The 1860s was the era of sensation fiction -vels of passion gone wrong, usually with a nefarious heroine at their center, usually featuring extraordinary turns in a domestic relationship (desertion, bigamy, insanity), and always featuring a good deal of suspense. The most popular of all may well have been Lady Audley's Secret, an extraordinary tale of a beautiful woman willing to kill to conceal her past. Within a year of the vel appearing in book form, less than three adaptations appeared on the London stage. Entertaining in itself, the play also provides a fascinating example of how the suspense and the powerful characterizations of sensation fiction were heightened still further for the stage.
Contributing Editor Yevgeniya Traps is Associate Lecturer in English at Barnard College.