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The Sealed Letter Based on the details of a scandalous divorce case that gripped England in 1864 The Sealed Letter is a provocative historical drama that is strangely relevant to modern issues surrounding women marriage rights and rolesMiss Emily “Fido” Faithfull is a “woman of business” and a spinster pioneer of the British women’s movement independent of mind but naively trusting of heart Distracted from her beloved cause by the sudden return of her once dear friend the unhappily wed Helen Codrington Fido is swept up in the intimate details of Helen’s failing marriage to the stodgy Admiral Harry Codrington What begins as a loyal effort to help a friend explodes into a courtroom drama sensational than any Hollywood tabloid could invent—with stained clothing accusations of adultery counterclaims of rape and a mysterious letter that could destroy than one lifeHarperCollins is proud to deliver Emma Donoghue’s internationally celebrated work into the hands of discerning fiction readers in this her first Canadian publication The Sealed Letter is the perfect book to mark this milestone event—a masterpiece that brings the force of a life that changed our world into captivating view

  • Paperback
  • 432 pages
  • The Sealed Letter
  • Emma Donoghue
  • English
  • 17 February 2016
  • 9781554680375

About the Author: Emma Donoghue

Grew up in Ireland 20s in England doing a PhD in eighteenth century literature since then in Canada Best known for my novel film and play ROOM also other contemporary and historical novels and short stories non fiction theatre and middle grade novels

10 thoughts on “The Sealed Letter

  1. Barb Barb says:

    Soporific Tedious LacklusterThis is one of those books that sounds really gooduntil you read it and then you wonder what on earth are all of these rave reviews for? Did we read the same book? I don't think so because the book I read was dull as dull could be The characters were not brought to life the interactions were melodramatic and the story was tedious I thought the most interesting part of this book was the author's note Helen Condrington runs into her old friend Emily 'Fido' Faithful in the street just two weeks after Helen's return to London from Malta where she and her husband Harry have been living for seven years Helen and Fido were very close when they were younger and they resume their friendship now that Helen is back Helen's husband soon files for divorce and Fido finds herself drawn into the ensuing courtroom drama Donoghue creates a realistic enough setting London 1864 but without an engaging story within that setting I found it just wasn't enough to make reading this book enjoyable or worthwhile I think it might have been an interesting story if the author had examined the relationship between the two main characters thoroughly or any other relationships But as it is it seemed like Donughue got the bones of the story which is non fiction and failed to flesh it out with the character's insights and true emotions I think this could have been a really wonderful story in the hands of a masterful writer There are certainly issues to talk about for a group discussion But as it is I found this to be a very forgettable story

  2. Jemidar Jemidar says:

    I'd heard good things about Emma Donoghue but as her historical fiction is usually set in the Victorian period a period I don't have much interest in I doubted very much that I would ever read a book by her But then on a whim at a sale I picked up this one And boy am I glad I did as I think I've discovered a new favourite authorOn the surface this book is about a scandalous Victorian divorce case weren't they all? and this one had it all; a decorated Admiral as the petitioner a cheating wife with not one but two lovers men under the Admiral's command named as co respondents hints of assignations and sex in 'exotic' locations accusations of attempted rape a well known early feminist as a witness for the defence disappearance of said witness and hints of 'unnatural' acts lesbianism The sensationalist press of the time had a field day and the retelling of the story makes for a compelling and page turning read But the story Ms Donoghue tells goes much deeper than that and it is as involved and as complex as human nature itself and the strict societal s of the timeDonoghue uses the scant historical source materials court documents newspaper reports and a handful of personal letters to good effect and weaves them into a very human and thought provoking tale There's no right and wrong or winners and losers in this but lots of shades and shadows Lies and hypocrisy abound especially during the trial It certainly made me very grateful that I live in a time and a country of 'no fault' divorce and that our Family Law Court is there ostensibly to look after the welfare of the children involvedSome reviewers have said they were disappointed by the ending but I loved it There are two nice twists in the tail which I felt added much to the story and a lot of meaning to the undercurrent stuff The author had some good points to make and it made me consider the old 'double standard' from an entirely new perspective even amoung women and feminists The early feminists had much to learn about what real euality meant as arguably we still do todayAn enjoyable buddy read with Anna who made it even better by indulging in some pretty wild speculation

