Rebecca Warren as "Lady Isabelle / Madame Vine" in William J. Deane's American stage version of East Lynne for the season 1902-3, facing p. 13.

On their return to England, the Woods rented a house in the pleasant and still quite rural suburb of Upper Norwood, on the southern outskirts of London. Since 1851 Wood had been contributing stories regularly to Harrison Ainsworth's Bentley's Miscellany and, since the year before she left France, his New Monthly Magazine (see Jay xviii), but now she needed to earn proper money, and began writing in earnest — perhaps even in desperation. Her first novel, Danesbury House (1860), was dashed off for a competition held by the Scottish Temperance League, which she duly won. It was published in the league's stronghold, Glasgow. East Lynne followed immediately on from that success, opening in the New Monthly Magazine not in the following year, as her son reports, but later in the very same year (see "New Monthly" and Balee 145), coming out in book form in the autumn of 1861. Praised, amongst others, by the reviewer of the Morning Post ("touching, well-intentioned, and written in the highest tone of morality and earnestness," 3), it quickly went to five editions (see Sergeant 175), but really took off after the Times review of 25 January 1862. This began by saying that it was "found by all its readers to be highly entertaining," went on to pick fault with it on several scores, but also praised it for its "very great skill both in characterization and construction" and concluded, after a long and enticing excerpt, that "with all its artistic defects East Lynne is a first-rate story" (6). The excerpt was probably as effective as the endorsement: people flocked to buy the book, and it was widely translated, even, says her son, into Hindi (248). It was also repeatedly dramatised, starting with a production in Whitechapel in the East End, under the misleading title "Marriage Bells" (see Maunder 174). Unfortunately Wood had sold the copyright to her publisher, Richard Bentley, and gained nothing from all this.

Right: First page of the 13 March 1862 instalment of A Life's Secret, as presented in The Leisure Hour. The caption, "Peter Quale thinks something might be said on the other side," prepares us for Peter's argument against industrial action. To him, the trade unionists, not the bosses, are the tyrants. Left: Annabel Channing tries unsuccessfully to stop her charge, wilful little Jane Greatorex, running downstairs to Roland Yorke. Annabel is miserable after having been snubbed, as usual, by Jane's mother. It is a typical piece of domestic drama in Roland Yorke (1869), one of the Argosy's most successful serials. Source: The Argosy, Vol VII, facing p. 411.

Hot on the heels of East Lynne came two family sagas, Mrs. Halliburton's Troubles and The Channings (both in 1862), the former drawing on her knowledge of the glove industry, and the latter on her early memories of the pupils at the cathedral school. Both had elements of a detective story, something that would be characteristic in her fiction. With a complex publication history in periodicals, different editions in different countries, and a number of short story collections, it is hard to say exactly how many works followed, but there were over thirty and probably over forty in all (see Flowers). The earlier ones included the ghost story which she herself liked best, The Shadow of Ashlydyat (1863); Lord Oakburn's Daughter (1864); Mildred Arkell (1865); and a bigamy novel in which, controversially, she took a stand against industrial action, A Life's Secret (1867). This last had in fact been serialised anonymously in the Leisure Hour in 1862, a publication of the Religious Tract Society, but it was brought out in book form now with a foreword by the author herself, expressing her hope that it might encourage workers to refuse to strike, "and so avert seasons of bitter suffering from his family" (viii). Among later works were Ann Hereford (1868); Roland Yorke, which was a sequel to The Channings; Bessy Wells (1875); and Court Netherleigh, published posthumously in 1881.

Cover of Volume XL of the Argosy (July 1885) with most of the title word obliterated, unfortunately. This seems to be the only copy on the web that has this cover page.

