The Sealed Letter (Anglais) Relié – 22 septembre 2008
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Présentation de l'éditeur
Based on a scandalous divorce case that gripped England in 1864, The Sealed Letter is a riveting, provocative drama of friends, lovers, and divorce, Victorian style.
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Basé sur l'histoire vraie de la procédure en divorce du couple Codrington, "The Sealed Letter" raconte l'histoire de deux amies, Helen Codrington et Emily Faithfull, qui se retrouvent dans les rues de Londres après une longue séparation. La relation d'Helen avec un jeune militaire aura des conséquences inimaginables pour les deux jeunes femmes...
Ce roman a le mérite de lever le voile sur un aspect intéressant de l'époque victorienne, à savoir l'impact tragique d'un divorce sur la vie d'une femme, qui se voit ainsi dénier ses droits de mère. Il est en outre assez fluide, avec des "rebondissements" (le mot est peut-être un peu fort) qui donnent envie de connaître la suite. Enfin, les personnages sont complexes, l'auteur évitant la caricature et les présentant de façon nuancée -le revers de la médaille étant que je n'ai vraiment adhéré à aucun d'entre eux.
Ma principale réserve concerne le dénouement, en ce sens que la couverture annonçait "a jaw-dropping ending"... et que j'attends toujours cette fin prétendument stupéfiante. Sans être particulièrement perspicace, je me doutais déjà en grande partie de cette fracassante révélation et le mystère de la lettre ne figurera certainement pas dans les grandes énigmes de la littérature.
Dans l'ensemble, "The Sealed Letter" est un roman bien écrit, intéressant d'un point de vue sociologique et qui constitue une lecture agréable sans être exceptionnelle.
Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)
Helen Codrington is a wife and mother, born and bred abroad, who craves some excitement in her life. Never thinking of what might happen, she embarks on an affair with Captain David Anderson. Late in the summer of 1864, Helen runs into her old friend Emily "Fido" Faithfull, a crusader for women's rights, who's surprisingly... conventional, all things considered. When Harry Codrington finds out about Helen's affair, however, the lives of these three characters change drastically. The novel's point of view vacillates between Helen, Fido, and Harry.
It's a stunning, well-written book, which explores the way in which lies affect the lives of each of these characters. It's also a fair representation of mid-Victorian mores; although it's tough for us today to understand, divorce was much, much more scandalous and socially crippling in an era that placed a focus on the family and the woman's role in that family. It's strange, too, to a modern reader, the laws that governed divorce in 19th century England (for example, the two primaries were prohibited from testifying). Each of the characters is well-written, and Donoghue gets into the minds of each of the main characters with ease. She never tries to infuse this book with a modern sensibility. It's a compelling book that I couldn't stop thinking about between sittings and after I'd finished.
My only problem with this otherwise superb novel is the fact that the letters are all written in a cursive script that's hard to read. But that's only a technicality.
Nowadays, a divorce hardly seems to cause a ripple in our society, but in the nineteenth century, a divorce was a very public, very messy, and unpleasant experience. In her new novel, The Sealed Letter, author Emma Donoghue explores the impact of such a decision on one middle class family, through the eyes of the husband and wife, and their friend, Emily Faithfull.
Nicknamed 'Fido' as much for her character as her last name, Fido meets up with an old friend suddenly in a London street. It's been more than seven years since she's seen Helen Codrington, and in all that time Fido hasn't seen any communications from her. It's more than a surprise for Fido, it's a shock to see her old friend.
Helen hasn't changed a bit. Away with her husband in Malta, Helen is still the gay, charming woman that she has always been. She claims that she never recieved any of the letters that Fido has sent, blaming it on the wretched postal system of that distant island. And she seems to be eager to resume her friendship with Fido. Despite her misgivings Fido is glad to resume that friendship as well.
For Fido is unusual among women in Victorian London. She has remained single, working in the Cause of equal rights and opportunities for women in both the home and workplace. She has set up her own printing business, The Victoria Press, and has even been granted the distinction of a royal warrant.
Finally, there is Helen's husband, Henry Codrington, an admiral in the British navy. He's served with distinction in the Fleet, and now has been rotated home to a desk job. While he's chafing at not being able to serve aboard a ship, he's trying to make the best of it.
Through the thoughts, actions and letters of these three, the reader gets to have an intimate view of a Victorian marriage, where husband and wife were restricted by social norms, intimacy was rare, and especially reputation was considered important. Women had few rights, and many seem to be content with their lot, spending their days in social calls, raising their children, and charitable work. For Helen, her days are frivolous, spending too much money, avoiding her husband, and making attempts to be a mother to her two daughters. She makes choices that are impulsive at best, and one is about to bring her comfortable world to an end.
I don't want to reveal much more. I have to say that Donoghue's writing is wonderfully evocative of the period, filled with details of life for the well-to-do, the customs of the time, and most of all, the minds of three people in a very complicated relationship. All three of them are given very distinct voices and motivations and I found their story to be both compelling and heartbreaking. The author does what very few can manage -- make you both sympathetic to the plight they are in, and at the same time make you cringe at what they do and say.
