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A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: Joshua Haggard's Daughter

Author and Title: Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Joshua Haggard's Daughter: A Novel

First Edition: London: John Maxwell, 1876. 3 volumes, cr. 8vo., 31s 6d.

Serialization: Belgravia, December 1875 to December 1876 (monthly)

Summary: The novel opens with Joshua Haggard, the Methodist minister of Combhollow, saving Oswald Pentreath, the eldest son of the local squire, from drowning at sea during a storm. Joshua is a widower and known in the town as a rigid but fair man. After the encounter, Oswald becomes familiar with the Haggard household, including Joshua’s daughter, Naomi. Meanwhile, on a journey to a neighboring town, Joshua encounters a young circus runaway named Cynthia. He takes pity on her and helps her obtain a position in domestic service in a nearby town. Oswald and Naomi fall in love and want to marry. Joshua is hesitant about the marriage due to the difference in social class between the two, but he ultimately approves of the union, with the stipulation that the engagement period lasts at least a year. On a return visit to Cynthia, Joshua develops romantic feelings for the young girl. Cynthia is very naïve, innocent, and impressionable. Her feelings for Joshua are a combination of reverence and gratitude, and she accepts his proposal of marriage. In a few short months they are married, drawing the ire and disapproval of the Haggard family and Combhollow, the majority of whom object to the middle-aged minister marrying a teenage girl younger than his own daughter. Cynthia joins the Haggard household, and Oswald develops a passionate love for her. In order to communicate his feelings to Cynthia, Oswald hatches a plan to read Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) to her, a novel which he believes mirrors his forbidden love of an unavailable woman. The plan works, and Cynthia feels the beginnings of something like desire for Oswald, but she respects Joshua and Naomi too much to act on her feelings. Naomi accidently intercepts a love letter from Oswald to Cynthia requesting a secret rendezvous. In a flash of jealously, Naomi gives the letter to Joshua, alerting him to his wife’s apparent infidelity. Joshua secretly follows Cynthia to her clandestine meeting with Oswald. At the meeting, Cynthia breaks off all ties with Oswald, declares her loyalty to Joshua, and encourages Oswald to keep his engagement with Naomi. Cynthia departs, and Joshua angrily confronts Oswald about the affair. Joshua shoots Oswald and hides the body in a nearby well. In the wake of Oswald’s sudden disappearance, his younger brother Arnold, who had left Combhollow in his youth to become a sailor, returns to investigate. Joshua denounces Cynthia and banishes her back to her domestic position. Arnold becomes close with Naomi and they fall in love. Through a bit of detective work, Arnold discovers Oswald’s love for Cynthia and learns of their fateful meeting. He recovers Oswald’s body and publically accuses Joshua of the murder, but, without evidence, Combhollow refuses to attribute such a terrible crime to their respected preacher. Joshua is driven mad with guilt. One night, he believes he hears Cynthia’s voice in a dream calling to him and asking for forgiveness, and he decides to reunite with her. Before leaving, he writes Arnold a letter of confession. The letter claims that he and Oswald had a fair duel and that, at the last moment, Oswald fired his pistol in the air, instead of at Joshua. Joshua arrives in the neighboring town to find that Cynthia has just died of an unknown illness; he dies of a stoke shortly after. Joshua’s claim that Oswald died fairly allows Arnold to forgive Joshua and marry Naomi. (SCT)

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References: Bodleian; EC; Wolff