Today I feature my second winter tale from Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835 – 1915), a best-selling “sensation novelist” of the Victorian era, most famous today for the novel Lady Audley’s Secret. Braddon also founded Belgravia magazine in 1866, and edited it until 1876, when the magazine was sold.
“My Wife’s Promise” first appeared in Belgravia Annual, 1868, and again in Braddon’s 1886 collection Under the Red Flag and Other Tales. A former Arctic explorer tries again and again to swear off his Arctic expeditions out of family duty and love for his wife, but the call of the North is strong.
I, Richard Dunrayne, was the elder son of a wealthy house, my father, a man of some influence in the political world, and there were few positions which need have been impossible for me had I aspired to the ordinary career affected by British youth. I had been indulged in my early passion for the sea, in my later rage for Arctic exploration; and it was hoped that, having satisfied these boyish fancies, I should now settle down to a pursuit more consonant with the views and wishes of my people. My mother wept over her restored treasure, and confessed how terrible had been her fears during my absence; my father congratulated me upon having ridden my hobby, and alighted therefrom without a broken neck; and my family anxiously awaited my choice of a profession.
Such a choice I found impossible. …
Dunrayne promises his beloved wife Isabel that he has given up exploration for good, but she can see how that promise is killing him, and she loves him enough to release him from his vow. Dunrayne swears that this expedition will be the last time.
Especially interesting to me is how well Braddon writes her adventuring male protagonist. Her descriptions of Dunrayne’s obsession with Arctic exploration (Dunrayne calls himself “possessed” by it), his life at sea and in the snowy wilderness, are vivid and detailed. Of course, I have no first hand experience of life in the Arctic, so I can’t really say how accurately she portrays it, but it reads to me as if it’s drawn from life, almost from personal experience. I wonder if Braddon drew Dunrayne’s character and the Arctic descriptions from someone she knew.
One note for the reading: the story mentions Sir John Franklin, an Arctic explorer who disappeared in 1847, on an expedition to chart the Northwest Passage.
A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.
I shared another of Braddon’s winter tales a few years ago; you can read my commentary on “At Chrighton Abbey” here (with a link to the story). It’s another tale with interesting and full-dimensional characters. Is there doom hanging over the sons of the Chrighton family? Can getting married prevent it?
Image: In the Arctic, William Bradford (1878). Source: WikiArt