Murder, Gender, and Popular Fiction by Women in the 1860s: Braddon, Oliphant, Yonge
Cultural anxieties concerning gender, privacy, and transgression in the early 1860s are implicit in three popular novels published by women between the exculpation of Kent and her subsequent conviction. The novels include Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley’s Secret, Margaret Oliphant’s Salem Chapel, and Charlotte Yonge’s The Trial. The exhaustive and excited newspaper coverage of the Kent murder contrasts sharply with the silences and avoidances regarding similar material in these novels, which nevertheless undeniably exploit its dramatic potential. Yonge’s victim is less fortunate than those of Braddon and Oliphant. While these novelists write of family dread at the possibility of a woman brought to trial, and avoid representing actual murders and real trials, Yonge’ s narrative includes both murder and trial. The popular fiction of this period increasingly comes to represent the home not as a place of refuge but as a place of threat.