Marital Malpractice at Mid-Century: Braddon’s The Doctor’s
Mary Braddon, one of the Victorian period’s most infamous sensation novelists, wrote The Doctor’s Wife (1864) in an attempt to elevate her fiction to the status of realism. According to her letters, The Doctor’s Wife was Braddon’s anglicized variation on Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and her most serious attempt to transcend the generic and artistic limitations of sensationalism and write a serious novel (Wolff 162). Elizabeth Gaskell, known for her conscientious probing of social issues, attempted no such generic revision in Wives and Daughters (1866). If anything, this novel, her last, is less stringently moralizing than many of her earlier explorations of social conditions – such as Mary Barton’s condemnation of factory abuse and Ruth’s lament against the plight of unmarried mothers.