East Lynne was for me a surprising story. It dealt with our Victorian heroine acting in a very un-Victorian manner (different for me from the very prudish characters I have read about).
Isabel Vane is left penniless by her father who was greatly in debt. Their lawyer who is privy to the whole story feels pity for Isabel and offers her the security of marriage much to the chagrin of Barbara who has been waiting on the sidelines for ages always in love with Carlyle and waiting for him to notice him. Isabel herself is a pretty young woman who captures the lawyer's fancy.
At the same time on the sidelines as it were the lawyer is helping Barbara's brother who is a fugitive from justice and on the run. Barbara's father has sworn that he should not step his home and her mother is distraught at the loss of her son. Barbara herself believes implicitly that her brother has been framed and is seeking a way of proving his innocence. Barbara keeps seeing Carlyle (almost like assignations as these are kept secret even from her mother) and Isabel believes that the two - her husband and Barbara are having an affair and that he regrets his marriage to her. To add to the general mix up, a rake by the name of Levinson is also around at the same time, and he somehow convinces Isabel that her husband is having an affair. Isabel elopes with him to the Continent and a very unhappy situation develops for her. She has left her husband and her two children behind who all believe that she is dead, due to her identity papers being discovered on a train that met with a crash.
It all sounds highly improbable and the plot develops further and further. It seemed a never ending developing of one story from the next - like the 1001 tales of an Arabian fantasy - but what is clever is that the author somehow makes you feel sorry for Isabel. She always seems like the aggrieved party despite her behaviour and this is somewhat at odds with the story.
I was left feeling that it was too much to believe - one could not imagine circumstances so neatly falling into place time and time again. Once or twice would have been believable. More than that was a tad too much.