chapter  13
21 Pages

Ellen Wood: secret skeletqns in the family, and the spectacle of women's suffering

Wood's novels from the 1860s are, typically, dynastic narratives. They are stories of rivalry within and/or between families, and often have complicated inheritance plots. Both the dynastic rivalry and the inheritance plots turn on issues of transgenerational and class competition. They also involve the exchange of women between men and, quite often, the hero's exchange of one woman for another (morally and spiritually superior) woman. These plots foreground questions of power and authority within the family and society at large, and the means by which they are sustained and legitimated. Trevlyn Hold, for example, is the story of the usurpation of an estate from a decaying aristocratic family (the Trevlyns) by an aggressive rentier (Chattaway), and its ultimate transmission to its rightful moral heir - the dispossessed yeoman farmer George Ryle - who eventually becomes the manager of the estate and its legally designated heir. Wood's narrative is a version of the family romance, the childhood fantasy, described by Freud, in which the child plays out the Oedipal drama by substituting rich or aristocratic parents for its own. In Wood's narrative, class frequently seems to be a more powerful driving force than sex.