Acknowledged in her lifetime as ‘the Queen of the Circulating Libraries’, actress and author Mary Braddon is still best known for her 1862 sensation novel Lady Audley’s Secret and only slightly less so for her unconventional domestic life as the unmarried partner of publisher John Maxwell. Having met in 1860, the couple were only able to marry in 1874 on the death of Maxwell’s insane first wife, making Braddon the legal stepmother of his five children. They also had six children together.
The 1863 novel Aurora Floyd opens with a description of 'the rich darkness of the Kentish woods' where Archibald Floyd retires from his city banking career and offends the neighbouring gentry by marrying an actress. Braddon and her family lived in Richmond, but in 1878 they were in Broadstairs ‘for a week or so with children who have been ill, & who are in need of strengthening breezes.’ Like the parents of Emily Shore almost half a century earlier, Braddon was clearly persuaded of the benefits of sea air as a restorative for invalids.
But in her novels Thanet is referenced as a somewhat unadventurous holiday location. In the 1880 Barbara a mother and daughter enjoy ‘a delightful change of air at quiet little Broadstairs, with alternations of gaiety at Margate and Ramsgate’.
Gerard, or, The World, The Flesh and The Devil (1891) whimsically suggests that a character who spends the summer in ‘some Bad in Bohemia’, identified only as ‘a Bad with a crackjaw name’, never gets further than the Thanet coast:
I believe he invents a name and a Bad every summer, and then goes quietly and lives up the country between Broadstairs and Birchington, and basks all day upon some solitary stretch of sand, or on the edge of some lonely cliff, where the North sea breezes blow above the rippling whiteness of the wheat; and lies in the sunshine, and plans fresh impostures for the winter season.
All Along the River (1893) invokes Broadstairs only as a foil to the sublime Italian landscape.
Do you see the height of those cliffs, terrace above terrace, hill above hill? Why, that level road at the very bottom is the top of a taller cliff than those I used to think so appalling at Broadstairs and Ramsgate!
Braddon, M. E. All Along the River (1893).
--. Aurora Floyd. Oxford: World's Classics, 2008. --. Barbara 1880.
--. Gerard, or, The World, The Flesh and The Devil (1891).
Cognard-Black, Jennifer and Elizabeth Macleod Walls, eds. Kindred Hands: Letters on Writing by British and American Women Authors, 1865-1935. Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2006.