The Lawyer’s Secret: Mary Elizabeth Braddon

“In the practical world we don’t talk about happiness and unhappiness; our phrases are failure and success.”

Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s novella, The Lawyer’s Secret, is a lackluster tale heavy on dramatic hysteria and low on common sense. The story started well enough. Orphan Ellinor Arden meets with solicitor, Horace Margrave to discuss the details of Ellinor’s recently deceased uncle’s will. While the good news is that Ellinor is the sole heiress to her uncle’s estate, the bad news is that she only gets the loot and the family estate if she marries, Henry Dalton. Dalton is a barrister, and the son of an apothecary (swoon). There’s a bit of a back story here: Ellinor never met the uncle as she lived in a remote area of Scotland, and then she was sent to Paris for 10 years after her father’s death. Squire Arden died unmarried, but his protégé was Henry Dalton, the son of a woman Squire Arden once loved and lost.

Ellinor has never met Henry, and her first reaction to the demands of the will is to reject Henry immediately. She wants to marry for love! But Horace Margrave, as her guardian, advises her to marry Henry and not “throw away three thousand a year.” Without her uncle’s money, Ellinor will have just 100 pounds a year to live on from her late mother’s estate. Ellinor, somewhat petulantly, agrees to meet Henry.

As readers, it’s easy to tell that there’s something afoot–indeed the title tells us that that lawyer is hiding something…

Ellinor marries Henry. Everyone knows it is a marriage of convenience, and Ellinor is bitterly unhappy. She has to ask for every penny, and then Ellinor agrees to give an old family retainer a pension which Henry promptly cuts in half. Henry then sells Arden Hall. Ellinor seeks help from Horace and learns that there is no marriage settlement. She does not have a penny to her name. Of course this is odd. Horace is supposed to be attending to Ellinor’s interests, and to place all of the Arden money in Henry’s hands is egregious. Ellinor trusted, respected and loved Horace. Now she feels betrayed. …

An unhappy wife, a lawyer who is keeping secrets and a husband estranged from his wife. Put these into the pressure cooker and there’s an explosion: the truth is finally revealed. In this sensation fiction novella, Ellinor is not an appealing character and Henry is a stuffed shirt. The entire set up is one of those frustrating scenarios in which one stupid shameful secret ruins everyone’s lives. I can understand why Horace didn’t want the truth to come out, but Ellinor and Henry paid far too much along the way. Horace did something stupid and that sent the train of disaster in motion. Fair enough, but what Horace did after that is really the unforgivable part. Henry should have smacked Horace over the head, and Ellinor should have kicked him in the bottom. Then everyone would have got over it. 5 minutes of shame and pain or years of silent suffering in this storm in a teacup.

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Filed under Braddon M. E., Fiction, posts

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