Victorian Popular Fictions 6.1 9 Butler-Way


Liminal Identities:

The London Reader’s Mrs. Larkall’s Boarding School (1864) and the Silhouette of Sensation

Emma Butler-Way

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In the first half of 1864, The London Reader serialised a sensational story attributed only to “the author of Man and his Idol,” which takes the reader on a whirlwind journey from the south coast of England, through continental Europe, and back again as a character is pursued by a “nameless terror.” That character is Gertrude Norman, and the story is Mrs Larkall’s Boarding School. The aim of this article is twofold: firstly, to begin a process of literary excavation, and offer an introduction to the story and some of the key plot points; secondly, to offer an analysis of the character of Gertrude Norman. This exploration will consider the role of girls’ education in constructing a Victorian woman, and ask how the genealogy between Gertrude and earlier sensation heroines such as M.E. Braddon’s Aurora Floyd, and Wilkie Collins’s Marian Halcombe and Magdalen Vanstone, and later figures such as Rhoda Broughton’s Kate Chester, and Florence Marryat’s Helene Treherne and Elfrida Salisbury works alongside that education to create a character who exists in a state of flux, a liminal being within her own narrative, and within the wider environment of sensation fiction of the 1860s.


The London Reader; periodical; sensation; Mary Elizabeth Braddon; Rhoda Broughton; Wilkie Collins; Florence Marryat; education; girlhood; identity

Date of Acceptance: 20 June 2024

Date of Publication: 28 June 2024

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:

Butler-Way, Emma. 2024. “Liminal Identities: The London Reader’s Mrs. Larkall’s Boarding School (1864) and the Silhouette of Sensation.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 6.1: 117-30. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) DOI: 

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