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At the Circulating Library

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: A Perilous Secret

Author and Title: Charles Reade. A Perilous Secret

First Edition: London: Bentley, 1885. 2 volumes.


Summary: Titled Love and Money during its serial runs in some newspapers. A highly sensational novel involving false identities, fraud, and bigamy. Homeless and unemployed William Hope, with his motherless daughter Grace, tramps across northern England seeking work. In Hull he enters the offices of Bartley where he meets two clerks: Bolton (really Bartley's nephew Walter Clifford in disguise) and Leonard Monckton. Walter hopes to learn business without his father Colonel Clifford's knowledge due to his father's prejudice against trade. Coincidentally, much happens in the short space of a day. Monckton's embezzlement has been detected and he attempts to frame Walter with the crime (which is observed by Hope). Colonel Clifford arrives to report the death of his sister whose £20,000 fortune has been left to Bartley's daughter Mary who has died earlier that very day. Bartley and Hope meet: the poor man confesses to his poverty and starving daughter, and Bartley proposes he raise Hope's child as his own thereby securing the inheritance to his "daughter" and not Clifford's son Walter. Hope, in his desperation, agrees to the fraud in exchange for a comfortable position in the company. This conversation is observed by Monckton who plans to blackmail the two. In another of his villainous schemes, he aims to entrap Walter into a marriage with his "sister" Lucy—she has cold feet at the last moment and Walter escapes the trap. However, Monckton (in Walter's name) marries Lucy. When Bartley accuses Walter of theft, Hope (now freshly clothed as a gentleman) reveals Monckton's crime and the villain is arrested, tried, and sentenced to fourteen years. He swears revenge on the three. Over the intervening years, Bartley raises Grace as his own daughter Mary, Hope works as Bartley's business manager, and Walter returns to his father to clear the family's estate of its debts. Bartley rents a farm from Colonel Clifford, despite their mutual antipathy, in order to mine coal on the land through a sharply worded contract. The move brings Grace and Walter together and the two fall in love against their fathers' wishes. Eventually, they secretly marry hoping their fathers will have to accept their marriage. Monckton's release from prison brings him to the neighborhood seeking revenge on Bartley, Hope, and Walter. In disguise, Monckton shows Grace the fraudulent marriage license causing her to question her marriage to Walter. A lost bracelet and the revelation of the secret marriage causes Hope to reclaim Grace as his own daughter (hence Bartley's fraud on the Cliffords). Monckton, attempting to blackmail Bartley, pressures the businessman into firing the mine with Hope in it to secure his silence. Grace overhears their plan and runs to the mine to warn her father—arriving too late, Hope and Grace are trapped in the mine. Bartley, to his credit, immediately repents of his actions and works, alongside Walter, to free those trapped in the mine. Freed at the last minute, Walter and Grace are reunited. A chastened Clifford wholeheartedly accepts his new daughter-in-law; a forgiven Bartley retires to his farm; and Hope goes on to be a successful engineer. Monckton, however, escapes the law through the machinations of his lawyer. He has inherited a large estate from a distant relative, so he changes names and lives with Lucy until his early death. (TJB)

Title Tags:

References: BL; Sutherland; Vann


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