The backstory: The Sealed Letter, originally published in the U.S. and Canada in 2008, was released in the UK last year and was longlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize.
The basics: Tracing the troubled marriage and divorce trial of the Codringtons, The Sealed Letter is the story of women's roles in marriage and life in 1860's England. Emily Faithfull, a first wave feminist belovedly referred to as Fido, is a dear friend of Mrs. Codrington and finds her personal and professional reputations compromised in the ensuing drama.
My thoughts: After reading and utterly adoring Room (my review), I was curious to read Emma Donoghue's historical fiction and see how it compared. I was immediately captivated by the setting, London in 1864, and with Fido. Donoghue is a wonderful writer of character descriptions: "What in another woman would strike Fido as hyperbole has in Helen Codrington always charmed her, somehow. The phrases are delivered with a sort of rueful merriment, as if by an actress who knows herself to be better than her part." This friendship between Fido and Helen was utterly fascinating. There were certainly hints of it being more than a friendship, particularly for Fido, but there were also notions that their strong affections for one another fell short of love as neither truly respects the other. Donoghue writes about their friendship beautifully, and my perspective on it changed throughout the novel as she played with the customs of the times excusing or requiring particular behaviors.
Favorite passages: "That's a ghoulish anecdote, Helen, not a reasoned argument."
"Strange how a few years can reduce humiliation to an anecdote."
The verdict: The Sealed Letter is a fascinating glimpse at the plight of women in England in the 1860's. Donoghue's delivers a novel firmly based in historical fact that is engaging and enlightening. Although the action drags a bit in the middle, the novel as a whole is an emotionally satisfying read made more impressive with the ending author's note indicating how much was based on true events.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 416 pages
Publication date: September 22, 2008
Source: purchased for my Kindle
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