The Prey of the Gods

The Prey of the Gods was first published by Bentley in 1871.  The story is partly a retelling of East Lynne, but with a happy ending for the erring heroine.  The Athenaeum was horrified by the immorality of the tale: “Mrs Church will hardly justify…a story the whole of which hinges upon the hardship of adherence to the marriage vow.”  The reviewer was mollified only by the sufferings of the two protagonists, but felt they did not deserve a happy ending.  Conversely, John Bull found it “impossible to speak too highly of the sound tone, at once moral and manly, religious and sensible, which pervades [the novel].”

Short synopsis

Trapped in a loveless marriage with the unfeeling Sir Lyster, Lady Gwendoline Gwynne falls for the dubious charms of Auberon Slade, a notorious poet.  Their plans to elope are abandoned when Lady Gwynne’s daughter Daisy suffers a serious fall, and she resolves to do her duty by staying with her family.  Auberon quickly marries a dull young woman in a fit of pique, but regrets his haste when Sir Lyster dies on his wedding day.

The newly-liberated Lady Gwynne begins a new life in the country with her daughter, but is horrified when Auberon and his wife take a house nearby.  She does her best to befriend the young Mrs Slade, helping her to become a better wife and thus avoid her husband’s fiery temper.  All is well until Auberon lets slip his undying passion for his former lover within earshot of his wife, who is outraged and lets forth a torrent of insults.  Lady Gwynne is forced to remove herself to the Continent with Daisy and begin her life over again.

Ten years later, Lady Gwynne and Auberon meet by chance in Paris.  His wife has died during childbirth, leaving him with two sickly children.  Rendered more noble by his suffering, Lady Gywnne realises that her love for him is undiminished.  After an awkward interlude during which she thinks he is going to ask for Daisy’s hand in marriage, Auberon proposes to Lady Gwynne and they are at last united in their love.