  3. Anna Anna says:

    This book is based on the real life divorce case of Harry and Helen Codrington which scandalised Victorian England I found the social commentary of Victorian life very interesting where divorce was almost unheard of wives and children were the property of husbands and the women’s movement was in its infancy When long lost friends Emily Faithfull Fido and Helen meet after years apart Fido is at first delighted by their reunion until she finds herself an unwitting accomplice in Helen’s affair When Harry suspects Helen’s betrayal he files for divorce The trial brings up all kinds of salacious accusations on both sides including attempted rape neglect cruelty hints of lesbianism and the mysterious sealed letter; the Victorian press and public had a field day With its easy yet compelling narrative this book drew me right in and putting it down was a wrench Women’s rights campaigner Fido has always been dazzled by Helen a fact Helen uses to her full advantage by manipulating the surprisingly naive Fido any way she likes I became caught up in the intrigues of the story Was there any truth in Helen? Who did Fido see one fateful night? Was Harry as blameless as he appeared? My over active imagination ran wild and it was a lot of fun to speculate with my buddy reading friend Jemidar; thanks Miss Marple This book was a real gem of a find and is highly recommended I would have rated it 45 stars had there not been a downside to all the speculation parts of the story became distorted in my head and thus had the edge taken off them My fault entirely If you read this go with the flow soak up the many layers and undercurrents and don't try to second guess things that might not actually be there

  4. Elaine Elaine says:

    Started off very engrossing and remained a fascinating glimpse into the birth of feminism Is it a professional defect that the trial scenes bogged down for me? Overall an extremely well researched and atmospheric glimpse into the gender and sexual complexities of the Victorian upper middle class Part of Donoghue's skill however makes this book less enjoyable than it could be all three of her main characters adulteress husband and faithful companion are somewhat less than sympathetic True to life perhaps and saves the novel from any easy answers but makes it laborious reading at points Still recommended for fans of Sarah Waters or any student of Victorian feminism

  5. Lucy Banks Lucy Banks says:

    Firstly let me start by saying that I think Emma Donoghue is a great writer She can certainly spin a yarn and I kept reading right to the end as I wanted to know what happened However there were a few minor issues that kept me from rating this higher In a nutshell the book documents a true event a high profile divorce in the Victorian era and the interference support of the wife's friend 'Fido' It's told from a variety of viewpoints mostly from Fido's but occasionally from Helen's the wife and even her husband Its climax is the court scene where Helen essentially calls upon her friend to lie for her in court but things don't turn out uite as plannedEssentially this was an interesting read It was thought provoking regarding not only divorce laws in the 19th century but also attitudes towards women in general However I had a few problems with the main characters themselves and how they were depicted In particular I felt that Helen was portrayed as just too Machiavellian I got that she was meant to be deceptive and self centred but to give her no redeeming ualities whatsoever rendered her a little stereotypical for my liking Fido wasn't much better to be honest and I felt she came across as a little bit thick and unuestioning which didn't marry well with her job as a publisher If the characters had been a little rounded a little believable I would have been way involved in the book I think But all in all it was a really entertaining read and as I said before this woman can clearly write excellently

  6. Andreea Andreea says:

    I feel like the best part of this book is the fact that Emily Fido Faithfull is a big dumb gay puppy It's both incredibly endearing and almost unbearable to read for exampleFido winces at the image She bends over Helen Lean on me my own one I'll stand by youThrough everything?EverythingI can stay?For as long as you need Forever Fido's thinking though she doesn't dare say it not yetOh Fido how did I ever manage without you all those lonely yearsHer mind is leaping into the future Why not? Women do live together sometimes if they have the means and are free from other obligations It's eccentric but not improper She's known several examples in the Reform movement Miss Power Cobbe and her partner Miss Lloyd for instance It can be done It would be a change of life for Helen but hasn't her life been utterly changed without her consent already? Can't the caterpillar shrug off its cramped case and emerge with tremulous wings?Oh baby your friend who you just found out has been lying to you and trying to manipulate you again for the nth time and who's cheated on her husband multiple times isn't going to move in with you and marry you

  7. Jess The Bookworm Jess The Bookworm says:

    This is a fictionalised account of the Codrington divorce of 1864 a scandalous divorce that gripped England at the time as it was reported in all of the newspapers It follows the story of Miss Emily Fido Faithfull a spinster and women's rights activist who was a close friend to Helen Codrington the woman accused of adultery by her husband and sued for divorce in a spectacularly public fashionDivorce in the Victorian era was most certainly not as easy as it is today It was only possible upon proving fault of the party being sued and all of the sordid details had to be disclosed I found the details around the law particularly interesting I am a lawyer after all and thought it uite bizarre that neither party could testify in their own divorce trial Fido Faithfull was certainly a very interesting character but I must say that I found the account of this story too be a bit too arm's length for me to develop any level of feeling for any of the characters

