East Lynne (Mrs. Henry Wood, 1861)

I’m condensing this as much as possible, but it’s a baroque plot, so brace yourselves:

Lady Isabel Vane’s father is an aristocrat, but one deeply in debt. He sells East Lynne, his country estate (and his only remaining property), to Archibald Carlyle, a prosperous lawyer. Given that the Vanes have nowhere else to go, they remain as Carlyle’s guest after the sale, but the lawyer isn’t imposed upon long — Isabel’s father soon dies of gout. Until then, she had no idea that they were penniless, or indeed that East Lynne no longer was theirs. She becomes the ward of her uncle, Earl Mount Severn — unhappily for her, as Lady Mount Severn hates her and treats her most cruelly. Carlyle is not ignorant of this, and seeing no other remedy, he asks Isabel to marry him.

Their marriage comes as a disappointment to Barbara Hare, who is in love with Carlyle and thought — not without good reason — that he loved her as well. The Hares are a somewhat disgraced family. Some years ago, Barbara’s brother Richard was involved in the death of George Hallijohn. Hallijohn was the father of his sometimes-girlfriend Afy. Richard disappeared and was convicted of Hallijohn’s murder in absentia. The marriage comes as a disappointment to Isabel, too. She’s in love with Lady Mount Severn’s cousin, Francis Levison, but Levison is a spendthrift dandy as broke as herself and couldn’t possibly marry her if he wanted to (and spoilers, he doesn’t want to — the man’s a rake).

Isabel is once again mistress of East Lynne — or would be if not for Cornelia, Carlyle’s domineering sister, who invites herself to live with the newlyweds. The opposite of Levison, Corny is a penny-pincher who strongly disapproves of Isabel for no other reason than that she believes her brother’s income can’t maintain a lady of such social standing (wrongly, in that Isabel in truth expects very little and is used to getting it). The Carlyle’s have two children, Archibald and Isabel junior.

Richard returns to see his mother. The visit must be in secret, as his father, Justice Hare, is convinced of his guilt and has vowed to turn him over to the police should he ever be found. Richard insists that he’s innocent and that a hitherto-unknown man, Captain Thorn, killed Hallijohn. Further, he claims that Afy — who disappeared at the same time as himself — didn’t runaway with him, as was suspected. Barbara believes her brother and begs Carlyle to take up his case, which he does.

Isabel has fallen ill and is sent to the Continent to recover. She again meets Francis Levison, who’s there for other reasons (dodging his many, many creditors). She thought she had gotten over Levison, but no, she has not. When Carlyle comes to visit, she entreats him to take her back to England — to avoid temptation, although she doesn’t say that. Unfortunately, Levison convinces Carlyle to secretly harbor him so that he can beg his father to bail him out without risk of being arrested, so even back at East Lynne, Isabel isn’t free of him.

Barbara meets covertly with Carlyle several times to discuss Richard, although Isabel doesn’t know that and Levison plants the suggestion her husband is having an affair. Jealousy festers until Isabel hits the breaking point and agrees to run away with Levison. She repents in France, after the truth of the situation becomes obvious, but the deed has been done and Carlyle has filed for divorce.

Levison abandons Isabel after his father dies and he inherits his wealth and title. Isabel, traveling under an assumed name, is injured in a trainwreck and believes she’s going to die. She writes to her uncle telling him so. Mount Severn writes to the French authorities, who — finding no Lady Isabel listed on the survivor list — confirms to him her death. Carlyle, who would not remarry while his first wife still lived, now marries Barbara.

Isabel didn’t die but she sees no reason not to embrace the death of that disgraced lady. She is now Madame Vine, gentlewoman governess. The Carlyles just so happen to be in need of a governess for their children Archibald and Lucy-nee-Isabel, and their new children, Arthur and Anne Barbara. Madame Vine, who always wears a hat, scarf, and sunglasses even inside, accepts the position. The disguise fools everyone but Joyce, the maid (and Afy’s sister), who is too shocked to reveal the secret and worried that her employers would suspect she was in on the conspiracy.

The M.P. for West Lynne (the town in which East Lynne is situated) has just died and Carlyle is nominated to replace him and enjoys the almost universal support of the electorate. Levison, who is in debt once more, is persuaded by the opposing party to run against Carlyle. Whyever he would is anyone’s guess, as he’s reviled by all and sundry for his scandalous ruining of Lady Isabel. There’s an even greater reason why he shouldn’t show his face in West Lynne, which becomes clear when several people who should know identify him not as Sir Francis Levison but as Captain Thorn.

Levison is arrested. Cutting a long story short, Richard was telling the truth. Levison as Thorn had also been courting Afy. In the heat of an argument with her father, he shot him dead and left Richard to take the blame. Richard, always a cowardly man, fled the scene. Afy, fooled by Levison’s lie, ran away with him. Levison is convicted and Richard is cleared of all charges.

Archibald (the child, not the father) gets tuberculosis and begins wasting away. Barbara, who I don’t know if I’ve sufficiently expressed isn’t a sympathetic character, cares little for her step-children, the grief of which is also hastening Madame Vine to her grave. Barbara is away on a beach vacation when Archibald dies. Madame Vine’s health declines quickly afterward. On her deathbed, she begs to see Carlyle and reveals to him her secret identity and confesses the mistake that she made in leaving him. Carlyle forgives her.

Inscriptions: None. This book is in absolutely pristine condition. It looks as clean and vibrant as it must have done when it rolled off the presses 108 years ago. It has never seen sunlight or known a humid day.

Between pages 138 and 139 is a typed sheet from the Houston Litho Club (since 1950) containing  a brief biography of the author and information about when and where the club meets (the Steak Country Buffet on I-10 in Antoine). There was also an index card that’s something like a card catalogue entry that was tucked in somewhere, but I’m not sure where as it fell out when I first opened the book.

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