A Sunless Heart
  • Publication Date: June 12, 2008
  • ISBN: 9781551117416 / 155111741X
  • 246 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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A Sunless Heart

  • Publication Date: June 12, 2008
  • ISBN: 9781551117416 / 155111741X
  • 246 pages; 5½" x 8½"

In A Sunless Heart, Edith Johnstone establishes a feverish atmosphere for her novel’s story of emotional and physical hardship and the power of bonds between women. Its first third focuses on Gasparine O’Neill, who shares an intense connection with her sickly twin brother, Gaspar. Living in poverty, the two struggle to live decently until Gaspar dies. Here gritty naturalism gives way to fantasy, as Gasparine is rescued from despair by the brilliant Lotus Grace, a much-admired teacher at the local Ladies’ College. Sexually exploited from the age of twelve by her sister’s fiancé, Lotus cannot love anyone, not even her illegitimate child. Gasparine devotes herself to Lotus, but Lotus finds her final brief happiness with a woman student, Mona Lefcadio, a passionate Trinidadian heiress. Exploring issues of race, sexuality, and class in compelling prose, A Sunless Heart is a startling re-discovery from the late-Victorian era.

The appendices to this Broadview edition provide contemporary documents that illuminate the tension between romantic friendship and lesbian consciousness in the novel and address other debates in which the novel participates: the nature of Creole identity, the education of women, and the dangers of childhood sexual exploitation.


A Sunless Heart is an intriguing novel with compelling characters and bold viewpoints that explores in fascinating ways a spectrum of issues in the late-Victorian period. Examining such significant concerns as female work, sexual perspective, abusive behavior, and searing poverty, the novel presents a complex treatment of controversial ideas and experiences. This excellent Broadview edition brings to our attention an unusual and striking text that had all but disappeared into undeserved obscurity. The novel is helpfully contextualized in the appendices through illuminating extracts on such topics as contemporary fiction, women’s roles, and sexual behavior.” — Patricia Murphy, Missouri Southern State University

“Expertly introduced and comprehensively annotated, this edition makes a significant contribution to the study of fin-de-siècle women’s writing. The extensive contextual information offers fascinating insights into a text which at the time of its publication in 1894 was placed alongside the works of New Woman writers. Idiosyncratic, almost baroque in its literary excess, and resistant to categorisation, A Sunless Heart constitutes an arresting document of late-Victorian social problem literature. Not only did the author subvert the trope of the fallen woman by reclaiming her as a respected college teacher, she also braved moral censure in her treatment of taboo subjects such as brother-sister incest, child sexual abuse, and lesbian desire.” — Ann Heilmann, University of Hull



Edith Johnstone: A Brief Chronology

A Note on the Text

A Sunless Heart

Appendix A: Contemporary Reviews

  1. Glasgow Herald (19 July 1894)
  2. Scotsman (23 July 1894)
  3. Pall Mall Gazette (25 July 1894)
  4. Daily Telegraph (3 August 1894)
  5. James Ashcroft Noble, Academy (4 August 1894)
  6. Athenaeum (4 August 1894)
  7. Stirling Journal and Advertiser (10 August 1894)
  8. Spectator (25 August 1894)
  9. Bookman (September 1894)
  10. Publishers’ Circular (15 September 1894)
  11. The Lady (8 November 1894)

Appendix B: Controversies over Modern Fiction

  1. From W.L. Courtney, “Books of the Day,” Daily Telegraph (30 March 1894)
  2. From W.L. Courtney, “Books of the Day,” Daily Telegraph (6 April 1894)
  3. From W.T. Stead, “The Novel of the Modern Woman,” Review of Reviews (July 1894)
  4. From “The Philistine” [J.A. Spender], The New Fiction … and Other Papers (1895)
  5. From Hugh E.M. Stutfield, “Tommyrotics,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (June 1895)
  6. From “The Innings of the Philistines,” Review of Reviews (June 1895)

Appendix C: The Expansion of Women’s Roles

  1. From Withers Moore, “The Higher Education of Women,” British Medical Journal (14 August
  2. From Lucy M. Hall, “Higher Education of Women and the Family,” Popular Science Monthly
  3. From Karl Pearson, “Woman and Labour,” Fortnightly Review (1894)
  4. From D.S.M. [Dugald Sutherland MacColl], “Women Artists,” Saturday Review (1899)
  5. From Florence Fenwick-Miller, “The Ladies’ Column,” Illustrated London News (21 December

Appendix D: Sexuality

  1. From W.T. Stead, “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon,” Pall Mall Gazette (7 July 1885)
  2. From Allan McLane Hamilton, “The Civil Responsibility
    of Sexual Perverts,” American Journal of Insanity
  3. From Havelock Ellis, Sexual Inversion (1901)

Appendix E: Conceptions of the West Indies

  1. From James Anthony Froude, The English in the West Indies (1888)
  2. From J.J. Thomas, Froudacity (1889)
  3. From T. Lothrop Stoddard, The French Revolution in San Domingo (1914)

Select Bibliography

Constance D. Harsh is Professor of English at Colgate University, Hamilton, New York.