Biography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
Mary Elizabeth Braddon was the daughter of Henry Braddon, a solicitor, and his Irish wife, Fanny White Braddon. Henry Braddon was financially irresponsible and an unfaithful husband. He was separated from his wife while Mary Elizabeth Braddon was still a child. A sister, Margaret, eleven years older than Mary, married an Italian and settled in Naples. A brother, Edward, six years older, moved to India and then to Tasmania, eventually becoming prime minister there.
Mary Elizabeth Braddon was educated by her mother, who encouraged her reading and writing, except when finances allowed a governess or a school. At the age of nineteen, Braddon determined to support them both by going on the stage, in defiance of all that was then considered proper. Despite protests from relatives, she acted for several years under the name Mary Seyton.
In 1860, Braddon met the Irish publisher John Maxwell. They lived together. Marriage was impossible because Maxwell was already married; his wife was in a Dublin mental asylum. Maxwell and Braddon were to have six children, five of whom survived childhood, before they could marry in 1874, on the death of his wife. The scandal was considerable. Despite this, Braddon made a home for Maxwell’s five children, their own children, and her mother. The warmth of that home is described by a son, William B. Maxwell, in Time Gathered (1938).
Braddon’s prolific career began in earnest as an attempt to support Maxwell’s publishing ventures. Lady Audley’s Secret (1862) brought her immediate fame, and she became permanently typed as a sensation novelist (although she tended to turn away from crime in many of her later works). By the late 1860’s, Maxwell and Braddon were financially established. They eventually owned much property and traveled on the Continent; they moved in a circle that included distinguished figures from the worlds of theater, art, literature, politics, and even society, despite their scandals. Braddon continued writing until her death, her last novel, Mary, being posthumously published in 1916.