The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue (Book Review)

The Sealed LetterThe Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
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 marriage and confides in Fido that she has been having an affair with the young army officer, Fido finds herself in the most unwanted and awkward situation. She now stands between two people in a nasty case of divorse taking place in the Victorian era.


This is a book that doesn’t have a strong rating here on Goodreads. With 3.30 something stars many people would be reluctant to pick up this red paperback and read it. Understandably, this is not a book that will appeal to everyone. Here we have a well-written book based largely on true events revolving the divorce case of Codrington vs. Codrington. This story is taking place in the Victorian era, somewhere in 1864, which I’m highly unfamiliar with. This was a book outside my comfort zone. Based on true events, Victorian era, divorce case. My verdict: I liked it!

“Liberty’s been a better husband to many of us than love.”

The plot, the drama and the atmosphere are realistic and brilliantly composed.Emma Donoghue introduces us to the Victorian era in a subtle and yet sufficient way. There are cabs with horses, dresses, letters, servants, prudness. But, of course, there is also scandal and those who are thirsty to shove their noses into other people’s business. Sex and intrigue that might never be explicitly talked about or discussed but become the main focus of many conversations. I always thought that real life stories would sounds boring to me. How many aspects of a real-life scenario can be exciting enough to keep me yearning for more? But this, having its slow moments, kept me reading until the end.

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“The excitement of having a handsome, sparkling fellow hang on one’s every word – you can’t imagine!”

The characters were realistic and relatable. Even though this story is taking place 150 before our time, many people today know how falling in love can bring a person up. And how loving somebody can overcome you, take over your personality, your wishes, your morals and make you into something you are not. How you can do and become everything and anything for the person you love. Basically, how love makes you blind to yourself and other people. Fido and Helen have a very interesting dynamic. It was one of these stories that make me want to yell at the characters “What the hell is wrong with you??” I appreciate when an author writes characters that anger me.

Fido can understand the appeal of the other sex in the abstract, but there’s something missing in her; the part of a woman’s heart that, in the presence of the right man, melts and runs like a vein of ore from the rock.

P1040411_FotorEmma Donoghue gives a very nice perspective of what living in the 1850s-60s in England meant. People and society had a very different view of what a man and a woman should be in a household, in a family and in the community. A divorce was a very serious case which potentially led to the distruction of lives. Women were nothing without men. They could lose their home, their children, their money. Apart from the legal aspect, living back then meant exchanging letters via servants who ran around to estates delivering them. So many details but also bigger parts that it’s very interesting to discover for yourselves in this book. Moreover, the author opens each chapter with a fitting quote from that ear which was very informative and a great addition to the story and atmosphere overall.

Two ladies standing pressed against each other, skirt to billowing skirt, on the banks of the Serpentine at three in the afternoon: an incogruous sight perhaps, but Fido refuses to care.

The lesbianism part of the story was something new and very intriguing. Not going into too much detail, this story introduces, very subtly, the lesbian element which was considered unnatural back in the day, of course. Fido was, in real life, a very tough, androgynous woman and in the story she has great love for her friend Helen.

History moves by fits and starts; certain battles must be fought again and again.

The ending was excellent. I really, truely appreciated the way this story ended. The twists that I did not expect caught me off guard. Emma Donoghue surprised me. I appreciate being surprised. Excellent ending, great job!

giphyOverall, this is a book revolving around drama and human relationships 150 years ago in England. If you enjoy reading book about the Victorian era, this is a great example. This story is about the people and what they represent in society, what happened between them and how they come out of the court changed. It’s a nice read, definitely worth checking out. While it might be slow at certain points, the ending makes up for it.


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