Mary Elizabeth Braddon was a popular Victorian author from London. She is most famous for her 1862 novel “Lady Audley’s Secret.” Her writing career gave her rare autonomy for a Victorian woman and although she eventually married, it was for love and not security. Indeed, her relationship with her husband — John Maxwell — began as a scandalous affair. He was already married with five children when she moved in with him in 1861, but his wife was living with her family due to mental illness. Braddon raised his children like her own and when his wife died in 1874 they married and went on to have six children of their own.
Braddon’s own mother separated from her father when she was only 4 years old because of his infidelities. Her mother raised Braddon and her siblings alone, which was no small feat in conservative Victorian England. Due to her family’s financial difficulties, Braddon moved to Bath to work as an actress in 1852. She chose this career so that she could be financially independent and help support her mother. Braddon acted in everything from farces to Burlesque to Shakespearean plays and eventually worked her way up to leading lady. However, although her career was fruitful and lasted about eight years, she was forced to use a fake name (Mary Seyton) to protect her reputation.
She began her writing career in London under the pen name M. E. Braddon, chosen to be gender unspecific. It was here that she published the popular gothic “Lady Audley’s Secret.” Braddon averaged about two novels a year for the rest of her career and was able to buy a large house for her and her family. Her life may not seem remarkable to us now, but for a woman living in Victorian England her career and independence were incredible achievements.
Reach writer Lydia Rylance Murdoch at email@example.com. Twitter: @lydiarymu