical Novels and Tales. G. P. Putnam's Sons, pp. 60, 68, 82 and 108.
  13. ^ Feminist & Women's Studies Association (UK & Ireland). Retrieved 7 August 2014.
  14. ^ Buckingham, James Silk; Sterling, John; Maurice, Frederick Denison; Stebbing, Henry; Dilke, Charles Wentworth; Hervey, Thomas Kibble; Dixon, William Hepworth; MacColl, Norman; Murry, John Middleton; Rendall, Vernon Horace (4 November 1876). "Review of Joshua Haggard's Daughter". The Athenæum (2558): 591.
  15. ^ 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).


  • Pamela K Gilbert Mary Elizabeth Braddon (Oxford University Press, 2011) (bibliography)
  • Jessica Cox, ed. New Perspectives on Mary Elizabeth Braddon (Amsterdam, New York: Rodopi, 2012)
  • Marlene Tromp, Pamela K. Gilbert and Aeron Haynie, eds Beyond Sensation: Mary Elizabeth Braddon in Context (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000)
  • Saverio Tomaiuolo In Lady Audley's Shadow: Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Victorian Literary Genres (Edinburgh University Press, 2010)