28 DECEMBER 1861, Page 20


Wc are threatened with a new variety of the sensation novel, a host of cleverly complicated storiei, the whole interest of whia consists in the gradual unravelling 'of some carefully prepared enigma. Mr. Wilkie Collins set the fashion, and now every novel writer who can -construct a plot, thinks if he only makes it a little more mysterious .and unnatural, he may obtain a success rivalling that of the "Woman in White. We beg to protest in /bane against, any such waste of ingenuity. The." Woman in White" was endurable simply because the mystery to be unravelled was of its kind perfect, though we hold silently, nevertheless, that the delineation of Count Fosco was a far higher artistic effort than constructing the 'plot. I &ood detective might have prepared that, but he coal not have conceived Count Fosco, or made him move if he had by the light of a .special experience been able to conceive him. But thereis not the slightest probability that the swarm of imitators-will vonitriet plots nearly so good, or achieve any result except that of wasting very considerable powers upon an utterly worthless end. Here is a story which Might have been an excellent one lied it not been spoiled by one of these voluminous, and but half-concealed; enigmas, a silly surprise only fit for a second-rate theatre, to which all the incidents and all dermea- tion. of character have been kept subordinate. , We must give a slight sketch of the plot at the risk of incurring the reproach that we have betrayed the author's secret, which, how- ever, to people who do not believe in ghosts, is patent throughout the book. In so doing, we must confine ourselves absolutely to the central thread, for the novel is a wilderness of characters, usually sketched in with a firm hard stroke, which leaves them strongly im- printed on the mind, but so numerous, that the memory is oppressed by the mere multitude of the figures. A wealthy heiress, Harriet Windham, is sued by a man, Herbert Leiton, of a very unusual type. He is a keen, worldly, selfish man, with an intense regard for his family, and no particular vices; and he resolves to marry Harriet, who is oldish, plain, and strong-minded, for the sake of their comfort and his own ease. After a variety of intrigues, very well related, Harriet—who is pain- fully situated with an unpleasant family devoted to "position"—

accepts Herbert Leiton, and, after an interval of literary life in London, retires with him to the estate of Castleford. They are, out-

wardly, very- happy ; she is exceedingly fond of her husband; he is master in his own house, raises all his family to comfort, and manages Ins wife's property with exceeding ability.- [It is a curious proof of the true character of the woman's-rights doctrine that Miss Brown evidently thinks Leiton wrong in thus

taking control of his wife's fortime. She forgets entirely that as all liabilities incurred in the house fell on him, his wife's control of the money would have been as great an injustice perpetrated on him, as she assumes his independence to be against her.] Unfortunately, however, Herbert Leiton becomes acquainted at the county town with a school-girl, Jessie Monro, who is exactly what Mrs. Leiton is not, soft, and lovable, and affectionate. She falls in love with the courtly, accomplished man, who is so kind to her, and a connexion is formed, innocent as the world goes, but not perhaps quite so innocent in the sight of Heaven, and involving secret letters, and stolen visits, and all

"The danger o' concealin', • Which hardens a' the feelin'."

Jessie, however, is innocent :

"Leiton had the same kind of half-schooled conscience which made him stop short of the legal and recognized wrong. In this his natural coldness of blood befriended him. A man of warmer temperament would have fled from the temptation, or fallen into the sin, according as principle or passion predominated in his nature ; but Leiton could approach the precipice with- out losing his balance. Moreover, with those frigid souls love is an occupation rather than a passion. The secret letters, the stolen meetings, the talks and memories attendant on them, were business and excitement for the unengaged heart of the man. They filled up the blank in his life which Seldon and Co. could not supply ; they enabled him to bear with a remarkable good grace the pious vagaries and untiring demonstrations of his liege lady."

A cousin, who arrives opportunely at one of these stolen interviews,

The Castle„forcl Case. By Miss Frances Browne. Hurst and Blackett.

breaks off the acquaintance, and Herbert returns to his wife to dreara of Jessie. A few months pass, the passion is unconquered, there is a rumour that Jessie has "taken up" with a new friend, and Mra:Leiton disappears. She is supposed to have drowned herself, but the body buried for her is not recognizable. Herbert marries Jessie, and the bridegroom is suspected by the whole village of having committed murder. The tale at last comes to the ears of a family who have a re. versionary interest in Castleford, and Herbert is charged formally with the crime. All this while the feeling against him has been increased by the reports that the ghost of the murdered wife haunts Castle. ford House—Mrs. Leiton has seen it, the children have seen it, the servants and villagers have seen it, and finally Herbert himself per. ceives the apparition.

It is of course no ghost, but the first Mrs. Leiton herself, who, disco- vering as she thought, her husband's infidelity, in her mad jealousy, had fled, hoping he would lose the property, and then finding his life interest still valid, returned to live for three years in a garret in a deserted wing of the house, and amuse herself by frightening the new wife. She, of course, appears at the trial, Jessie goes mad, and Herbert disappears from the story in retirement with his family. All this is related with very considerable skill in the management of incidents, and no slight power of writing.- relation to Jessie is singu- larly well described, amid so is the instinctive love of the keen, worldly, cold-blooded man for the girl who satisfied his idea of beauty and grace, and who liked him. But the book is an enigma novel, and Must be judged by the value of the enigma, and that is simply nothing. The plot is absurd, for the concealment could never have been effected. Mrs. Leiton in the garret had to find money to Subsist on, however little, and it is morally impossible he could. -have obtained any with- out betraying her existence to some one who knew her husband. Nor would.the ghost story have -satisfied anybody in Herbert's posi. .tion -for an. hour. The house would have been watched, the disused wing hunted through and through, or pulled down, and the ghost discovered within a week. A woman might be kept in confinement by another easily enough, but not by herself without incessant risk of betrayal. Nor is it true.. to nature that a. woman read with jealousy and ready to sacrifice herself utterly in order to be revenged, should consent, even if slightly intine, to see henqinee peacefully taken by a second wife, she starving for three gamin- a.heokless garret the while. A plot of this kind is nothing if nOtiProbable, and not all the carefully prepared intidents leading up.Anthe catastrophe can make this one seem probable. Great observatitin of life, a re- markable faculty for saying clever timings, and a clear insight into character -of one or two kinds, are all wasted in the endeavour to construct a story which, when constructed, is nothing but an over- grown and melancholy enigma.