Helen in particular is a very conflicted character, with behavior that infuriated me at times, and while I couldn't look away from the impeding doom, I did keep hoping that some sort of miracle would happen. As for Fido, she is an unusual heroine, very different than most subjects of historical fiction being not at all pretty, not looking for a life-partner, and having determination to find her own future -- on her terms.
There is one glaring error in this book, and as it is a technical one, not one in style or narrative, it's a minor one. The typeface used for the letters in the story is a very difficult one to read at first, rendered in a flowing, cursive font, with plenty of flourishes. Very pretty perhaps, and a nice conceit, but very hard to read at first.
For those readers who want to read something that focuses on a story that is revealing and entertaining, this is an excellent story. The author has an afterword that discloses a surprise, and one that I won't spoil -- you'll just have to find out for yourself.
The book's central character is Emily Faithfull, nicknamed Fido. An enlightened preacher's daughter who supports herself through her printing business, Fido is at the forefront of the burgeoning movement for women's rights in England. But all her success, not to mention her reputation, is put at risk when Fido's oldest friend, Helen Codrington, returns to London from her husband's posting in Malta.
Helen, with her fashionable style, good looks and flirtatious personality, seems like an unlikely friend for plain Fido, but the two are exceptionally close; before they left for Malta, Helen and her husband even invited Fido to live with them for a time. Reigniting their old friendship after years of separation, however, soon proves to be a challenge. More often than not, Helen is accompanied by a dashing military officer, and the two even use Fido's own house for their assignations, much to Fido's embarrassment and disgust.
When Helen's husband becomes increasingly suspicious of his wife's associations (especially when she fails to respond to an urgent telegram sent to Fido's home), he initiates divorce proceedings. Helen, who is at a great disadvantage in the legal case, enlists Fido to provide evidence --- of an incident she doesn't even remember. As the case proceeds, Fido's entire professional career --- not to mention her relationship with Helen and her opinion of herself --- threatens to unravel.
At the center of THE SEALED LETTER is a tense, revelation-filled courtroom scene, with unreliable witnesses, questionable testimony and outright lies. Just like today, the media has a field day with the evidence, providing readers with as many titillating details as they're able to print. In addition to providing an in-depth portrayal of the 19th-century legal system, the novel (and especially the sealed letter of the title) also raises interesting points about the psychological complexities that lie beneath many courtroom decisions.
THE SEALED LETTER offers readers a fascinating exploration of Victorian culture and society, from the (negligible) rights of women to arcane divorce laws to attitudes about sex and sexuality. Readers shouldn't miss Donoghue's extensive author's note, which explains the historical background of the novel. However, this book is far more than simply a rundown of Victorian legalities and mores; instead, it is a perceptive, and at times poignant, exploration of Fido's attempts to balance her identity as an independent woman, a model to her generation, with her rapidly eroding love and trust for her friend, Helen. Donoghue manages to place Fido's story firmly in history without losing any of its emotional resonance and power.
--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
The narrative, told in the present tense, is beautifully paced and Donoghue's research is exemplary. You get not only a feeling for the intricacies of the events but also of the period, replete with the gossip of the age as well as the customs and legal structure that strongly favoured the male perspective. Fido is an early example of the female entrepreneur, running a publishing press in support of the rights of women to work, but this is still several years before notions of suffrage were even considered in serious terms.
You get a real sense of the scandal that a divorce trial had on society. At that time, the number of divorces per year numbered in the low hundreds, not least because the full blooded trial included a hearing before a jury (a male jury, of course) and that the male would stand to walk away with everything, including the children.
"The Sealed Letter" is a very different from Donoghue's best-selling "Room". In fact, it was written before "Room" and published in Canada in 2008. While the success of a book like "Room" is obviously good for sales, it's always difficult to match expectations with subsequent books. Like "Room", it is a highly readable story based on real events, but there the similarities end. What this shows is Donoghue's diversity.
The three protagonists are well drawn, with Donoghue focussing mostly on Helen and Fido. She takes some artistic licence with events, such as the compressing of the drawn out trial into relatively short period of time, and who can tell how accurate or otherwise the characterisations are? But putting that aside, Fido comes over as a well meaning but somewhat naïve about the ways of men and relationships. Ultimately, she gets used by both sides. The Vice Admiral is somewhat dull and staid and is completely unsuited to his younger wife, Helen. However, while one can have some sympathy with his wife's situation, it's far harder to excuse her selfish behaviour. With a couple of affairs under her belt, it is her treatment of Fido's friendship that is completely inexcusable. Some characters in books evoke sympathy in the reader because they are gloriously wicked - Helen is just plain unlikable. This turns the focus of the reader's attention to Fido who might otherwise have been seen to be too dowdy and frumpy for the reader to love.
A particularly nice touch is the chapter headings that are all legal terms but with some highly pertinent alternative meanings.
"The Sealed Letter" is longlisted for this year's Orange Prize list, where it must be a strong contender, although to my mind it's perhaps more Costa Prize material. It's not as originally startling as "Room", but is a superbly readable piece of historic fiction, with a strong narrative and illuminating the issues of the day, and particularly the early days of the, what was then called, woman-ist movement.
There are a couple of nice, gentle twists towards the end, although it's not a book that relies on these. It's a book about betrayal, friendship, and reputation. It's hugely enjoyable.