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The Sealed Letter Paperback – Bargain Price, September 24, 2009


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In 1864 London, after a separation of seven years, Helen, now the wife of Vice-Admiral Codrington, bumps into her old friend Emily Faithful, now a well-known feminist and independent printer. As Donoghue (Slammerkin) deliciously unspools the twisted roots of their intimacy, Emily soon finds herself party to Helen's clandestine affair and snared in the sensational divorce proceedings that ensue (and which are based on an actual case from the period). Donoghue's elegantly styled, richly woven tale absorbs the everyday lives of Victorian women (rich, poor, working, home-bound, feminist, adulteress) and men (officer, lawyer, minister, adulterer, even an amateur detective) in a colorful tapestry of spiraling intrigue, innuendo, speculation and mystery. Characters indulge in pleasures at which Victorian novels could only hint, and which Donoghue renders with aplomb. Period details—etiquette, typesetting, dress, medical treatments, public amusements, shipping and jurisprudence—are rendered with a spare exactitude organic to the story. Donoghue's latest has style and scandal to burn. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Spinster Emily Faithfull is a rarity in Victorian England—the successful owner of a printing press and a leader in the fledgling British women’s movement. But she’s also naive and overly trusting (her nickname, “Fido,” says it all), especially when it comes to her vibrant, beautiful, and unhappily married friend Helen Codrington. After an absence of several years, during which Admiral Codrington is posted to Malta, the Codringtons have returned, and Fido finds herself entangled once again in their domestic troubles. This time, the troubles lead to a scandalous divorce case that destroys Fido’s illusions and threatens nearly everything she has achieved. The versatile Donoghue, author of Slammerkin (2001) and Life Mask (2004), among other works, delivers a complex and well-executed tale based on actual people and events, drawing from newspaper accounts, legal documents, and personal papers. Readers may find themselves skimming through the chapters detailing Codrington v. Codrington, and growing impatient with Fido, but every detail of the Victorian milieu, from the private to the public realms, is just right. --Mary Ellen Quinn --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (September 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547247761
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547247762
  • ASIN: B004KAB4JM
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,049,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Born in Dublin in 1969, Emma Donoghue is a writer of contemporary and historical fiction whose novels include the bestselling "Slammerkin," "The Sealed Letter," "Landing," "Life Mask," "Hood," and "Stirfry." Her story collections are "The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits," "Kissing the Witch," and "Touchy Subjects." She also writes literary history, and plays for stage and radio. She lives in London, Ontario, with her partner and their two small children.

Customer Reviews

The story was very interesting.
Hola
Nowadays, a divorce hardly seems to cause a ripple in our society, but in the nineteenth century, a divorce was a very public, very messy, and unpleasant experience.
Rebecca Huston
Emma Donoghue has a unique language skill.
P. Iannicari

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Ellis Bell VINE VOICE on September 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Sealed Letter is another one of those books I just couldn't put down--and then felt bereft when I finally finished it. Set in London in 1864, the novel is loosely based on a scandalous divorce case, and features facts stranger than fiction: a stained dress (sound familiar?), fabricated evidence, and scandal more scandalous than the sensationalist novels of the period. It's a novel in which supposed friends turn against one another, in which servants even turn against those they serve.

Helen Codrington is a wife and mother, born and bred abroad, who craves some excitement in her life. Never thinking of what might happen, she embarks on an affair with Captain David Anderson. Late in the summer of 1864, Helen runs into her old friend Emily "Fido" Faithfull, a crusader for women's rights, who's surprisingly... conventional, all things considered. When Harry Codrington finds out about Helen's affair, however, the lives of these three characters change drastically. The novel's point of view vacillates between Helen, Fido, and Harry.

It's a stunning, well-written book, which explores the way in which lies affect the lives of each of these characters. It's also a fair representation of mid-Victorian mores; although it's tough for us today to understand, divorce was much, much more scandalous and socially crippling in an era that placed a focus on the family and the woman's role in that family. It's strange, too, to a modern reader, the laws that governed divorce in 19th century England (for example, the two primaries were prohibited from testifying). Each of the characters is well-written, and Donoghue gets into the minds of each of the main characters with ease. She never tries to infuse this book with a modern sensibility.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Huston on July 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This summer seems to be a time of novels for me. There's been a particular abundance of riches where historical settings have become popular again, and I have been eagerly reading my way along. Today's choice was a vivid, insightful story built around a Victorian scandal -- the divorce.

Nowadays, a divorce hardly seems to cause a ripple in our society, but in the nineteenth century, a divorce was a very public, very messy, and unpleasant experience. In her new novel, The Sealed Letter, author Emma Donoghue explores the impact of such a decision on one middle class family, through the eyes of the husband and wife, and their friend, Emily Faithfull.

Nicknamed 'Fido' as much for her character as her last name, Fido meets up with an old friend suddenly in a London street. It's been more than seven years since she's seen Helen Codrington, and in all that time Fido hasn't seen any communications from her. It's more than a surprise for Fido, it's a shock to see her old friend.

Helen hasn't changed a bit. Away with her husband in Malta, Helen is still the gay, charming woman that she has always been. She claims that she never recieved any of the letters that Fido has sent, blaming it on the wretched postal system of that distant island. And she seems to be eager to resume her friendship with Fido. Despite her misgivings Fido is glad to resume that friendship as well.

For Fido is unusual among women in Victorian London. She has remained single, working in the Cause of equal rights and opportunities for women in both the home and workplace. She has set up her own printing business, The Victoria Press, and has even been granted the distinction of a royal warrant.

Finally, there is Helen's husband, Henry Codrington, an admiral in the British navy.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Deborah Peifer on July 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read any of Emma Donoghue's earlier novels that The Sealed Letter is an astonishingly well written and compelling novel. Based on a notorious nineteenth century divorce case, The Sealed Letter explores ideas about friendship and feminism, marriage and motherhood, honor and dishonor with wit, compassion and eloquence. I will call The Sealed Letter a courtroom drama as long as you promise not to imagine for a moment that there is anything of the formulaic in Donoghue's sure hand. A book to read and reread, to savor for its language and its history, its compelling characters and heart-stopping plot. An altogether worthy successor to the extraordinary Slammerkin and the splendid Life Mask.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ripple on March 24, 2012
Format: Paperback
If you are in the mood for a deliciously scandalous Victorian page-turner, look no further than Emma Donoghue's "The Sealed Letter". Set in 1864, it's based on the real life story of secrets and scandal surrounging Helen Codrington's divorce from her older husband, the rather dull Vice Admiral Codrington. There's added spice and intrigue provided by the unwitting involvement in events of Emily "Fido" Faithfull, an early mover in the rights of women movement and that good old standard, the Victorian spinster.

The narrative, told in the present tense, is beautifully paced and Donoghue's research is exemplary. You get not only a feeling for the intricacies of the events but also of the period, replete with the gossip of the age as well as the customs and legal structure that strongly favoured the male perspective. Fido is an early example of the female entrepreneur, running a publishing press in support of the rights of women to work, but this is still several years before notions of suffrage were even considered in serious terms.

You get a real sense of the scandal that a divorce trial had on society. At that time, the number of divorces per year numbered in the low hundreds, not least because the full blooded trial included a hearing before a jury (a male jury, of course) and that the male would stand to walk away with everything, including the children.

"The Sealed Letter" is a very different from Donoghue's best-selling "Room". In fact, it was written before "Room" and published in Canada in 2008. While the success of a book like "Room" is obviously good for sales, it's always difficult to match expectations with subsequent books. Like "Room", it is a highly readable story based on real events, but there the similarities end.
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