Robert Audley – More than meets the eye?


Lady Audley’s Secret begins without a clear-cut hero that is identified.  The reader is introduced to a multitude of seemingly flawed characters such as George Talboys, Robert Audley, and Luke Marks.  On the surface it seems that Robert Audley is a lazy, carefree, and self-indulgent individual who doesn’t exhibit any motivation.  However, once he learns of his friend George Talboy’s disappearance,Robert’s heroic qualities begin to come to fruition.  I believe that Robert is a major character in the story as it seems that he is the only one who illustrates any worry or doubt to the disappearance of George Talboys.  For example, he says “It is so great a mystery to me…that I scarcely dare to
draw any conclusion whatever; but in the obscurity I think I can grope
my way to two suppositions, which to me seem almost certainties,” basically implying that he George’s vanishing is setting off some of the moral alarms in his mind.  At the end of the chapter, he comes to the realization that this disappearance was not a mistake and exclaims “George Talboys never reached Southampton.”  This central theme of curiosity and doubt can also be classified as that of madness by the other characters in the novel. Robert is repeatedly told that his inquires into the disappearance of George is described as madness, and this is an overall theme that is prevalent throughout the story.  Lady Audley accuses Robert of being “mad” as he digs deeper into the strange occurrences surrounding George, and at the time in England, this was not a term that was thrown around lightly. However, this madness drives Robert to stray away from his lazy and non-motivational tendencies; becoming a hero in the process.  Ironically, as Robert is coming closer to being “mad” he also becomes a character in which the reader becomes more infatuated with the relatable Robert and thus evolves into a main protagonist in the story.

Is Clara Robert’s Energizer?

The first time the audience meets Clara Talboys, George’s sister, is when Robert has come to see Hartcourt, George’s father, in order to make him aware of his suspicions concerning George’s disappearance. Although a minor character, Clara plays a key role in driving the plot forward through transforming Robert’s character along with offering a contrast to Lady Audley and Phoebe. Where Phoebe is plain, silent, and reserved, Clara is “handsome”, warm, and, when away from her father’s repressive influence, passionate in her devotion to her missing brother. Her devotion goes to the point of saying to Robert, “I will travel from one end of the world to the other to find the secret of his fate, if you refuse to do it for me (pg 221). She serves the important purpose of bolstering Robert’s flagging determination to follow the evidence to her brother’s killer. She becomes his inspiration, his muse so to speak. And perhaps even more importantly, she makes him feel that he is not alone in his search for the truth.

In addition, Clara is the embodiment of femininity when it comes to appearance as well as her character and behavior. As opposed to Lady Audley, she does not act vehemently or aggressively, but instead, her speech is described as “suppressed passion” and “her resolution was the fruit of no transient womanish enthusiasm…her beautiful features transformed into marble by the rigidity of her expression (pg 222). Although feminine, she rejects the stereotypical passivity of her gender when away from her domineering father. By abandoning feminine passivity, she uses her determination to serve a moral end, rather than to benefit herself like Lady Audley would. Clara is able to motivate Robert again. At this moment, Robert finds his ideal of womanhood: “Her beauty was elevated into sublimity by the intensity of her suppressed passion. She was different to all the other women that he had ever seen. His cousin was pretty, his uncle’s wife was lovely, but Clara Talboys was beautiful” (pg 222). Clara transforms Robert’s previously idle character into one of resolution; she functions to further the plot by being Robert’s stimulation to continuing to seek justice for his beloved friend and her brother, George.


Why is Clara so important to the story?

Clara Talboys, the sister of George Talboys, is an example of a minor character who has a key role or moment in the story. She seems to be one of the only people who is suspicious about George’s death and plays the role of devil advocate in the story.  Clara gives off the impression of being very cold and reserved, but she can also be very passionate and strong-willed. This is seen when she tells Robert that if he does not find her brother’s murderer, she will do it herself. She is also very intelligent and realizes that something is not right with her brother’s disappearance and will stop at nothing to find the truth.

Clara’s role in the story really centers around Robert and George. Robert who was good friends with George falters in his search for George but Clara is always there to make sure he sees this through. Clara is the one who keeps the search for answers alive and always seems to keep Robert on his toes. Additionally, Robert is entranced by George’s sister Clara, who just so happens to look shockingly like George. This only adds to Robert’s fascination for her and he sees a lot of his friend in her. Clara’s passion for finding her brother is what spurs Robert on. Clara is also in possession of her brother’s letters which could prove to be a very valuable piece of evidence in their search.Clara therefore functions to fuel and drive others, specifically Robert, to avenge her brother. Without her persistence George may never be found, and her continued dedication to finding the truth. We might not really know how to feel about Clara since she is a minor character, but her beauty, her strong-will and dedication to her brother are all admirable characteristics. We can appreciate her love for her brother and how she will do anything for family. Her intelligence allows her to see around everyone lies and drives her search for the truth.

Clara therefore functions to fuel and drive others, specifically Robert, to avenge her brother. Without her persistence George may never be found, and her continued dedication to finding the truth. We might not really know how to feel about Clara since she is a minor character, but her beauty, her strong-will and dedication to her brother are all admirable characteristics. We can appreciate her love for her brother and how she will do anything for family. Her intelligence allows her to see around everyone lies and drives her search for the truth.

Maid or Secret Keeper?

