Saturday, December 1, 2012

Early thoughts on Griffith Gaunt, or Jealousy

Evidently, Charles Reade’s Griffith Gaunt, or Jealousy (1866) was so sexually scandalous when it was first published in The Argosy that it caused the magazine’s publisher to sell the magazine to Mrs. Henry Wood, which became her longstanding venue for her novels.  Many sources relate this anecdote with not many more details.  

I am in the early stages of thinking about the narrative and reception of Griffith Gaunt, serialized in The Argosy mostly in 1866.  In fact, the novel appears to have been the magazine's main attraction when this magazine debuted in December 1865.  The last month of its serialization, November 1866, the three-volume edition came out.  I dwell on these details because I’d like to track down the chain of events which led to Wood’s acquisition of the magazine.  More research is needed. 

In any case, I’ve wanted to read Griffith Gaunt for years and finally fit it in over the last month.  I read a number of Reade’s novels in graduate school and wanted to enjoy them more than I did.  Recent renewed scholarly attention to him has made me elevate him on my reading lists.  I’m very pleased with Griffith Gaunt, a fascinating sensation novel with a uniqueness of its own.

Reade’s style in Griffith Gaunt is quite . . . readable, with an interesting plot and engaging characters.  I’m surprised more Victorianists are not turning their attention to this work in light of the continued interest in the Victorian sensation novel, especially Mary Braddon’s.  Griffith Gaunt’s heroine, Catharine Peyton (who later becomes Mrs. Gaunt), clearly shows connections to Braddon’s horsey sensational heroines, especially early in the novel.  Yet, an aspect of Reade’s plot strikes me as original for sensation novels of the 1860s.  True, it’s a bigamy novel, which is not uncharacteristic for such novels in the 1860s; yet, the thread that fascinates me is the inappropriate relationship between the married and Catholic Catharine and her priest, Father Leonard.  Marriage difficulties, intrigue, and spying servants all ensue.  And there’s a corpse dragged from the bottom of a lake, unidentifiable (except for an important mole on the head) because of hungry fish. 

I have a small stack of critical reading to do on the novel and am eager to learn more about its reception in the 1860s. 

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