Contribution (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
In the 1860’s, crime literature was scorned by critics as the entertainment of subliterates. Only a few writers—primarily, Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton—had developed the crime novel into a literary form for the middle and upper classes. To their efforts, M. E. Braddon added profoundly realistic psychological development of characters, especially female characters. She was among the first, also, to use the crime novel as a vehicle for radical social commentary, particularly concerning the condition of women and the moral corruption of the middle classes. In addition, Braddon polished the technique, made famous by Wilkie Collins in The Woman in White (1860), of allowing a step-by-step revelation of a case, so that the reader learns of evidence along with the detective. Her wit, too, was unusual in her age. Braddon’s novels are also noteworthy for the camera-like accuracy with which she depicted an astonishing variety of settings; to the horror of her contemporary critics, she could describe the drinking and gambling places of men as vividly as the claustrophobic atmosphere of a rural village or the glittering decorations of a wealthy woman’s private rooms.
Bibliography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
Bedell, Jeanne F. “Amateur and Professional Detectives in the Fiction of Mary Elizabeth Braddon.” Clues: A Journal of Detection 4, no. 1 (Spring/Summer, 1983): 19-34. Comparison of two types of detectives in Braddon’s tales raises issues about the public and private spheres and professionalism in Victorian England.
Carnell, Jennifer. The Literary Lives of Mary Elizabeth Braddon: A Study of Her Life and Work. Hastings, East Sussex, England: Sensation Press, 2000. Voluminous, definitive study of Braddon’s life and writing.
Klein, Kathleen Gregory, ed. Great Women Mystery Writers: Classic to Contemporary. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Contains a biocritical essay examining aspects of the life and work of Braddon.
Peterson, Audrey. Victorian Masters of Mystery: From Wilkie Collins to Conan Doyle. New York: F. Ungar, 1984. Discussion of Victorian culture and its relation to the invention of the mystery genre that helps readers evaluate Braddon.
Showalter, Elaine. A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing. Rev. ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999. Seminal feminist text on the history of the British novel that helps readers place Braddon in the literary world.
Tromp, Marlene, Pamela K. Gilbert, and Aeron Haynie, eds. Beyond Sensation: Mary Elizabeth Braddon in Context. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000. Compilation of cultural studies essays that analyze the place both of Braddon and of sensation in Victorian culture.
Wolff, Robert Lee. Sensational Victorian: The Life and Fiction of Mary Elizabeth Braddon. New York: Garland, 1979. Biography of Braddon combined with analysis of her work and its contribution to sensational fiction.