This novelette begins with the return of Sarah Chrighton to her ancestral home for Christmas after working twelve years abroad in Vienna and St. Petersburg as a governess. The Chrightons are an ancient, landed family. Parts of their mansion dates back to the reign of King Stephen. Miss Sarah was left unprovided for at the time of her father’s untimely death and had to work to support herself.
She is welcomed warmly by the family and the help living in the Abbey. The huge old building is full of guests and rife legends of ghosts. Miss Sarah is an educated woman, not given to any such nonsense as belief in ghosts. She is not troubled when given rooms that were once part of the original abbey and face the no-longer-used stables, the site of some of the old stories.
The Chrighton family has a long history of tragedy, but the present chatelaine is not worried. Her only son, a beloved young man, is engaged to a wealthy young woman from an old family. None of those men who met their untimely demises were married. And young Edward will soon be married.
This piece is nicely atmospheric. Author Braddon describes preparations for the New Year’s ball:
“…and then came a long interregnum devoted to the arts and mysteries of the toilet; while maids flitted to and fro laden with frilled muslin petticoats from the laundry, and a faint smell of singed hair pervaded the corridor.”
However, the foreshadowing is so heavy it leaves no room for surprise. When the inevitable tragedy occurs, the reader has not only sees it coming for a while, but has seen it in detail. Maybe it’s just that this type of story had been told too many time between 1871 when the story first appeared and now, but it makes for a disappointment.
Author Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835-1915) was associated with what was called “sensation” fiction, that is, melodramatic fiction from the latter half of the 19th century often using elements of crime drama, but drawing also from gothic and romantic traditions. Her most popular work is the novel “Lady Audley’s Secret.” “At Chrighton Abbey” was first published in “Belgravia,” a magazine Braddon founded. It is now available as an e-book.