Unlike her husband, who had died in 1866, Wood turned out to be a highly competent businessperson. In 1867 she took over the recently established Argosy, a monthly magazine of "tales, travels, essays, and poems" with excellent contributors, including Charles Reade, George MacDonald, Mrs Oliphant, Christina Rossetti, Henry Kingsley and others (see Argosy, Midsummer Volume). This turned out to be a brilliant move. First and foremost, it served as a showcase for her own work: though a few of the earlier contributors continued to appear, notably Rossetti, and some new ones were added, she now supplied the bulk of the material herself, with most of her subsequent writing first appearing here. As with the early A Life's Secret in the Leisure Hour, not all of her own contributions were named. The popular "Johnny Ludlow" stories, for instance, were published here anonymously from 1868. Narrated by Johnny himself, these drew closely on her Worcestershire background, and were praised at the turn of the century as being, "from a literary point of view, by far her best work.... subdued, quite unmelodramatic, and, at their best, [approximating to] Mrs. Gaskell's in manner" (Seecombe 356). Ward finally confessed her authorship of them, and they came out in a series of volumes from 1876-79.

In 1871 ownership of the magazine had passed into Bentley's hands, but Wood continued to edit it, later on helped by her son Charles. As editor, she used the magazine to promote her work indirectly as well as directly, notably through the reviews in "Our Log-Book," the Argosy's review section. As Jennifer Phegley suggests, these too would probably have been written by Wood (188-89), or would, at the very least, have been approved by her. Through the opinions expressed here, Phegley shows, she worked subtly and astutely to boost women writers, undercut the distinction between high and "popular" culture, and undermine such rivals as Wilkie Collins. In these ways, Wood both encouraged and helped to shape the taste for her own work.

Related Material


Note: For a list of issues of the The Argosy available on the web, and their whereabouts, see The Serial Archives Listings on the Online Books Page.

The Argosy, Volume VII, January-June 1869. Google Books (free ebook). Web. 18 November 2013.

The Argosy, Volume XL, 1885. Internet Archive. Web. 18 November 2013. (This was the only copy I could find with the "Argosy" cover and front matter, ads etc., at least partially intact.)

Balee, Susan. "Correcting the Historical Context: The Real Publication Dates of East Lynne." Victorian Periodicals Review. Vol. 26, No. 3 (Fall, 1993): 143-145. Accessed via Jstor. Web. 18 November 2013.

Dean, William J. New version of East Lynne. Toldeo, Ohio: Burt, Warren & Dean, 1902. Internet Archive. Web. 18 November 2013.

"East Lynne." The Morning Post. 3 October 1861: 3. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II. Web. 18 November 2013.

"East Lynne." The Times. 25 January 1862: 6. Times Digital Archive. Web. 18 November 2013.

Flowers, Michael. "Ellen Wood's Novels and Books." The Ellen Wood Website. Web. 18 November 2013.

Jay, Elizabeth. Introduction. East Lynne. Oxford: Oxford University Press (Oxford World's Classics), 2005. vii-xxxix. Print.

Maunder, Andrew. "I Will Not Live in Poverty and Neglect": East Lynne and the East End Stage." Victorian Sensations: Essays on a Scandalous Genre. Ed. Kimberly Harrison and Richard Fantina. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2006. 173-187. Print.

New Monthly Magazine. Vol. 118. (The first instalment of East Lynne starts on p. 28.) Google Books (free ebook). Web. 18 November 2013.

Phegley, Jennifer. "Domesticating the Sensation Novelist: Ellen Price Wood as Author and Editor of the Argosy Magazine." Victorian Periodicals Review. Vol. 38, No. 2 (Summer 2005): 180-98. Accessed via Jstor. Web. 18 November 2013.

Seecombe, Thomas. "Wood, Ellen (1814-1887)." Dictionary of National Biography: Williamson-Worden. London: Smith, Elder, 1900. 355-57. Internet Archive. Web. 18 November 2013.

Sergeant, Adeline. "Mrs Henry Wood." Women Novelists of Queen Victoria's Reign: A Book of Appreciations. London: Hurst & Blackett, 1897. 174-192. Internet Archive. Web. 18 November 2013.

Sutherland, John. The Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction. London: Longman, 1988. Print.

Wood, Charles W. Memorials of Mrs Henry Wood. London: Richard Bentley, 1894. Internet Archive. Web. 18 November 2013.

Wood, Mrs Henry. A Life's Secret. Vol. I. London: Charles W. Wood, 1867. Internet Archive. Web. 18 November 2013.

_____. A Life's Secret. The Leisure Hour. 13 March 1862: 161. The Hathi Trust. Web. 18 November 2013.

Last modified 18 November 2013