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Her mercenary spirit: women, money and marriage in Mary Elizabeth Braddon's 1870s fiction

Liggins, Emma (2004) Her mercenary spirit: women, money and marriage in Mary Elizabeth Braddon's 1870s fiction. Women's writing, 11 (1). pp. 73-87. ISSN 1747-5848

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Abstract

This article examines Mary Elizabeth Braddon's lesser-known fiction of the 1870s in the light of discussions of women, money and marriage in the periodical press. It argues that in novels such as Milly Darrell (1871), Taken at the Flood (1874) and Dead Men's Shoes (1876) Braddon was acknowledging feminist debates about women's inadequate earnings and the problems of enforced idleness for married women, as well as reflecting the interests of the new consumer culture. In their exposure of a lack of a sphere of action for young women of limited education, these novels engaged with the woman question, yet they also tended to glorify the leisured lifestyle which “fast” women could achieve through flirtation and mercenary marriages. Braddon's position within the literary marketplace is also considered, as she moved beyond the formulae of the sensation novel in the attempt to write more “serious” fiction. Her transgressive heroines can be perceived as “dangerous”, rather than disagreeable, as reviewers suggested, in their pursuit of wealth, revealing the modern woman's need for money of her own to spend as she chooses.

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