Susy Lorton has just turned down John Granger’s marriage proposal. She hopes they can remain friends. John’s heart is broken. His lease on the old farm of Friarsgate is up. He’d planned to renew it and make her mistress of the place—oh. There’s someone else, he realizes.
She admits as much. Robert Ashley.
Well, John says. Robert Ashley isn’t a bad fellow. Not like Susan’s cousin, the guy who works in the bank, Stephen Price.
John decides to sell his possessions and immigrate to the wilds of America. He says he will return and, maybe years later, sit by the fire with their children.
The evening he leaves, he says goodbye to everyone in the small town, saving his farewells for Susan and her father for last. Cousin Stephen stops by. While he’s there, he asks about his travel arrangments. Will he be carrying much cash?
Susan asks him to promise to write when he arrives on the other side of the Atlantic. He promises.
No letter ever arrives. In the meantime, everyone is relieved when the jerk cousin Stephen takes off, except those to whom he owes money. They look for him in London, but to no avail.
One evening, after Susan and Robert are married, she sees John sitting in a chair by the fire. He says nothing, but vanishes.
Robert pooh-poohs the incident. She fell asleep and dreamed. John is safe in America. Didn’t the bank get a request for money from him? Sure, he’s a cad for not writing, but he’s busy.
Sadly, the reader can see what’s coming from a mile away. The characters are engaging, however. The reader immediately feels for John Granger. Sure, the poor guy just had his dreams dashed, but he doesn’t wallow in self-pity. He’s alone in the world. He still loves Susy. He sees the man he lost out to as a decent sort. He just doesn’t have a place in town anymore. He wishes them well and makes plans to leave.
At the same time, the reader can’t blame Susan. She is the one who brings about justice for John, despite a disbelieving husband, who is determined to tell her not to worry her pretty little head.
This brings out a theme I’ve noticed in much nineteenth century “women’s” literature: a quiet, but firm feminism. Susan actually gets the chance to ask her husband, “Do you believe me now?”
Having said all that, though, even with as much as I found to like about this engaging little tale, it was too obvious, and the characters too one-dimensional for me to recommend it.
British author Mary Elizabeth Braddon was a prolific writer, producing some ninety works. She was best known for her “sensation” novels and short stories, that is, tales often dealing with horror, true crime, or the supernatural. Her most well-known work is perhaps Lady Audley’s Secret. Braddon also edited the magazine Belgravia.
In a time when such things were frowned upon, she lived with the married publisher William Babington Maxwell while his wife was in an insane asylum. After his wife’s death, Maxwell and Braddon married.
Title: “John Granger”
Author: Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835-1915)
First published: 1870