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A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: Ishmael

Author and Title: Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Ishmael: A Novel

First Edition: London: John Maxwell, 1884. 3 volumes, post 8vo, 31s 6d.

Serialization: The Whitehall Review, 17 January 1884 to 18 September 1884 (weekly)

Summary: The story opens in Brittany, France with Raymond Caradec of Pen-Hoël. Raymond’s first wife, Corale d’Estrange, absconds with her lover and Raymond’s first born son, Sébastien. Madame Caradec and Lisette, her maid, move around France until finally settling in Paris and becoming actresses in a lowly theatre. Plagued by failed relationships and alcoholism, Madame Caradec eventually dies, and Sébastien returns to his father. Sébastien is given little-to-no formal education and spends his time outside working with his hands, but he is naturally good natured and hard working and wins the respect of everyone he meets, except his father, who resents him because of his mother’s infidelity. Raymond remarries Adèle and they have two boys. Adèle and Sébastien never get along, even though Sébastien is a devoted older brother to her two sons. After taking his brothers on a trip that worries Adèle, she lies to Raymond that Sébastien abuses her when Raymond is absent. Sébastien leaves to make his own way in Paris, taking the name Ishmael. He finds work as a stonemason. Though he is an aristocrat, whose class tends to favor the rule of the Empire, Ishmael takes up with the working class Republican sentiment. In a poor neighborhood in Paris, we meet the Lemoine family. Their only daughter runs off with a mysterious man, whom she claims is of noble birth. After three years, she returns to her family disgraced and sick and dies shortly thereafter, leaving behind a young daughter, Pâquerette. Poverty and alcoholism keep the Lemoine’s from giving Pâquerette a good upbringing. Some neighbors—the Benoît sisters—show kindness to Pâquerette and through their company she meets Ishmael. During Louis Napolean’s coup d’État, Père Lemoine dies accidently in one of the clashes between the army and the Republicans, and Ishmael, fighting on the side of the Republicans, is injured. He finds refuge with Hector de Valnois, a young intellectual and artist. Ishmael soon gets wind that Lisette is now a semi-successful actress, though she still preforms in disreputable theatres. Several months pass. Pâquerette shows up at Ishmael’s house after running away from her abusive grandmother. Ishmael finds her lodging with Lisette. Lisette wants to train Pâquerette to be a singer, but Ishmael does not want such a disreputable career for her. Ishmael falls in love with Pâquerette and they are married, though Raymond requires Ishmael to renounce his family name and inheritance before approving of the union. After two years of marriage, Pâquerette grows bored and begins an affair with Hector. A plague hits Pen-Hoël and claims Ishmael’s entire family, leaving Ishmael wealthy. While Ishmael is visiting Pen-Hoël, Pâquerette runs away with Hector. Sixteen years pass, and Ishmael has become a millionaire who moves in the highest circles of Parisian society. He meets a wealthy young widow, Constance Danetree. They fall in love, but Ishmael refuses to marry if Pâquerette is still alive. He hires a shady man named Dumont to search for her. Dumont’s real name is Theodore de Valnois, Hector’s cousin. Dumont is aware of Hector and Pâquerette’s location but deceives Ishmael out of malice and greed. Dumont reveals that he is Pâquerette’s estranged father. He hires two sailors to testify to Ishmael that Pâquerette is dead. With this information, Ishmael proposes to Constance. Meanwhile, Pâquerette leaves Hector after an argument and returns to her grandmother, who lives in poverty. Pâquerette overhears her neighbors, two working class men who distain Ishmael’s capitalistic labor practices, discussing a plot to assassinate Ishmael on his wedding day. Pâquerette follows the men to the church and shields Ishmael from the attack. She dies from the wound after receiving forgiveness from Ishmael. Ishmael and Constance are married, and Hector hangs himself. (SCT)

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References: Bodleian; EC