21st Century,  General Fiction

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue was republished after she was shortlisted for the  Man Booker Prize in 2010 for her latest novel, Room.

Summary from Book Depository:

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 successful woman of business and a pioneer in the British Women’s Movement. But, for all her independence of mind, Fido is too trusting of her once-dear companion and finds herself drawn into aiding Helen’s obsessive affair with a young army officer. When the Vice-Admiral seizes the children and sues for divorce, the women’s friendship unravels amid accusations of adultery and counter-accusations of cruelty and attempted rape, as well as a mysterious ‘sealed letter’ that could destroy more than one life …Based on blow-by-blow newspaper reports of the 1864 Codrington Divorce, THE SEALED LETTER, full of sparkling characters and wicked dialogue, is a thought-provoking mystery and gripping drama of friends, lovers and marriage.

Since I am very interested in feminist issues, this divorce seemed the perfect reading. However, I was not prepared for the many layers of interpretation and emotions that this book made me feel. Nowadays, one tends to see the good parent and the bad parent and that is how the law treats divorced couples. But, as it usually happens in life, there are two sides to the every story and both deserve to be heard. It all become more interesting when I read that it is based on a true divorce case in 19th century England.*

Trying not to spoil the plot for you, I’ll just say that I expected to feel identified with Fido, the successful woman, the feminist, but I ended up being Helen (puns allowed here!). I thought that, if I had been a 19th century woman, I could have been here and, something as irrational as emotions made me like her.

The plot is, as you can see, full of the glamour expected for a 19th century rich couple, but it is also moving, incredibly touching for anyone who has fallen in love. The book is divided into chapters, with three different voices: Helen’s, Fido’s and Henry’s. They are all likeable and they are flawed, but, as it usually happen, they enrich the plot with their points of view.

The narration is very elaborated and, although at first I was reading very slowly, I soon started to read at my usual path. I loved that the reading was easy but, at the same time, was high-quality. The story could have been that of a romantic best-seller, but Donoghue makes it special. She is a great writer and manages to manipulate language, to communicate an emotion (a sudden kiss, a look) with four or five words.

Regarding the feminist movement, Fido provides the reader with an insight into the movement. Although I did not like her, I ironically loved some of her colleagues and how they proved that being a feminist is not against taking care of yourself, wearing cute dresses or wearing make up. They are all hard-working women, who fought for future generations to get into Cambridge or have a career.

This a true historical novel in which history becomes personal. It is not a cold approach to a divorce, it gets into the characters’ joys and sorrows and explores the darkest side of Victorian England. It may be very difficult sometimes to understand another century or, being a woman, why they behaved and thought the way they did, but everything can be historically and culturally justified. Personally, I love the challenge of getting into other people’s shoes, specially women.

I would recommend this book to anyone, whether they are interested in the feminist movement or not. The divorce case is very interesting, because it shows the beginnings of manipulation and how love can turn into hate. The edition published after Room‘s nomination is very pretty, the paper is high-quality, and I found the font very beautiful and different.

*It is the divorce of Denys’ grandparents, the character played by Robert Redford in Out of Africa. Helen and Henry where the parents of his mother.

This is the last review I will post this year. I would like to thank all of you for visiting the site and taking your time to read my reviews and comment them. I will keep my activity next year, sharing the literary love. THANK YOU.



  • chazzw

    Hi- I really loved “Room” (my favorite book of 2010) and immediately read “Slammerkin” right after. This sounds quite good as well. I’ll need to add it to my tbr list.

    • Elena

      Hi Chazzw! I’ll be searching your “Room” review in a few seconds. I read some people that loved it and some people that hated it, so I am not sure whether to pick it up or not. However, “The Sealed Letter” was a good first contact with the author.

      Thanks for commenting and hope to have you back!

  • Risa

    I haven’t read Room as yet! I’m not sure when I will or if I will do so… But this story sounds really good!…intriguing. I am curious. Did you find it better than Room or as good as?…

    Oh, and Happy New Year!! 🙂

    • Elena

      Hi, Risa! I didn’t read Room but I think I read every blogger’s review of it… and I wasn’t sure I’d like it (not sure even now that I’ve read something by the author!).

      This book makes great, light but high-quality reading and the characters are amazing. I just loved Helen so much and wanted to tell her that I parlty undertood. Email me if you want more details!

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