Divorce Drama in Victorian England

Title: The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Mariner Books /Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
389 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis: Miss Emily "Fido" Faithfull is a :woman of business: and a spinster pioneer in the British women's movement, independent of mind but naively trusting of heart. Distracted from her cause by the sudden return of a once dear friend, the unhappily wed Helen Codrington, Fido is swept up in the intimate details of Helen's failing marriage and obsessive affair with a young army officer.  What begins as a loyal effort to help a friend explodes into an intriguing courtroom drama complete with accusations of adultery, counterclaims of rape, and a mysterious letter that could destroy more than one life.

Review: The Sealed Letter is by the author of Room and based on a scandalous divorce case that gripped the UK in 1864. I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book or not but it sucked me in very quickly.  Emma Donoghue has an uncanny way of making her characters so believable that you find yourself wherever they are.  You can almost smell the smoke and pollution of Victorian England, feel the grit on your body from the streets and you quickly find yourself caught up in the same mess that Fido finds herself.

Helen Codrington is an unhappily married woman just returned to London from living abroad with her Military husband and two young daughters.  She seeks out her old friend Fido, a spinster woman of business.  On the pretense of friendship Helen involves Fido in her torrid affair with another officer.  Fido, the youngest child of a reverend is appalled by her friends behavior and attempts to "save her" but finds herself quickly becoming more entangled in her friends scandal.

Harry Codrington is a military man, from a military family.  He loved his wife when he married her but her disdain for him and his suspicions of her adulterous behavior have lead him to consider divorce.  Knowing that  divorce will be considered scandalous doesn't deter him from wanting to untangle himself from his unhappy marriage.

Fido, a feminist business woman who runs a womens paper that employs women finds herself torn between  her regimented life and her old friendship with Helen.  She cares deeply for Helen, more so than she has ever felt for anyone including male suitors.  When Helen first finds herself on the brink of divorce Fido starts envisioning a life with Helen, the two of them raising Helen's children but as she gets dragged further and further into Helen's torrid affairs, she starts to question what is best and if she can stand by Helen while compromising her morals.

Emma Donoghue has distinctly captured each character and the period in time when woman were seeking equality and freedom yet still slaves to convention and keeping up appearances.  A fascinating and educational read!


  1. This book sounds wonderful. It's gone straight on my to read list!



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