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The Sealed Letter
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The Sealed Letter

3.3 of 5 stars 3.30  ·  rating details  ·  3,360 ratings  ·  543 reviews
Alternate cover for UK kindle edition
Kindle Edition
Published October 13th 2011 by Picador (first published 2008)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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
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
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
Nov 02, 2008 Betty rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
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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
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.

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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!
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
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
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
Just OK. Confession - I didn't even realize that the Emma Donoghue of "The Sealed Letter" and "Slammerkin" was the same Emma Donoghue who wrote "Room"! The first two books obviously belong to the same writer and genre. "Room" is a completely different story, setting, writing I didn't even connect them - I somehow thought there must be two different Emmas!
The Sealed Letter is a novel based on a true story of a divorce case in Victorian England. As I pointed out in my review of "Room"
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
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 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.
Genia Lukin
If my 1 and 5-star reviews are rumoured to be entertaining, this one is likely to be quite lackluster. Mostly because I found neither nothing spectacularly bad not spectacularly good to say about the book. It sits squarely within that tier of book you can read on a plane comfortably, but that you won't be tossing away or giving to a charity bin. It's okay, really.

It was in places trite, in places allowed its characters to be idiots far more than would be reasonable, in places went so much into t
Helen Corcoran
I adore Emma Donoghue's writing, and whenever I read a new book by her, I know at the very least there will be wonderful writing. I sheepishly admit that I prefer her historical novels to her contemporary novels, and I was not disappointed by this like I was by parts of Landing. (Again, I didn't know this was even out until I stumbled across an interview with her on Bless that website.)

This is a novel based on an actual historical divorce trial. This is one of the few books that
Beth G.
Emily "Fido" Faithfull is a woman of business in Victorian England, busy running a printing press and devoted to the Cause of women. She keeps herself so busy that she barely has time to notice her own loneliness, as she has no husband, lover, or even close friend. Her beloved friend, Helen Codrington, left London 8 years ago and has never so much as sent a letter. But a chance encounter in the street changes everything: Helen has returned from Malta with her family... and a gentleman she claims ...more
I bought this book expecting a good story with a hefty dollop of Victorian scandal, but it's really a rather dull story, peopled with unlikeable characters. The story centres around the divorce of the well-to-do Codringtons in the 1860s. Helen, the scarlet woman at the centre of the scandal, is a selfish, manipulative woman, who cares not a whit for anyone other than herself. Even her affection for her daughters seems to revolve mainly around her own feelings and not theirs. Harry is Helen's hus ...more
Jean Roberta
Emma Donoghue is an Irish-Canadian playwright, novelist and literary historian with a gift for immersing herself in the past and presenting it for modern readers in the form of well-crafted stories. Her bestselling, award-winning novel Slammerkin (2000) captures the underworld of prostitution in 18th-century London while seducing the reader into caring about an actual teenage girl who was hanged for murder. In The Sealed Letter, Donoghue takes on the real lives behind a scandalous English divorc ...more
Trixie Fontaine
Not as engrossing as Slammerkin, but interesting, informative and engaging as a fictionalized version of a true story exposing the lives of well-off women (and feminists and lesbians) in Victorian England.

It's hard to avoid comparing Donoghue to Sarah Waters; their books read totally differently though even if their subject matter and depth of research feel the same. Donoghue seems primarily committed to telling the balanced truths of characters while Waters first priority always seems to be wri
Giant Bolster
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
Emily "Fido" Faithfull is that rarest of persons in Victorian England - an independent spinster who rejoices in her chosen life. And then, one hot afternoon, she runs into Helen Codrington again. Helen was once her dearest friend, but she and Emily parted ways seven years earlier, when Helen's husband Harry was posted to Malta. Emily, though hurt by Helen's seven-year lack of communication, allows herself to be seduced into resuming their friendship by Helen's great charm and apparent need of Em ...more
Sarah Zilka
For all the hype it's really kind of mediocre. Clinton era divorce in victorian england. It's a historical novel with all the dirty words left in. Really there wasn't much to it. Wife is a whore. Husband doesn't like it and divorces her. She enlists a spinster friend to help her out. Spinster friend isn't happy to be dragged into some sordid affair. There was a small twist at the end which no matter how frequently denied I knew was coming from about 20 pages in. Nothing was earth shattering. No ...more
I'm always enthralled by Donoghue's writing so I expected to love this novel and I did. Her writing is just exceptional and I always LOOOOOOVE the stories she tells. She finds these minor, real-life things that happen to minor, real-life humans and they take place in historical England. She builds an entire world around them and I always get lost in it.

I have to admit that I did not enjoy this novel as much as I enjoyed Life Mask and Slammerkin but I think it's due to my lack of interest in thi
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
Hilda Reilly
This is the kind of historical fiction I really like. A well-researched account of real events which make me find out much more, not just about the people involved but also the social climate and general environment of the time. I had a bit of trouble with the voice at first. I felt the author was a bit hesitant about what sort of tone she wanted to convey but once she got into her stride the writing was more confident. As regards the tone, there was a kind of archness about it which reminded me ...more
I found this at the bookstore last weekend and discovered my library, as it so often does, had it in its stacks. I found this drew me in from p. 1 and due to circumstance I had time to romp through this book in a matter of hours. Books are SO enjoyable when you can immerse yourself in them with few distractions, aren't they?
Donoghue's style of writing was elegant yet not pretentious, and I admired how she made me want to keep reading despite not particularly liking any of the main characters. I
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Anne Poulton
A real let down after "Room". I was very disappointed. I was a little baffled as to what motivated the author to write a novel based on the "scandalous" story from victorian society. I've seen more scandalous stories on an episode of Peppa Pig. I am sure that in its day, this story would have been something quite shocking, however there was no getting away from the fact that it isn't now and the author failed to convince the reader of the impact of this type of shame and dishonour. In a word, I' ...more
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Lush Library: The Sealed Letter - non spoiler thread 9 15 Jun 29, 2012 01:00AM  
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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.” 4 likes
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