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Melodrama: East Lynne by Ellen Wood

1861

Melodrama: East Lynne

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  • Intro

    ‘Dead, dead, and never called me mother’, became a catchphrase for melodramatic Victorian tragedy. The play in which the words appear was made from an enormously popular novel, East Lynne; it is said that a staged version of East Lynne was performed somewhere in the English-speaking world every Saturday night for forty years. Yet, surprisingly, these words do not appear in the novel.

     

    Ellen Wood (Mrs Henry Wood) was writing at a time when some women writers felt it was necessary to package their names in a way that would ensure their work was taken seriously – Mary Anne Evans wrote as George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell published her works anonymously or as ‘Mrs Gaskell’. Ellen Wood’s works were extremely popular during her lifetime and into the 20th century, the mix of sensationalism and brilliant story-telling ensuring a wide readership.

     

    East Lynne was Wood's second of over 30 novels. Its plot is implausible at times, depending on a woman disguising herself to work for her former husband and his second wife, but the themes of infidelity and destitution were very real concerns for the mid-Victorian middle classes, and the novel clearly delineates the sexual structure of a society in which female personality is suppressed by masculine will.

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