Wow. I raced through this book based on what I consider sheer “plot-based adrenaline” alone. Emma Donoghue always manages to have what I call ‘spicy’ plots (Slammerkin) and her latest, The Sealed Letter, is no exception.
The plot recreates 19th century London (1864) and a true-life divorce tale of the Victorian era. Emily “Fido” Faithfull is an independent woman (read ‘spinster’) and relatively successful publisher at the forefront fo the British women’s movement. Fido’s long lost friend, Helen Codrington, returns to London after a seven year absence and intends to rekindle their relationship. But that isn’t the only relationship Helen is pursuing; she’s invovled in an affair with a much younger British Officer and complains bitterly about her loveless marriage to an aging Admiral. Helen succeeds in entangling Fido in all of her relationships leading to a public and extremely messy divorce trial.
Donoghue is masterful at revealing the layers of Victorian life for women and men of all levels of the social strata. There is suspense, innuendo, sexual scandal, and style. The writing is fabulous; Donoguhue’s prose makes these events seem like today’s front page news. This isn’t a quick read by any means, but the story is so compelling I found myself racing through it to learn its resolution. It’s a dark piece too, but worth the effort. Especially since Donoghue provides an historically helpful ‘what really happened’ section as an afterword.