The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

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Miss Emily "Fido" Faithfull is a "woman of business" and a spinster pioneer in the British women’s movement, independent of mind but naively trusting of heart. Distracted from her cause by the sudden return of a once-dear friend, the unhappily wed Helen Codrington, Fido is swept up in the intimate details of Helen’s failing marriage and obsessive affair with a young army officer. What begins as a loyal effort to help a friend explodes into an intriguing courtroom drama complete with accusations of adultery, counterclaims of rape, and a mysterious letter that could destroy more than one life.

Based on a scandalous divorce case that gripped England in 1864, The Sealed Letter is a riveting, provocative drama of friends, lovers, and divorce, Victorian-style.




About Emma Donoghue

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Born in Dublin in 1969, Emma Donoghue is an Irish emigrant twice over: she spent eight years in Cambridge doing a PhD in eighteenth-century literature before moving to London, Ontario, where she lives with her partner and their two children. She also migrates between genres, writing literary history, biography, stage and radio plays as well as fairy tales and short stories. She is best known for her novels, which range from the historical (Slammerkin, Life Mask, Landing, The Sealed Letter) to the contemporary (Stir-Fry, Hood, Landing). Her international bestseller Room was a New York Times Best Book of 2010 and was a finalist for the Man Booker, Commonwealth, and Orange Prizes. For more information, visit
Published September 24, 2009 by Mariner Books. 416 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction, Gay & Lesbian, Biographies & Memoirs. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Sealed Letter

Kirkus Reviews

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The fact that Fido is oblivious to her beloved friend’s manipulative, scheming ways is only the most obvious problem with a sluggish tale possessing little of the deeply imagined period atmosphere of Life Mask (2004) and Slammerkin (2001), let alone the author’s usual sharp observations.

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The New York Times

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Donoghue’s sympathy for all three of her central characters emerges through intimate narration and lifts the novel out of the tabloid muck, despite the public shaming Harry, Helen and Fido experience.

Oct 12 2008 | Read Full Review of The Sealed Letter

The Guardian

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Fans of Emma Donoghue's Man Booker-shortlisted Room should be warned that The Sealed Letter is cut from a very different cloth.

Oct 07 2011 | Read Full Review of The Sealed Letter

BC Books

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Definitely recommended if you enjoy historical novels, or are interested in First Wave feminism.

Nov 04 2012 | Read Full Review of The Sealed Letter

Book Reporter

More often than not, Helen is accompanied by a dashing military officer, and the two even use Fido's own house for their assignations, much to Fido's embarrassment and disgust.

Jan 23 2011 | Read Full Review of The Sealed Letter

The Telegraph

The reader is presented with an appallingly accurate picture of women’s rights – or lack of them – after the 1857 Divorce Act: the husband had only to prove his wife was adulterous, but the wife had to prove her husband was incestuous, bigamous, cruel or neglectful.

Oct 27 2011 | Read Full Review of The Sealed Letter

The Bookbag

Summary: A beautifully paced and well researched story of betrayal, scandal and intrigue in Victorian England, based on real events.

Mar 17 2012 | Read Full Review of The Sealed Letter

Historical Novel Society

Even after Helen uses Fido’s parlor for a sexual assignation with the young man, infuriating Fido, she remains unwilling to recognize how heartless and manipulative Helen can be – even to her purported best friend.

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We Love This Book

The Sealed Letter is an account of a declining marriage and subsequent divorce, based on a true story dating back to 1864, when divorce, only recently legal, was seen as scandalous.

Oct 13 2011 | Read Full Review of The Sealed Letter

Seattle PI

Yet in the 1860s there was an initial, cautious flowering of women saying what were then radical things, like married women should have some rights of their own - to their bodies, their property, their children - but still very cautious, and trapped within the framework of mid-Victorian thinking ...

Nov 04 2012 | Read Full Review of The Sealed Letter


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It’s all the more interesting, then, that Fido who was fighting against this idea is thrust right into the middle of its reality.

Nov 26 2011 | Read Full Review of The Sealed Letter

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