by Kaari Newman
The notion of destiny runs throughout Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Aurora Floyd. On the one hand, it provides the all-important element of foreshadowing, a vital ingredient to keep readers in suspense of what will happen and prompt them to buy the next installment of the serial. On the other, it offers Braddon the ability to ruminate on the passage of time, which never seems to pass at an even pace. The passage of time, or even a particular moment, often speeds up or slows down according to the mood or circumstances of a particular lived experience, which can lead to anxiety about what has passed or what’s to come. Braddon makes use of this perpetual stretching and condensing of time – its elasticity – in Aurora Floyd to illuminate the power of what believing in destiny does: it helps characters and readers make sense past actions in light of the uncertainties about the future. That Aurora Floyd was first published serially in Temple Bar magazine (from January, 1862 to January, 1863) only underscores this principle, because the nature of periodical publishing depends on both drawing readers into a narrative and then cutting the narrative short in order to pique their interest for the next installment — what Margaret Beetham calls the “open-ended and end-stopped” nature of periodicals.  As we shall see, then, elastic time functions on several levels, from the necessity of periodical narrative structure to the complexity of reader experience.
There are many passages we could choose to examine Braddon’s use of elastic time, but I have selected two in particular, both of which occur in the opening chapters of their respective installments. The first comes from Chapter XIII, “The Spring Meeting,” which was published in May, 1862. Aurora and her new husband, John Mellish, have entered a new filly into this auspicious horserace (the titular “Spring Meeting”), and Archibald Floyd, Aurora’s father, accompanies them to the racetrack. As he watches his daughter make bets with a “natural vivacity,” he is filled with
[A] fond emotion, so intermingled with gratitude to Heaven for the happiness of his daughter’s destiny as to be almost akin to pain. She was happy; she was thoroughly happy at last, this child of his dead Eliza, this sacred charge left to him by the woman he had loved; … he could go to his grave resignedly to-morrow, if it please God,—knowing this. 
There is a pause on the action of the present here while the narrative both reaches back to the beginning of the novel, where the bachelor banker marries a common actress, and anticipates the future of the old man (and every man, really). Thus, Mr. Floyd’s reverie captures three different modes of time: the present happiness of his daughter, the past loss of his beloved wife, and the future in which he is no longer around to provide for his daughter’s happiness. In this passage, then, the term “destiny” figures as “a fact or condition,”  an outcome of which happiness was not always certain. Mr. Floyd thus finds peace in this moment and can meet his Maker with confidence, knowing that the past wrongs of his daughter’s life have been seemingly overcome.
Such elasticity in time exists not only for characters, but also for readers. The narrator punctuates this passage with the following post-script: “Strange thoughts, perhaps for a crowded racecourse; but our most solemn fancies do not come always in solemn places. Nay, it is often in the midst of crowds and confusion that our souls wing their loftiest flights, and the saddest memories return to us.”  In this way, Braddon’s narrator links the reflections of Mr. Floyd to the lived experiences of the readers of Temple Bar. She seems to suggest that believing in the concept of destiny as “fact” is a common way to grapple with how the past connects to the present and in turn to the future. Amidst the “crowds and confusion” of daily life, moments of clarity and personal epiphanies about past actions, present realities or anticipated futures are regular occurrences.
The installment in which this first elastic episode appears concludes with Aurora swooning over the revelation that the prospective new horse trainer for Mellish Park is none other than James Conyers, her former husband whom she thought was dead. Unfortunately, readers must wait until the September issue to discover the true nature of the relationship between Aurora and Conyers. June’s installment of the novel opens on “the first week of July” when Conyers arrives, several months after the Spring Meeting and an abrupt jump from the “early spring” which opened May’s installment. July’s issue offers no relief either, and stretches the time between sensational shock and eventual revelation even further. Indeed, its action only spans a few weeks, as opposed to a few months, keeping readers in suspense of what the dreadful secret of Aurora and Conyers’ connection can possibly be.
July’s issue is the site of our second passage on elastic time. Having ended June’s issue “with terrible doubts and anxieties creeping”  into Aurora and John’s happy marriage, July’s installment opens with the couple descending on Archibald Floyd’s estate at Felden Woods, where Talbot Bulstrode (Aurora’s former lover) and his new wife Lucy (Archibald’s niece), are visiting. In an after-dinner walk along a bridge where Aurora and Talbot had once discussed their “bright future,”  Talbot reflects on “the influence which this family of Felden Woods had had upon his destiny” in this way:
Barely two years! not two years! And how much had been done and thought and suffered since! How contemptible was the narrow space of time, yet what terrible eternities of anguish, what centuries of heartbreak, had been compressed into that pitiful sum of days and weeks! 
