Aurora Floyd was written by Mary Elizabeth Braddon in 1863. The story is basically a romance-cross-mystery, with a hint of social commentary. Aurora has stunning black eyes and a dark secret. Two men (more actually, but only two that count), fall in love with her.
Talbot Bulstrode is stuck in the mud aristocrat who wants to be loved. John Hellish is a straightforward well-loved Yorkshire man. Aurora’s plain blonde cousin Lucy is in love with Talbot. Talbot wants Lucy to love him, but because he doesn’t realise she does, he falls in love with Aurora. Yep, really.
Spoilers – all the plot spoilers.
But really, be honest with yourself. It’s so long and meandering, you’re not going to read it. (If you really do want to, I recommend listening to it on Librivox.)
Aurora is already married. But really, this is just an excuse for Aurora to have sex. When she reads of her husband’s death, Aurora accepts the proposal of marriage by Talbot. Bigamy is less objectionable to Victorian sensibilities than fornication.
Obviously Lucy takes this with ladylike dignity. Aurora refuses to tell Talbot about her secret and they break up. Aurora marries John.
But when it turns out Aurora’s husband is still alive, yet again Aurora is blackmailed. (She gets blackmailed a lot.) The husband is murdered, and there’s a bit of a mystery at the end. Aurora lives HEA with John. Talbot and Lucy also live HEA.
It’s an interesting book from lots of perspectives. In particular, it’s amazing that the heroine has sexy-times and isn’t actually completely condemned for it. This hardly ever happens in modern or modern historical romances. Braddon is an intrusive omnipresent narrator, but doesn’t actually completely condemn Aurora’s behaviour. And there’s a hint of scathing about the way Braddon talks about Lucy that’s quite satisfying.
Trope and Inspiration take-homes for romance authors:
- Pre-marital/pre-hero sex. There really ought to be more of these stories. A lot more. It’s historically accurate and a genuine conflict for the heroine.
- Blackmail. Because really, why not?
- Black eyed heroines who are the daughters of a banker and an actress.
- Sly references to Dickens characters. Love this.
- Accidentally bigamy by the heroine? Is this a step too far?
- Suspicion of murder by the heroine. In fact, murder by a heroine? Why not.
- Riding and racehorses! Yes!
- A second choice romance… Could this work?
- Moral ambiguity.
Stuff to avoid:
- Pitting a blond woman against a brunette woman. Ack.
- God-like narrator. Nope.
- Bigamy. Probably ought to go in this section.
- Random dumps of landscape description.
- The main character keeping a secret from the reader. So annoying!