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The Sealed Letter [Hardcover]

Emma Donoghue
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 28 2008 1554680360 978-1554680368 1st Edition
Based on the details of a scandalous divorce case that gripped England in 1864, The Sealed Letter is a provocative historical drama that is strangely relevant to modern issues surrounding women, marriage, rights and roles.

Miss Emily “Fido” Faithfull is a “woman of business” and a spinster pioneer of the British women’s movement, independent of mind but naively trusting of heart. Distracted from her beloved cause by the sudden return of her once-dear friend, the unhappily wed Helen Codrington, Fido is swept up in the intimate details of Helen’s failing marriage to the stodgy Admiral Harry Codrington. What begins as a loyal effort to help a friend explodes into a courtroom drama more sensational than any Hollywood tabloid could invent—with stained clothing, accusations of adultery, counterclaims of rape and a mysterious letter that could destroy more than one life.

HarperCollins is proud to deliver Emma Donoghue’s internationally celebrated work into the hands of discerning fiction readers in this, her first Canadian publication. The Sealed Letter is the perfect book to mark this milestone event—a masterpiece that brings the force of a life that changed our world into captivating view.

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Product Description

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 alternate Hardcover edition.


?Juicy, vicious, elegant and thoughtful. . . . Donoghue is supremely talented.?

(The Globe and Mail)

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing Historical Fiction April 7 2008
By Luanne Ollivier #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
I first discovered Donoghue back in 2000 when I read one of her best selling novels, Slammerkin. I was struck then by the richness of her characters, so well written that the reader develops strong emotions towards them. Most impressive however is Donoghue's historical research. The fabric, mores, culture and so much more of Victorian England are brilliantly and accurately portrayed.

So is the case with The Sealed Letter. As in previous novels, the story is based upon actual historical facts and persons. We meet 'Fido" Faithfull, a liberal thinking spinster who runs her own printing press espousing her 'Cause'- Women's Rights. She meets up with an old friend Helen Codrington, who detests her older husband Admiral Codrington, and the restrictions society puts upon 'correct' female behaviour. Fido is drawn into Helen's world, but is naive and trusting. She offers true friendship, but due to Helen's machinations, is instead thrust unwillingly into the public eye in Helen's very messy divorce. This divorce case takes place in 1864, but believe it or not features a stained dress (sound familiar?), accusations of rape and a mysterious sealed letter that could decide the case.

Donoghue captures the language, the emotions and the time period eloquently. The Sealed Letter is the third of a loose trilogy exploring Victorian society and life through the eyes of the different classes. Slammerkin explores the poor, Life Mask the very rich and The Sealed Letter the middle class. All are extremely enjoyable reads.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing read................KasaMia in Halifax March 19 2008
I was fortunate to receive this as an uncorrected proof. This novel drew me in completely, and by the last page I didn't want it to end - and what an ending! Donoghue has a gift for the authentic language of the times that flows vividly as if one is listening to real conversations. The author also captures the flavour of the beginnings of the British women's independence movement. The characters of Fido, Helen and Harry Codrington are brilliantly drawn out, their machinations and manipulations cleverly interwoven throughout. I like the way the reader is allowed to see different sides of these main characters, as each separate section/narrative (which is prefaced with a legal term, its description, and excerpts from various writings of the time, all of which offer the reader a hint of what is to follow) gives the reader information offering another slant to their respective personalities and inner workings. For example, Admiral Codrington, when spoken of or thought of by his wife, Helen, comes through as an unsympathetic man, stiff, unfeeling, unsupportive, and alternately when he is the focus of a particular scenario, one can feel sympathy for him when learning more about his feelings and acknowledged weaknesses. I didn't like him to begin with, but felt he redeemed himself with his unexpected and surprising gesture at the end. And even though Helen Codrington is depicted as a reckless self-absorbed woman, I couldn't help but feel the deep despair she experienced at facing the loss of her children, and deplore the unfairness that such a verdict would mean - forever. As for 'Fido', I alternately felt sympathy for and impatience with, this 'pioneer' of the women's movement. But the element of 'Sappho' did explain the reasons for her need/desire to trust Helen. Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb fiction July 26 2008
Once again, Emma Donogue both entertains and enlightens us with a true story intricately embroidered with well-researched detail. Her story of Victorian sex scandal and disguised lesbianism transcends mere smut, the story told with the delicacy and beauty of a dewy rose-petal. Still, even then the public was ravenous for sordid tales of the upper classes falling into the muck. Underneath the complexity and historical fidelity of this novel runs a sly undercurrent of humor, as the intelligent but naive Fido pines for a woman who schemes and uses her every step of the way. It's one of those stories where we want to shake a character and say, "Oh, come on, wake up - don't you know you're being exploited?" Scandal was never more fun than this.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Victorian Divorce- a National Scandal April 18 2008
By Teddy
In 1864 a scandal of huge proportions shook Great Briton. That scandal was due to a divorce case, which was quite new at the time. The Sealed Letter is based on this true scandal.

Miss Emily "Fido" Faithful was a businesswoman and feminist active in the British women's movement. She was also a spinster (how I hate that word.) She ran into her friend, Helen Codrington by chance, or so we believe. She used to live with Helen and her husband Harry before they moved away to Malta. Fido got caught up in the details of Helen's failing marriage and tries to help her as a loyal friend would. With mud slinging from both sides in court and the tabloids, can Fido keep her reputation in tact?

I don't normally enjoy tabloid dramas, however this is an exception. I love Victorian era stories and Emma Donoghue weaves a good story. It appears well researched and her characters are vivid and come to life. Emma helps the reader see each character's side of the story rather then just slanting it in the favor of one side. This makes for a balanced, well-written, and entertaining story.

Thanks to Harper Collins Canada for the advanced readers copy.
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