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, which has also been dramatised and filmed several times.


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, 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 took up writing novels.[2]

In 1860, Mary met John Maxwell (1824–1895), a publisher of periodicals, and moved in with him in 1861.[3] However, Maxwell was already married with five children, his wife being confined in an mental 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.

Her eldest daughter, Fanny Margaret Maxwell (1863–1955), married the naturalist Edmund Selous on 13 January 1886. In the 1920s they lived in Wyke Castle, where Fanny founded a local branch of the Woman's Institute in 1923, of which she became the first president.[4]

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

Mary Elizabeth Braddon died on 4 February 1915 in Richmond (then in Surrey) and is interred in Richmond Cemetery.[5] Her home had been Lichfield House in the centre of the town, which 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 nearby streets are named after characters in her novels – her husband was a property developer in the area.[6]


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] It has remained in print since its publication and 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 Gerard or The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1891), and the ghost stories "The Cold Embrace", "Eveline's Visitant" and "At Chrighton Abbey".[7][8] 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).[9] Braddon also wrote historical fiction. In High Places depicts the youth of Charles I.[10] London Pride focuses on Charles II.[10] Mohawks is set during the reign of Queen Anne.[10] Ishmael is set at the time of Napoleon III's rise to power.[10]

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.[11]

Partial list of fiction[edit]

  • The Trail of the Serpent (first published as Three Times Dead, 1860)
  • The Octoroon (1861)
  • The Black Band (1861)
  • Lady Audley's Secret (1862). French: Le Secret de Lady Audley (1863)
  • Ralph the Bailiff and Other Tales (1862)
  • John Marchmont's Legacy (1862–1863)
  • The Captain of the Vulture (1863)
  • Aurora Floyd (1863)
  • Eleanor's Victory (1863)
  • Henry Dunbar: the story of an outcast (1864)
  • The Doctor's Wife (1864)
  • Only a Clod (1865)
  • Sir Jasper's Tenant (1865)
  • The Lady's Mile (1866). French: L'Allée des Dames (1868)
  • Birds of Prey (1867). French: Oiseaux de proie (1874)
  • Circe (1867)
  • Rupert Godwin (1867)
  • Run to Earth (1868). French: La Chanteuse des rues (1873)
  • Dead-Sea Fruit (1868). French: Un Fruit de la Mer Morte (1874)
  • Charlotte's Inheritance (1868). French: L'Héritage de Charlotte (1874)
  • Fenton's Quest (1871)
  • To the Bitter End (1872)
  • Robert Ainsleigh (1872)
  • Lucius Davoren; or, Publicans and Sinners (1873). French: Lucius Davoren (1878)
  • Milly Darrell, and other tales (1873)
  • Griselda (1873, drama)
  • Lost For Love (1874)
  • Taken at the Flood (1874)
  • A Strange World (1875)
  • Hostages to Fortune (1875)
  • Joshua Haggard's Daughter (1876).[12] French: Joshua Haggard (1879)
  • Weavers and Weft, or, In Love's Nest (1876)
  • Dead Men's Shoes (1876)
  • An Open Verdict (1878)
  • The Cloven Foot (1879)
  • Vixen (1879)
  • Just as I am (1880)
  • Asphodel (1881)
  • Mount Royal (1882)
  • Phantom Fortune (1883)
  • The Golden Calf (1883)
  • Ishmael. A novel (1884)
  • Flower and Weed and other tales (1884)
  • Wyllard's Weird (1885)
  • Mohawks (1886)
  • One Thing Needful (1886)
  • The Good Hermione: A Story for the Jubilee Year (1886, as Aunt Belinda)
  • Cut by the County (1887)
  • The Fatal Three (1888)
  • The Day Will Come (1889)
  • One Life, One Love (1890)
  • The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1891)
  • The Venetians (1892)
  • All Along the River (1893)
  • The Christmas Hirelings (1894)
  • Thou Art The Man (1894)
  • Sons of Fire (1895)
  • London Pride; or, When the World was Younger (1896)
  • Rough Justice (1898)
  • In High Places (1898)
  • His Darling Sin (1899)
  • The Infidel (1900)
  • A Lost Eden (1904)
  • The Rose of Life (1905)
  • The White House (1906)
  • Dead Love Has Chains (1907)
  • During Her Majesty's Pleasure (1908)
  • Our Adversary (1909)
  • Beyond These Voices (1910)

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. ^ "Fanny Margaret Maxwell". Archived from the original on 12 May 2008. Retrieved 11 January 2013.
  5. ^ Meller, Hugh; Parsons, Brian (2011). London Cemeteries: An Illustrated Guide and Gazetteer (fifth ed.). Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press. pp. 290–294. ISBN 9780752461830.
  6. ^ Richmond Local History Society (3rd ed., 2019). The Streets of Richmond and Kew. ISBN 978-1912-314010
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ E. F. Bleiler (1983), The Guide to Supernatural Fiction. Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP. ISBN 0873382889 pp. 77–78.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Feminist & Women's Studies Association (UK & Ireland). Retrieved 7 August 2014.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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 (editor) New Perspectives on Mary Elizabeth Braddon (Amsterdam, New York: Rodopi, 2012)
  • Marlene Tromp, Pamela K. Gilbert, and Aeron Haynie (editors) 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)

External links[edit]