I had a chance to catch up with Anna Brecke, a Ph.D. candidate focusing on Victorian Studies. Anna has recently co-founded the Mary Elizabeth Braddon Association and I wanted to hear more about how this organization came into being. Here’s the result of our interview.
Q: Congratulations on co-founding the Mary Elizabeth Braddon Association! How many members do you currently have and where are they from?
AB: When Dr. Janine Hatter and I launched the organization last year, it was what you would call a soft launch. We started with just a concept, an email address, and a twitter feed. So right now, I think we have around 20-25 interested parties, mostly from the US, UK and Australia, who’ve joined a mailing list and are getting involved with the organization. This July we held an inaugural meeting at the Victorian Popular Fiction Association conference.
Q: Why does Braddon need more critical attention, in your opinion? What makes her work stand out from other Victorian writers?
AB: Braddon was a prolific writer and important figure in the literary and publishing scenes. She wrote over ninety novels, one hundred and fifty short stories, and numerous plays and articles. She also helped run what was essentially a publishing power house with her common-law husband, John Maxwell, editing Belgravia and Belgravia Annual. Her work crosses genres from sensation fiction to the supernatural, detective and sentimental, but she is primarily remembered as the author of two or three sensation novels from the mid-1860s. We felt it was important to recuperate her contribution to fiction, publishing and nineteenth century British culture in general.
Q: How was she connected with other folks we might know, like Charles Dickens or Wilkie Collins?
AB: I think most importantly, Braddon’s career arc and interests intersected with male authors publishing at the same time. She shared their love of the stage, beginning her career as an actress and working successfully on stage for almost a decade before shifting her focus to writing. Her work intersects thematically with Collins as he is called the king of sensation fiction and she is often considered the queen of sensation fiction. Like Dickens, she wrote fiction and drama, worked in publishing, and edited journals. Her story is often heard, where a female figure has fallen out of memory while her male counterparts remain in print, read and studied. Happily there has been a resurgence of interest in Victorian popular fiction, including Braddon studies, over the last 20 years.
Q: What are your top 3 Braddon works?
AB: This is really an impossible question for me. Her most famous works are the sensation novels Lady Audley’s Secret and Aurora Floyd, but I’m partial to a few of her later novels from the late 1870s and early 1880s: Vixen, Mount Royale and Asphodel. I know Janine would want me to plug her short stories, like the vampire tale Good Lady Ducayne that has been anecdotally cited as an inspiration for Stoker’s Dracula.
Q: What are your goals for the Braddon Association over the next 3 years?
AB: In general, the MEBA aims to consolidate Braddon’s recognition in Nineteenth-Century Studies by offering a central platform for Braddon studies. We intend to be a forum for discussing Braddon issues; a reservoir for information on Braddon’s life and works; and a place to promote Braddon scholarship. Specifically, we are planning to hold a reading day event in London summer 2015, for the centenary of her death and to launch our website, a Braddon blog and of course recruit new members. We hope to establish an annual or biannual Braddon event, whether that be a conference or reading day or something else.
Q: What sorts of activities has the association been up to this year?
AB: This year we have been focused on defining our goals and working to establish a presence in academic and non-academic circles. When Janine and I first discussed a Braddon organization, it was very important to us to not be an exclusionary group. This is what spurred the idea of starting with a twitter feed to share Braddon’s writing and promote her work. We are currently tweeting Good Lady Ducayne one sentence a day. We have also been collecting information and building our website which will launch this summer.
Q: How does one join?
AB: Right now, you can email us at braddoninfo [@] gmail [dot] com or follow the twitter feed at @braddoninfo. As of July, the website is up and running and an announcement with the url will go out.
Q: How does Braddon relate to your graduate work?
AB: I have always been interested in the nineteenth century, but when I first read Lady Audley’s Secret, I think a switch went off in my head. Here was a Victorian novel by a woman in which women were behaving in ways I’d never seen in print from that era. I hadn’t studied Sensation fiction yet and was just floored by the salacious content and the fact the Braddon was so prolific and important in her time, but I had never seen her name before. Now, she’s central to my main focus on popular fiction, fiction by women in the mid-late nineteenth century and my secondary interests in fairy tales and the supernatural.