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The Sealed Letter

3.31  ·  Rating Details ·  4,712 Ratings  ·  689 Reviews
From the bestselling author of "Room" here comes a delicious tale of secrets, betrayal and forbidden love.

After a separation of many years, Emily 'Fido' Faithfull bumps into her old friend Helen Codrington on the streets of Victorian London. Much has changed: Helen is more and more unhappy in her marriage to the older Vice-Admiral Codrington, while Fido has become a succe
Paperback, 416 pages
Published October 13th 2011 by Picador (first published 2008)
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(showing 1-30)
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Soporific, Tedious, Lackluster

This is one of those books that sounds really good...until you read it and then you wonder what on earth are all of these rave reviews for?

Did we read the same book? I don't think so, because the book I read was dull as dull could be. The characters were not brought to life, the interactions were melodramatic and the story was tedious. I thought the most interesting part of this book was the author's note.

Helen Condrington runs into her old friend Emily 'Fido' Fai

I'd heard good things about Emma Donoghue but as her historical fiction is usually set in the Victorian period (a period I don't have much interest in) I doubted very much that I would ever read a book by her. But then, on a whim, at a sale, I picked up this one. And boy, am I glad I did as I think I've discovered a new favourite author.

On the surface this book is about a scandalous Victorian divorce case (weren't they all?!) and this one had it all; a decorated Admiral as the petitioner, a chea
This book is based on the real life divorce case of Harry and Helen Codrington which scandalised Victorian England. I found the social commentary of Victorian life very interesting, where divorce was almost unheard of, wives and children were the property of husbands, and the women’s movement was in its infancy.

When long lost friends Emily Faithfull (Fido) and Helen meet after years apart, Fido is at first delighted by their reunion, until she finds herself an unwitting accomplice in Helen’s af
Dec 29, 2015 Elaine rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Started off very engrossing and remained a fascinating glimpse into the birth of feminism. Is it a professional defect that the trial scenes bogged down for me? Overall an extremely well researched and atmospheric glimpse into the gender and sexual complexities of the Victorian upper middle class. Part of Donoghue's skill however, makes this book less enjoyable than it could be- all three of her main characters, adulteress , husband and "faithful companion" are somewhat less than sympathetic. Tr ...more
Lucy Banks
Jan 03, 2017 Lucy Banks rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Firstly, let me start by saying that I think Emma Donoghue is a great writer. She can certainly spin a yarn and I kept reading right to the end, as I wanted to know what happened! However, there were a few minor issues that kept me from rating this higher.

In a nutshell, the book documents a true event - a high-profile divorce in the Victorian era, and the interference / support of the wife's friend, 'Fido'. It's told from a variety of viewpoints, mostly from Fido's, but occasionally from Helen'
Aug 02, 2008 Betty rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fiction based on true historical case
Great book! I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I feel like I’ve been let in on a bunch of gossip that’s turned out to be mostly true. Emma Donoghue has written a story around a historic Victorian era divorce case. This is no ordinary lightweight frivolity, this is full-bodied passion. Ms. Donoghue has done a great deal of research into the case, which smacks of realism and is in fact often closely worded to the actual trial. But her research does not direct itself exclusively to the trial and what w ...more
I have a couple of friends who worship at the altar of Emma Donoghue, and I think I bought this in a sale back when someone was being particularly vocal about Donoghue. As a piece of imaginative reconstruction, as historical fiction, it’s well enough done — I think there are a couple of anachronisms, potentially on purpose for convenience, but for the most part, it evokes the era it’s set in. The main character, Emily Faithfull, is based on a real person who is pretty fascinating: she was a wome ...more
May 08, 2014 Andreea rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I feel like the best part of this book is the fact that Emily "Fido" Faithfull is a big dumb gay puppy. It's both incredibly endearing and almost unbearable to read, for example:

Fido winces at the image. She bends over Helen. "Lean on me, my own one. I'll stand by you."
"Through everything?"
"I can stay?"
"For as long as you need." Forever, Fido's thinking, though she doesn't dare say it, not yet.
"Oh Fido, how did I ever manage without you, all those lonely years!"
Her mind is leaping i
Nov 03, 2016 Kate rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Хотелось чего-то быстро читающегося. Это третий роман, который я читаю у Эммы Донохью, и она в третий раз не подводит, день пролетел быстро. Довольно интересная история о том, как английский адмирал решил развестись с беспутной жёнушкой, а в бракоразводном процессе оказалась замешана её подруга-феминистка.
Pixie Dust
Dec 28, 2012 Pixie Dust rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I first started reading The Sealed Letter, I did not realise that it was based on a true divorce case that had scandalized England in the nineteenth century. Later, I learnt that Donoghue’s adaptation was actually very faithful to many of the original story’s details, except for the compressed time frame of the trial – which I felt was necessary in order to create the sense of the characters plummeting towards their various ends.

The style of writing is very different from that of Room, by t
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 12, 2016 Bridget rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-bookshelves
I've been emersed in the world of The Sealed Letter for about a week, all victorian dresses, clandestine romance and nasty gossip. It also has that clever Emma Donoghue trick of taking real life newspaper headlines from the past and building a fantastic reality based fiction around it. I was interested in the story of Helen and Fido, Helen the passionate and, for the times, free loving and unfaithful wife. Fido the campaigner for women's rights who believes blindly in Helen and worships her unwa ...more
The first couple of chapters of this book had me hooked at the beginning and I found myself really engaged with the characters, but that sentiment quickly faded.

Not one of the main characters in this novel was likable. I wanted to shake every single one of them and to tell them to stop being so stupid.

Essentially, the entire story was about a divorce. I found myself enjoying the legal aspect (probably because I'm a law student) but otherwise, I did not feel as if I was emotionally vested and I
Rebecca Huston
Based on a real scandal, this Victorian period novel was a great read for me. Told from multiple POV's, this one may shock some, but keep going -- the payoff is worth it. The author is able to catch the period of the time and place, and especially the mental attitudes so well, without having to slide into modern metaphor or usage. That to me, is what good HF is.

For the complete review, please go here:
Tatyana Naumova
История о том, как непросто было людям в викторианской Англии (особенно смелым и неудовлетворенным женщинам) и по мелочи - об эмансипации, разводе и плотских утехах.
Ben Babcock
I'm not sure what attracted me to The Sealed Letter. It's a book that exists in that intersection among historical fiction, fiction "based on a true story," and relationship drama fuelled by larger issues of gender and individualism, the sort of book that can appeal to so many people yet go unnoticed because it looks "too historical" or "too much non-fiction" or "too romantic." When I started reading The Sealed Letter, I hoped for something good but didn't expect anything great. I was pleasantly ...more
Uthpala Dassanayake
Till I reached the end and read the author’s note, I wasn’t aware “The Sealed Letter’ is based on some actual individuals Emma Donoghue dug out from 19th century. Unlike in her “Astray” where real incidents were converted to short stories, this time she has spreads it to a full novel.
Fido’s involvement in women’s reform movements is used to give a clear picture on deprived situation of women in the era, yet it is not a story where good women unreasonably suffer under evil men who take advantage
I wanted to read a female author that was new to me and was interested in reading the book, "Room" before seeing the movie. However, this book was unavailable at the library and Emma Donoghue's "The Sealed Letter" was. After reading the synopsis on the inside cover, I decided to try it.

