The Doctor's Wife by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Isabel Sleaford is a girl who lives in her books. Ernest Maltravers, Eugene Aram, Henry Esmond; Shelly, Byron, and, well, anyone romantic be he real or fictional. She aspires to have the life she’s read in books. Seriously, this girl lives and breathes her romances and desires nothing more than to live a life like theirs:
A dull despair crept over this foolish girl as she thought that perhaps her life was to be only a commonplace kind of existence, after all; a blank flat level, along which she was to creep to a nameless grave. She was so eager to be something. Oh why was not there a revolution, that she might take a knife in her hand and go forth to seek the tyrant in his lodging, and then die; so that people might talk of her, and remember her name when she was dead?
…Miss Sleaford wanted to be famous. She wanted the drama of her life to begin and the hero to appear. 
So when the good, simply, kind and moderately handsome country doctor George Gilbert falls in love with her and proposes to her, she suddenly finds herself engaged. Not because she said yes, but because she lapses into this interior monologue about how this is the first great romantic moment of her life and! Next thing she knows! She’s engaged!
“This is what it is to be a heroine,” she thought, as she looked down at the coloured pebbles, the floating river weeds, under the clear rippling water; and yet knew all the time, by virtue of feminine second-sight, that George Gilbert was gazing at her and adoring her. 
Isabel does this stepping outside of herself A LOT. Too bad she wasn’t still in there, seeing what she was actually doing. That “feminine second-sight” could have saved a bit of heartache. It would have told her that George wasn’t exactly what she wanted. No, she revels in her first opportunity of being a heroine, absorbing all the beauty and poetry of the scene around her and completely ignoring the obvious.
She looked at him with a startled expression in her face. Was it all settled, then, so suddenly-with so little consideration? Yes, it was all settled; she was beloved with one of those passions that endure for a lifetime. George had said something to that effect. The story had begun, and she was a heroine.
This is to be the case for most of the 419 pages of this ebook.
So, she marries George and is instantly miserable. She doesn’t love George, not in the way he loved her. She felt for him as a brother, it says so in the book. Before she married George, she was the governess to two little orphans and earning a modest wage. Nothing fancy, nothing HEROINE-ISH, but still, she was occupied. Now, she is a doctor’s wife, running a household that runs on its’ own, and so what does she do? She reads all day and feeds her delusions. She becomes increasingly bored, as each day repeats.
Oh, but wait! Who is this waiting in the wings? Why, it is none other than the handsome, elegant, titled, rich, and BORED young Roland Lansdell!
Is that the name of a hero, or what?
And what do you think happens next? I’m not going to tell you, but it gets JUICY y’all. JUICY.
And also slightly infuriating.
Now, I feel I should mention how young Isabel is. She is very, very young and very, very naïve. Truly, all of her ideals on love, marriage, romance, friendship, life, all of it – comes from her books. Her father was no good. Her mother is dead. Her stepmother is off, parenting her two young half-brothers. She is basically alone, until she meets George. There were many, many times I wanted to reach through the pages and slap her silly, but then there were times where I just felt so wretchedly sorry for her. I couldn’t blame her for being depressed.  
How was she to bear her life in that dull dusty lane-her odious life, which would go on and on for ever, like a slow barge crawling across dreary flats upon the black tideless waters of a canal? How was she to endure it? All its monotony, all its misery, its shabby dreariness, its dreary shabbiness, rose up before her with redoubled force; and the terror of that hideous existence smote her like a stroke from a giant’s hand.
Um, melodramatic much?
And then there were the times I kind of wanted to slap Mary Elizabeth Braddon silly. The woman could write, there is no denying that. She wrote quite a few sensational novels* in her day, and, though this is supposedly not one (she even says so, in the book! “This is not a sensational novel!” I quote verbatim!), I’m sorry, but it so is. By the end, it’s like she just had it and said I HAVE TO DO SOMETHING EXCITING, SO I WILL DO THIS.
Lord, I wanted to slap her silly.
Yet, I also was rather pleased with her. I think endings like that take guts and dude. ME Braddon had some guts. And I LOVE IT. SHE MAKES ME FEEL ALL THE EMOTIONS. And the repeating! I can’t tell you how many times she goes over Isabel’s ideas and where they came from. I KNOW SHE READ IT IN A BOOK ALREADY. GET THEE AN EDITOR.
The Doctor’s Wife is also a rather vague retelling of Madame Bovary, which I am currently reading. I see the shades of Emma Bovary in Isabel Sleaford, but all the bitchiness and selfishness has, for the most part, been removed. I haven’t finished MB yet, so I don’t know if the endings match. I can’t wait to find out. I love how, in both books, it feels like there is this commentary on how wives were forced to live such solitary, domestic and boring lives. It feels like Braddon is saying, look, see? This is why we go crazy. We’re fucking bored. Give us something to do already.
All in all, especially since I got the eBook for free, I found The Doctor’s Wife to be a great use of my reading time. I highly enjoyed it, as I am (actually) enjoying Madame Bovary. Surprise!
Wow, I hope this wasn’t TL;DR; I knew I could write a term paper on this book. If you ever read the book, I hope you will hit me up. Obviously I’m ripe for discussion. Head on over to for your copy!
From Wikipedia; a sensation novel is: Typically the sensation novel focused on shocking subject matter including adultery, theft, kidnapping, insanity, bigamy, forgery, seduction and murder. Um, The Doctor’s Wife has at least 4 of these.

11 thoughts on “The Doctor's Wife by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

  1. That was what I was going to say – reading the synopsis – that this is the British, less scandalous version of Madame Bovary!

    1. Very, VERY less scandalous. Great lengths are gone to, to ensure less scandal in this novel. As I'm reading MB, I'm finding TDW to be rather comical in its attempts to “un-Madame Bovary” Miss Sleaford. lol

  2. I'm curious about when the book was published – from the cover I'd guess a while ago. I think that would explain some of Isabel's actions. You've certainly piqued my interest.

  3. Okay, I have to admit something. I was so excited when you told me about this book at first because I loved Lady Audley's Secret. But then I read that it's a retelling of Madame Bovary, and that put me off the book. I finally sat down to try to read it yesterday, and I barely made it through George meeting Isabel. It reminded me way too strongly of Bovary, and I hated Bovary so so much, with an extreme hatred and passion, that I just couldn't keep reading this one. I couldn't do it. My motto this year is to dump any book that isn't working for me unless I absolutely HAVE to read it (like for a book club) so I put that one aside. I want to try something else by ME Braddon though. It wasn't the writing that bothered me. It was just too connected to a book I already hate.

  4. I was reading your post thinking she sounded like a way too nice Madame B…and whaddayaknow, it sounds like I was right. I'm not sure I'd want to read a watered down Madame B though…she's the character I love to hate!

  5. hello, capricoious reader,

    liked your review. and that part about shabby dreariness and dreary shabbiness, ahaha. ^^ hey, i'll go find myself a copy. i think i've seen one in the bookstore two weeks ago.

    when i read Madame Bovary years, years back, i think i also wanted to slap flaubert silly, lols! 🙂 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *