Wife in Name Only by Charlotte M. Brame

18847723Fiction – Kindle edition. Project Gutenberg, 2012. Originally published 1876. 137 pgs. Free download.

Comprised of thirty short chapters, Brame’s book can be roughly divided into three parts to follow the shifts in who the main character is. In Part One, a provincial doctor with a failing practice aids a titled Englishman traveling with his ill, pregnant wife.

The two are traveling under an assumed name because they married without permission from the man’s father and do not want their marriage – an unequal one by society’s standards because she is the daughter of a poor pastor – revealed to him by others. When the wife dies in childbirth, the man decides to leave the child, a little girl named Madaline, in the care of the doctor and a local woman, promising to return when his father dies.

In Part Two, the reader is introduced to Philippa L’Estrange, a beautiful and wealthy heiress raised by mother to expect that she will one day her marry her titled childhood friend, Norman. When Philippa learns that Norman does not return her affection or see her as his “deal”, she hatches a plan for revenge and schemes to introduce Norman to her companion, a beautiful young woman tainted by her father’s criminality.

In Part Three, the young woman is now Norman’s “wife in name only” after Philippa reveals the truth about her parentage – a fact that Philippa had kept from their both – on their wedding day. Both husband and wife are distraught by their separation, but Norman is insistent that he cannot allow this stain to be carried through his family life despite his love for Madaline.

Brame’s novel was originally published in 1876, making it the oldest “historical romance” that I have read. If I hadn’t known of its publication date, I could have easily been persuaded that this was written by a more modern romance novel.

The plot seems familiar and standard for the genre – a vindictive scorned would-be lover, a spineless heroine who can do no wrong, an honorable man tormented by the superficial judgement of society, a promise of unending love that seems rather farfetched given the setting. (As you can probably guess, Madaline’s true parentage is eventually uncovered, granting a happy ending to all involved.)

Some of these elements were silly and, in more modern fare, I probably would have dinged it for following such a common theme. But, given its publication date, it seems wrong to do so. And I admit that I still enjoyed the story for all its flaws. It was the perfect “brain cleanser” after a series of heavy, distressing fiction and nonfiction books.

I don’t recommend reading the edition I downloaded to my Kindle, though. The abundance of typos, misspellings, and missing punctuation was distracting, and I didn’t like how the text was kept inside a box. The box wouldn’t adhere to the background color I set my Kindle too, and I could never find a font size that really worked for me. Thank goodness the book is so short!

The Classics Club:

This is my 42nd book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. This deadline has since come and past, but I am still trying to work through my list. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post or project post.

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