East Lynne

East Lynne is an English sensation novel of 1861 by Ellen Wood, writing as Mrs Henry Wood. A Victorian best-seller, it is remembered chiefly for its elaborate and implausible plot, centring on infidelity and double identities. There have been numerous stage and film adaptations.

The much-quoted line "Gone! And never called me mother!" (variant: "Dead! Dead! And never called me mother!") does not appear in the book; both variants come from later stage adaptations.

The book was originally serialised in The New Monthly Magazine between January 1860 and September 1861, being issued as a three-volume novel on 19 September 1861.[1]

Plot summary

Lady Isabel Carlyle, a beautiful and refined young woman, leaves her hard-working lawyer-husband, Carlyle, and her infant children to elope with an aristocratic suitor, Francis Levison, after wrongfully suspecting and becoming jealous of her husband's friendship with Barbara Hare. However once abroad with Levison she realises he has no intention of marrying her, despite her having borne their illegitimate child. He deserts her, Lady Isabel is disfigured in a train accident and the child is killed. Following this Isabel is able to take the position of governess in the household of her former husband and his new wife allowing her to be close to her children but which also becomes a source of great misery. The pressure of keeping up a façade and being constantly reminded that her husband has moved on eventually physically weakens her. On her deathbed she tells all to Carlyle who forgives her.


There have been multiple adaptations for stage, radio, films and television.[2]

East Lynne has been adapted for the stage many times; the play was so popular that stock companies put on a performance whenever they needed guaranteed revenue.[3] It became so common that theaters stuck with a badly received play famously would assuage audiences with the hopeful promise, "Next week, East Lynne!" The play was staged so often that critic Sally Mitchell estimates some version was seen by audiences in either England or North America every week for over forty years.[4]

The novel was first staged as Edith, or The Earl's Daughter in New York in 1861[1] and under its own name on 26 January 1863 in Brooklyn; by March of that year, "three competing versions were drawing crowds to New York theaters."[4] The most successful version was written by Clifton W. Tayleur for actress Lucille Western, who was paid $350 a night for her performance as Isabel Vane.[4] Western starred in East Lynne for the next 10 years.[4] At least nine adaptations were made in all, not including plays such as The Marriage Bells that "used a different title for the sake of some copyright protection."[5]

There have been many silent film versions of the book including a 1913 film. Another, starring Theda Bara, was made in 1916, and there was an Australian film six years later. In 1925, another version reached the screen which starred Alma Rubens, Edmund Lowe, Lou Tellegen and Leslie Fenton. In 1930 the film Ex-Flame was released which shifted novel's setting to contemporary England.

As the more melodramatic aspects of the story became dated, there were several parodies and burlesques made, including East Lynne in Bugville with Pearl White (1914), Mack Sennet's East Lynne with Variations (1917), and in 1931 the comedy East Lynne on the Western Front in which British soldiers fighting in the World War I stage a burlesqued version of the story.[2]

1931 film

A film version of East Lynne was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1931.[6] The movie was adapted from the novel by Tom Barry and Bradley King and directed by Frank Lloyd. The film is a melodrama starring Ann Harding, Clive Brook, Conrad Nagel and Cecilia Loftus.[7] Only one copy of the film is known to exist.

1952 film

The 1952 film Thai Ullam is a Tamil language adaptation of East Lynne.[8]


In the 1970s a TV dramatisation was broadcast from The City Varieties Theatre in Leeds, with the audience all in Victorian costume and Queen Victoria in The Royal Box. The famous TV host of The Good Old Days, Leonard Sachs, was present to introduce the proceedings.

The story has been refilmed as recently as 1982, in a star-studded BBC made-for-television production starring amongst many others Martin Shaw, Gemma Craven, Lisa Eichhorn, Jane Asher, Annette Crosbie and Tim Woodward.[9]

Critical assessment

Some critics argue that the novel champions middle classes over the lower orders; others, however, find this claim "too simplistic"[10] and argue that the novel "highlights the shortfalls inherent to bourgeois masculinity."[10] Sally Mitchell argues that the novel simultaneously upholds and undermines middle-class values.[3] The late nineteenth century English novelist George Gissing, who read the book whilst staying in Rome in March 1898, wrote in his diary that it was "not at all a bad book, of its sort".[11]


  1. Oxford World's Classics edition.
  2. Barefoot, Guy (2016). Gaslight Melodrama: From Victorian London to 1940s Hollywood. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 78–79. ISBN 9781474290364 via Google Books.
  3. Mitchell (1984), vii.
  4. Mitchell (1984), xiii.
  5. Mitchell (1984), xiv.
  6. "East Lynne". afi.com. Retrieved 5 March 2019.
  7. Hall, Mordaunt (21 February 1931). "THE SCREEN; The Soap Bubble Company". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 5 March 2019.
  8. Baskaran, Theodore (1 January 2011). "A daughter's tribute". The Hindu. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  9. "East Lynne (1982)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 5 March 2019.
  10. Mangham (2007), 136.
  11. Coustillas, Pierre ed. London and the Life of Literature in Late Victorian England: the Diary of George Gissing, Novelist. Brighton: Harvester Press, 1978, p.485.


  • Grilli Giorgia, "In volo, dietro la porta. Mary Poppins e Pamela Lyndon Travers". Società Editrice Il Ponte Vecchio. Cesena 1997 (ristampa 2002) 179–182
  • Hughes, Winifred. The Maniac in the Cellar: Sensation Novels of the 1860s. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980.
  • Mangham, Andrew. Violent Women and Sensation Fiction: Crime, Medicine and Victorian Popular Culture. Hampshire and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
  • Mitchell, Sally. Introduction. East Lynne. 1861. Reprint. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1984.
  • Pykett, Lyn. The "Improper" Feminine: The Women's Sensation Novel and the New Woman Writing. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.
  • Rosenman, Ellen. "'Mimic Sorrows': Masochism and the Gendering of Pain in Victorian Melodrama." Studies in the Novel 35 (March 2003): 22–43.
  • Trodd, Anthea. Domestic Crime in the Victorian Novel. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.
  • Wynne, Deborah. The Sensation Novel and the Victorian Family Magazine. Hampshire and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.
  • The Ghost Train (1941 comedy film) A female character disparages her older brother, saying that "you sound like something out of East Lynne.'
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