It is a historical fiction piece based in 1860's London revolving around two women - Mrs. Helen Codrington and Miss Emily "Fido" Faithfull. Their acquaintance had broken off when the Codringtons moved to Malta. Th
Sep 08, 2008 Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been an admirer of Emma Donoghue's prose for a long time, enjoying both her contemporary and historical novels. This tale, based on a true story involving a sensational divorce trial in Victorian England, breezes along and is enjoyable in every way. As in real life, none of the three main characters is without fault, and none is completely to blame. I feel, though, given the talent of the writer, that the constraints she places by keeping fairly true to the original story make for slightly ...more
Julie Christine
Sep 08, 2008 Julie Christine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Victorianophiles
Donoghue's writing is deft, her characters fleshed out, her subject impeccably researched and presented with crisp detail. This is an immensely readable book- all the more so knowing that its lurid and tragic story is based on fact. It's facile marketing to draw comparisons between this divorce case of Victorian England and the late 1990's Clintonian/blue Gap dress/cigar debacle- as the publishers try to; this series of affairs stands in a scandal class of its own. It's also an excellent portrai ...more
Dec 26, 2012 Teresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this a really intriguing read although some readers might find the legal sections a bit dry. Helen was such a manipulator and I felt sorry for poor Fido (not a dog!)who received scant reward for her faithfulness. An excellent insight into the social mores of the times - not sure we've moved on that much!
Lisa Mettauer
Before this month, I’d never heard of the Reform Firm. That was the name of a group of women in the Victorian era who fought to improve women’s education, among other feminist causes. During this time when all women were supposed to be married and the property of their husbands, those who couldn’t marry had very few choices. One of those few choices was becoming a governess. The English Woman’s Journal was founded by two members of the Reform Firm, Barbara Leigh Smith and Bessie Rayner Parkes; t ...more
Rebecca Foster
It was quite the disappointment, after Donoghue’s critical coup with Room, to turn to this novel, written a few years before but reissued to capitalize on her success. This fictional account of a real-life divorce scandal should have been a brilliant, realistic, gripping Victorian mystery along the lines of Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith or Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. Instead it was a tedious slog. Yet I can’t quite put my finger on why. The dialogue is well imagined and the sett ...more
Jan 14, 2012 Tig rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was a romping fast read and I can't say I suffered while I read it, but in the end I was disappointed - I felt it could have been so much better. I kept having Donwton Abbey moments: ie sensing anachronisms of emotion, reaction and language. I don't think the present historic was the right choice of tense to tell it in, and there seemed an over-generous helping of cliched language: the barrister narrowed his eyes while the passionate woman's eyes burned, people's hearts pounded and they swaye ...more
Mar 05, 2013 Lauren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gay-lesbian
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 06, 2013 Becky rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was so disappointed by this book. After reading the blurb, I've had it on my to-read list for ages, and it really didn't live up to expectations.

On the positive side, I found the description of the divorce case, and the parts about the early feminists very interesting. The book was clearly extremely well researched, and written in a way that really drew me in. I learned a lot from this book, and so I don't regret reading it too much.

However, the plot is so tedious and slow moving. It's one of
This is an excellent bit of history. This is the true story of a famous divorce case in London in 1864, Codrington vs Codrington. It also involves Emily "Fido" Faithfull, "a spinster pioneer in the British women's movement". This was a slow read for me but only because of the dense history. The writing is beautiful and so evocative of the time period. I can't seem to get enough of English history.

I would definitely recommend if you enjoy historical fiction. I also highly recommend Emma Donoghue
Jan 07, 2009 Diane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those difficult novels that are interesting and well-written but where one just does not *like* any of the characters. They are either hopelessly stupid, egocentric or both. Based on a true divorce scandal in Victorian London, involving a well-known feminist, the author has put a lot of research into this book. Her characterization is good, I just wish they all weren't so despicable and/or pathetic.
May 09, 2013 Annaleise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
Loved this - I think it's my favourite Emma Donoghue novel I've read so far. It gets 4.5 stars because I didn't really like any of the characters (which was deliberate, I gather), but otherwise this is really well written and I found the Victorian divorce case a really interesting base for a novel.
Mens Rea
For this and more book reviews and discussions you can visit my book blog: My Bookshelf Dialogues
What this book is about:

Emily "Fido" Faithful is walking down the streets of London, the last thing she expects to see is her once very dear friend, Helen Condrington accompanied by her friend, an army officer. Helen and Fido start building and evolving their friendship again and Fido remembers once again how much she loved her best friend Helen. But when Helen turns to her for help with her marriag
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Emma is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue. She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin, and in 1997 a PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of ...more
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“Perhaps there is no providence, no fate, no grand plan, she thinks now. Perhaps we dig our own traps and lie down in them.” 6 likes
“thinks now. And sometimes, Little One. It’s quite mysterious to” 0 likes
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