Sensational Paradigms: Reade’s Griffith Gaunt and Braddon’s Aurora Floyd

  • Richard Fantina


Reade’s Griffith Gaunt (1866) and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Aurora Floyd (1863) present the reader with two of the most notorious novels in the sensation genre. Although both authors had established reputations by the time of the publication of these novels, sales were undoubtedly stoked by alarmist and negative reviews that focused largely on gender and sexuality. And while Braddon apparently suffered the critical abuse in relative silence, Reade, true to form, fought back with gusto. Both novels feature a passionate heroine—the eponymous character of Aurora Floyd and Kate Peyton in Griffith Gaunt. Both Aurora and Kate display athletic prowess as expert horsewomen. Both novels dwell on the theme of bigamy. Aurora unwittingly commits bigamy, believing her first husband dead. Kate’s husband, Griffith, knowingly commits bigamy, believing that his wife has been unfaithful. Both novels include a memorable cast of secondary characters who fill out the text, but the primary business of Aurora Floyd and Griffith Gaunt lies in the portrayals of their indomitable heroines. As passionate and often aggressive women of property, both Aurora and Kate present challenges to prevailing gender norms, particularly in their negotiations of the institution of marriage. Both novels undermine the Victorian ideal of the harmonious middle-class home with separate spheres, and each concludes with a dubious containment that raises further doubts about proper domestic arrangements.


Female Character Illegitimate Child Dominant Woman Relative Silence Female Violence 
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  1. 10.
    See Sedgwick’s Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985); and Rene Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure. Trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976).Google Scholar

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© Richard Fantina 2010

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  • Richard Fantina

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