Dress Down Sunday: Dora Thorne by Charlotte M Brame–Part 2

started appearing as a magazine serial in 1871, published as a book later


Dora Thorne
Beatrice Earle was alone at last--alone with her happiness and love. It seemed impossible that her heart and brain could ever grow calm or quiet again. It was all in vain she tried to sleep. Lord Airlie's face, his voice, his words haunted her.

She rose, and put on a pretty pink dressing gown. The fresh air, she thought, would make her sleep, so she opened the long window gently, and looked out. The night was still and clear; the moon hung over the dark trees; floods of silvery light bathed the far-off lake, the sleeping flowers, and the green grass...

Into the proud, passionate heart there came some better, nobler thoughts. Ah, in the future that lay so brilliant and beautiful before her she would strive to be good, she would be true and steadfast, she would think more of what Lily loved and spoke about at times. 

Then her thoughts went back to her lover, and that happy half hour in the rose garden. From her window she could see it--the moon shone full upon it. The moonlight was a fair type of her life that was to be, bright, clear, unshadowed. Even as the thought shaped itself in her mind, a shadow fell among the trees. She looked, and saw the figure of a tall man walking down the path that divided the little garden from the shrubbery. He stood still there, gazing long and earnestly at the windows of the house, and then went out into the park, and disappeared.
commentary: In a previous entry on Dora Thorne I explained how I came to read this book – it is mentioned in Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie as an example of bad literature. And indeed, you can pretty much tell what kind of book it was by the excerpt above: melodramatic, full of incident, plenty of toffs and servants, and a romantic turn of phrase. Somewhat like Downton Abbey in real time.

We’ve already seen that posh Ronald has married poor girl Dora, but the marriage has fallen apart. Dora sets off back to England with the babies to rejoin her parents, who by now have moved away from the estate of Ronald’s parents - to Knutsford. How nice, I thought, small Cheshire town, the basis of Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford. But no, this place is on a clifftop in Kent. Here the twin daughters grow up in a strange situation: living with farmworkers but heirs to a grander life.

Beatrice – restless and beautiful – forms a secret attachment which is going to bring her nothing but pain. Lillian, we are told several times, is more ‘spirituelle’. This is a splendid word I’d never heard of before, meaning ‘of a highly refined character or nature, especially in conjunction with liveliness or quickness or mind.’

Eventually the old Lord dies: the girls are brought to live at Earlscourt, and Ronald is summoned home from his travels – he has not seen wife or children since they all left Florence. The girls are a huge social success and attract two very eligible suitors. At this point Beatrice’s long-ago boyfriend reappears and everything goes horribly wrong…

The book Undine features in the story – that’s what Jo March wanted to buy herself for Christmas at the beginning of Little Women.

I was delighted that a character read a letter ‘with a muttered imprecation of disappointment’. Biggles was a great one for imprecations, and they are a sign of high-level tosh in my view. And that’s what this is – high-level tosh. But it must have given great enjoyment to many people. It is a most eventful and entertaining story: you can quite see why it was a bestseller.

When someone finally gets a happy marriage, the couple is given this advice:
"Heaven bless you, my darling!" whispered Dora to her child. "And mind, never--come what may--never be jealous of your husband."
"Goodbye, Lionel," said Lord Earle, clasping the true, honest hand in his; "and, if ever my little darling here tries you, be patient with her."
The story of a life time was told in these two behests.

It’s a pity the book didn’t end there – then we could have missed out this gem:
She never troubled her head about "woman's rights;" she had no idea of trying to fill her husband's place; if her opinion on voting was asked, the chances were that she would smile and say, "Lionel manages all those matters."
I don’t suppose I’ll be looking for any more by this author, but I did enjoy Dora Thorne, and propose to describe myself as spirituelle from now on.

The picture is by Whistler, from the Athenaeum website.


  1. Oh, I love that word 'spirituelle,' too, Moira! I hadn't heard of it, either, before I read your blog post, and I think it's a great word! And then those imprecations! You know, every once in a while it's fun to read this sort of book, even if it's not what you'd call fantastic literature. And it does sound like an interesting look at that time.

    1. Exactly - every book has something to offer. This really wasn't a great work of literature, but just the fact that it was so popular makes it interesting.

  2. Sometimes characters "utter a string of blasphemies" - I always wanted to know what they were!

    1. Oh me too, my imagination used to run riot when I was younger. But nowadays I think - well how many swear words are there? Did they just repeat them after a while? There was also an idea that people swore 'fluently'.

  3. What a gem! The word 'tosh' had sprung to mind even before I reached your description.

    1. Posh tosh is a great description! And there is always a place for the occasional slice of tosh, especially when it's as dramatic as this one.

  4. Love the Whistler illustration. What he could do with a few lines!

    1. It's extraordinary isn't it? I just stared and stared at the picture.

    2. Yes. I read a quite detailed biography earlier this year, and while he could be rather a PITA, he was a real talent.

    3. It's the Mozart thing isn't it? Great talent not going along with a great character. (Just bought tickets to a production of Amadeus, so it's on my mind.)


Post a Comment