  8. Nicky Nicky says:

    I have a couple of friends who worship at the altar of Emma Donoghue and I think I bought this in a sale back when someone was being particularly vocal about Donoghue As a piece of imaginative reconstruction as historical fiction it’s well enough done — I think there are a couple of anachronisms potentially on purpose for convenience but for the most part it evokes the era it’s set in The main character Emily Faithfull is based on a real person who is pretty fascinating she was a women’s rights activist and publisher who got entangled in a famous divorce case This book tries to untangle that and see what part she had to playWhich is where it falls down for me because Fido as she’s called is clearly head over heels for Helen and it’s just as clearly pathetic It’s not going to happen Take this scene for exampleFido winces at the image She bends over Helen “Lean on me my own one I’ll stand by you”“Through everything?”“Everything”“I can stay?”“For as long as you need” Forever Fido’s thinking though she doesn’t dare say it not yet“Oh Fido how did I ever manage without you all those lonely years”Her mind is leaping into the future Why not? Women do live together sometimes if they have the means and are free from other obligations It’s eccentric but not improper She’s known several examples in the Reform movement Miss Power Cobbe and her “partner” Miss Lloyd for instance It can be done It would be a change of life for Helen – but hasn’t her life been utterly changed without her consent already? Can’t the caterpillar shrug off its cramped case and emerge with tremulous wings?Gaaah no Helen is lying and manipulating you — as always It’s Tegan and Sara’s ‘Boyfriend‘; it’s the straight girl relying on her lesbian friend’s feelings for her to get away with anything It’s not a story I’m interested in because it is one which is played out with boring regularityFrankly I was bored Nothing about this sparkled enough to get over the fact that I just was not interested in that central relationship Been there done thatOriginally posted on my blog

  9. Beck Beck says:

    Just couldn't get into it

  10. Betty Betty says:

    Great book I thoroughly enjoyed this one I feel like I’ve been let in on a bunch of gossip that’s turned out to be mostly true Emma Donoghue has written a story around a historic Victorian era divorce case This is no ordinary lightweight frivolity this is full bodied passion Ms Donoghue has done a great deal of research into the case which smacks of realism and is in fact often closely worded to the actual trial But her research does not direct itself exclusively to the trial and what went before but has done an in depth study of Victorian s the rights and lack of the Victorian wife the fledgling women’s rights movements and the backgrounds of the real people involvedThis book is very well written I admit to checking a couple of times whether I was reading fiction or non fiction The flow was such that I had trouble putting the book down This is the story of Helen the respondent in the trial who is married to a much older man Harry Codrington staid and totally English and an Admiral of the Navy whereas Helen herself was born in India and brought up there as well as in Italy She is used to walking out with a male companion on her arm in Italy where this is an acceptable practice The couple made their home with their two little girls in England but the Admiral is often away and Helen has become very close to her good friend “Fido”Emily Faithfull” to the point that she invites her to come for an extended stay in their home However when the Admiral is reassigned to his next station Malta he persuades Helen to accompany him This is the background for the story and the reader comes into it on their return to EnglandIn the years Helen is away Fido has made a name for herself in the fight for women’s rights and also as a major member of a printing company for women The two friends meet by chance on the street soon after the Codringtons return to England and become good friends again Remembering that this is really the beginning of the book the plot moves along uickly and smoothly and becomes convoluted as it goes along There is everything here Misconceptions misunderstandings mismatched marriage and the eventual results of such The gathering of evidence and the trial take up almost half the book There are snippets of letters throughout the book hints and surprises We have naive Fido frivolous Helen and stodgy but trusting Harry as well as interfering do gooders to put it mildly Excitement passion humiliation blackmail and all in this fictionalized version of from the back of the book “a scandalous divorce case that gripped England in 1864” and “explodes into a courtroom drama muckier than any Hollywood tabloid could invent” My heart went out to Fido but in the end there is a lingering uestionI very much liked the format of the book and learned a lot from the Author’s Note in the back explaining her research and updating what became of many of the characters This book was a real winner

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