Sensation and the City: Charlotte Riddell’s George Geith and the Emergence of the Sensation Genre

Helena Ifill* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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Charlotte Riddell’s George Geith of Fen Court was published in 1864, just after Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, Ellen Wood’s East Lynne, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret seemed to initiate the sensation genre. It features adultery, bigamy, false identities, forgery, illegitimacy, and a fake pregnancy, and Riddell is often referred to as a sensation author by modern critics. However, George Geith resists easy categorization as a sensation novel and Riddell was frequently compared with George Eliot, a respected realist author. Riddell uses sensational plots in a way that managed to avoid George Geith being castigated as a sensation novel by reviewers, but that allowed her to convey some transgressive notions about marriage and to further her agenda to make the City of London and its hardworking businessmen viable fictional subjects. In undertaking this analysis of George Geith this article suggests that one new direction for sensation studies is to reconsider why certain authors (such as Riddell) have been classed as sensational, and by doing so revisit the criteria that have been used to identify sensation fiction (including plot, tone, and reputation) then and now.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-242
Number of pages22
Issue number3
Early online date31 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022


  • bigamy
  • Charlotte Riddell
  • genre
  • illegitimacy
  • realism
  • sensation fiction


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