Like the previous passage we examined, this reflection both catches the reader up on what has already happened in the story (i.e., the swift engagement and abrupt break-up of Talbot and Aurora) and then contemplates “what might have been,” much as readers themselves might have done when Talbot broke his engagement with Aurora way back in March’s issue (the break-up concludes that issue’s installment to highly dramatic effect). The hyperbolic magnitude of Talbot’s suffering, which lasted for “centuries” and “eternities,” juxtaposed with the repetition of “two years” and the “narrow” span of time condenses the past into the present, reminding readers that despite how Talbot felt about the passage of time, it was in fact only two years. At the same time, a few paragraphs later the narrative expands time again, noting that though “The jagged flesh may reunite … the wound has been, and to the last hour of our lives there are unfavourable winds which can make us wince with the old pain.”  Thus the push and pull of time is felt throughout this passage, and crystallizes on the present action of walking on the iron bridge where once Talbot and Aurora stood as lovers.
Again, this elasticity of time speaks to the lived experiences of readers who may have also suffered in disappointed love, even if their lives have since turned out for the better, or at least, more conventionally. Such affirmation that even the most devastating of personal storms can be weathered may have been of particular comfort to the middle-class readers at whom the Temple Bar editors directed their content. As Deborah Wynne notes, the 1860’s were “an ‘anxious’ age. The peace and stability which had popularly been associated with British society at the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851 had given way to a more insecure outlook” caused by a variety of factors, including “political irritability,” economic depression and moral uncertainty due to a rise in violent crime.  In such a time, then, the elasticity of time rendered in Aurora Floyd and elsewhere in Temple Bar  offers readers reassurance that their destinies may in fact turn out quite differently than they currently expect. Indeed, the notion of active agency is at work in Talbot’s use of “destiny” in this passage;  his destiny has been forever changed by the Floyd family, though not in the ways he expected just two short years ago.
Therefore, as we can see in these two passages, the idea of elastic time offers both the characters of Aurora Floyd and its mid-century Victorian readers a way to grapple with the inevitable passage of time. Elastic time helps make sense of the present in light of the past and the hopes for the future. In both passages examined here, the characters seem to be asking, “How did I get here?” and the answer comes through a simultaneous condensing and stretching of time. While readers must wade through another twenty chapters to find out whether Aurora’s dreadful secret actually proves to be the undoing of everyone’s happiness, these moments of elastic time give the characters — and readers — the hope of a brighter future, and thus the fortitude to carry on.
 Margaret Beetham, “Towards a Theory of the Periodical as a Publishing Genre,” in Investigating Victorian Journalism, ed. Laurel Brake, Aled Jones and Lionel Madden (New York: St. Martin’s, 1990), 28. See also 26-27.
 Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Aurora Floyd, ed. P.D. Edwards (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008), 147.
 OED Online, definition 1.
 Braddon, 147.
 Braddon, 213.
 Braddon, 77.
 Braddon, 223.
 Braddon, 224, emphasis in original.
 Deborah Wynne, “Tantalizing Portions: Serialized Sensation Novels and Family Magazines,” in The Sensation Novel and the Victorian Family Magazine (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2001), 8.
 For example, the poem, “Then—And Now,” written by Temple Bar editor Edward Yates and published in the May, 1862 issue also makes use of elastic time to contemplate how the world has degenerated from the illustrious 1850s.
 OED Online, definition 4b, which indicates that with a possessive pronoun, destiny becomes a “power or agency held to predetermine a particular person’s life or lot.”
Beetham, Margaret. “Towards a Theory of the Periodical as a Publishing Genre.” In Investigating Victorian Journalism, edited by Laurel Brake, Aled Jones and Lionel Madden, 19-32. New York: St. Martin’s, 1990.
Braddon, Mary Elizabeth. Aurora Floyd, edited by P.D. Edwards. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008.
Wynne, Deborah. “Tantalizing Portions: Serialized Sensation Novels and Family Magazines.” In The Sensation Novel and the Victorian Family Magazine, 1-37. Houndmills: Palgrave, 2001.