(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery 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.