A NEW exhibition exploring the life of a sensational' Richmond author opens at Richmond Museum later this month.

The Sensational Miss Braddon', reveals the life of Mary Braddon, who is described as a 19th century author with a 21st century life, opens on January 14 and continues until April 24.

Mary Braddon was said to be a literary superstar of the Victorian era with a life story as fascinating as any of her sensation' novels.

Penniless by the age of 15, she changed her name to Seyton (pronounced Satan) and embarked on a career as an actress in an age when the profession was taboo and associated with loose morals.

Eking out a living with a writing career she was credited, along with Wilkie Collins, with inventing the sensation' genre. Dismissed a populist trash' by George Eliot and caricatured by Punch, she was to become a pillar of the literary establishment. Henry James described her as a magnificent benefactress to the literary estate.' After a seemingly bigamous marriage and the death of her publisher husband's insane first wife she lived elegantly at Lichfield House, Richmond, holding glittering soirees while carefully cultivating a respectable reputation.

In addition to the exhibition the National Film Theatre will be showing a film of her best known novel, Lady Audley's Secret on January 16 and 24 as part of the 1920s film season.

And in Secrets and Rumours: The unconventional life of M E Braddon, a specially commissioned play at the Orange Tree Theatre, Mary Elizabeth reflects on her life and its carefully hidden scandals.

It has been written by Richmond residents Doug Pinchin and Richard Morris, starring Sabina Franklyn. There will be two performances of the play, which is a joint fundraiser for the theatre and museum, on january 25 at 4.30pm and 7.30pm.

On March 30 a Braddon day will take place at the museum and in the library room at the Old Town Hall. There will be a guided tour around Braddon's Richmond and several distinguished speakers including Jennifer Carnell (author of Literary Lives of Mary Elizabeth Braddon) and Matthew Sweet (author of inventing the Victorians) will contribute to the programme.