In Lady Audley’s Secret, the character, Phoebe, plays a significant role in the novel. Phoebe’s character development through the beginning of the novel provides thematic development and and insight into another social class. Even though she is a minor character, she gives the reader an important insight into Lady Audley.

The character of Phoebe is described as Lady Audley’s look-alike and shares many memories with Lady before she becomes a Lady. This is important because Phoebe can represent the Lady Audley of the lower class showing that there is no visible difference in the lower and upper classes. When Lady Audley is married, she takes Phoebe with her. Throughout the novel, Phoebe is asked to describe what the Lady was like before she was married. This shows how Phoebe is used as a looking glass not only into the lower class but also into the former life of Lady Audley.

Phoebe, being so close to Lady Audley, is also privy to an abundance of information regarding Lady Audley. She learns secrets and thoughts of Lady Audley that become increasingly interesting as the plot thickens. The most interesting part of Phoebe’s character is that she knows secrets and messages about Lady Audley that even the audience is unaware of. This information makes Phoebe an incredibly important character to Lady Audley and to the readers. The readers might be inclined to feel suspicious of Phoebe and as a result of that, feel suspicious of Lady Audley. Also, because of Phoebe’s rocky relationship to her husband, Luke, the readers could feel increasingly worried for her as the novel progresses.

Psychologist or Barrister?

Braddon utilizes Robert Audley to give readers knowledge (or premonitions) regarding the mystery throughout this sensation novel. Robert, notorious for being a lazy man who rarely uses his occupation as a lawyer to his advantage, begins to shift into a character that a reader can rely on for information. Like a dark horse, Robert slowly reveals that he is capable of understanding the way people work and that he is full of psychological knowledge. Because of the knowledge that Robert holds, the reader is constantly provided with more insight to the plot or to other characters.

Robert’s ability to remain discrete in his questioning allows Braddon to keep the reader unaware of the knowledge required to fully solving the mysteries. It is apparent through Robert’s method of questioning dubious characters, that he realizes his capability of investigation skills. His collection of evidence is sly and he does it well, without having to disclose his reasoning behind his suspicion. As Robert visits with Phoebe Marks, he tells her that she “is a woman who could keep a secret” (pg 163). Such a comment like this is not only Robert’s way of almost warning Phoebe that he may know something, but readers are left with only enough information to create a premonition- perhaps a misleading one.

Robert’s care-for-nothing personality trait is deemed valuable, as his suspects attempt to manipulate his questions with lies that use femininity to their advantage. Although Lady Audley turned “a ghastly ashen grey… [and] had fainted away,” during a dinner filled with potential clues, Robert is impervious to such actions. In addition, Robert recognizes the tactic as “pieces of womanly jugglery” (174). I find it very interesting that Robert is so in tuned with his ability to recognize the woman’s tactic. The fact that Robert is unmoved by such feminine excuses makes me, as a reader, question his character (Braddon would be proud). Does he have some sort of deeper connection with females than most men? Braddon successfully uses Robert’s character to give me premonitions about the plot and characters. The question is… Is this a misleading deception or a valid clue?

Gambling with knowledge?

Knowledge is power, but so is the appearance of having knowledge. Robert Audley demonstrates this when confronting Mr. Maldon about George’s mysterious and sudden disappearance and accuses Mr. Maldon of playing a part in this. Between Robert and the readers, we know a list of possible cues that could lead us to suspect foul play and that Lady Audley as well as Mr. Maldon were apart of this plot. Robert watches “the effect of every syllable as he spoke” (p. 194). Even Robert knows he has no concrete or empirical evidence or knowledge to convict anyone of a crime. He is merely fishing for a reaction and confession from Mr. Maldon. The readers are aware that Robert does not have any hard facts to prove George was murdered and that Mr. Maldon played any role in the act. However, Mr. Maldon lacks this knowledge and does not call Robert on his bluff of accusations against him. It is a bold move for Robert to forwardly accuse Mr. Maldon. Perhaps if Mr. Maldon was not intoxicated and had his wits about him, he would have denied and disregarded Robert’s “knowledge” as superstition. However, Robert is well aware of this, which is why he watches to gauge the “effect of [his] words” on Mr. Maldon (p. 194). The readers know of Robert’s awareness because he previously defines circumstantial evidence to Lady Audley. Right now, all of Robert’s knowledge is circumstantial, but in Robert’s mind it is “yet strong enough to hang a man” (p. 152). Therefore, the appearance of empirical knowledge is just as powerful as having true empirical knowledge. However, it is only as powerful as Robert’s ability to hold the appearance, keep the poker face, and bet that nobody will call his bluff until everybody folds.

Who is the hero we need?

Robert Audley is first introduced in chapter 4 as a “good fellow” and “generous-hearted” but he “would never get on in the world” (71). He is a likeable character like George Talboy but he is lazy and unmotivated to do anything. He at first seems to be a minor character with little connection to the plot. However, as the story progresses, he rises up as a main character and begins to investigate the disappearance of George. People “are sometimes forced into the very position [they] have most avoided” and he is one of those people (152). He goes beyond his initial unmotivated character and begins to encompass the role of exposing hypocrisy in a thought-to-be quiet society.

As a normal component of Sensation Novels, Robert assists in exposing the lies in a polite society and hidden illegitimacy. He runs into his old friend and hooked his “arm into that of his friend” who he has not seen in a long time (74). His friendship with George is a strong motivator in him investigating and also the sense of responsibility in not taking care of his friend. Even though initially he did not take it seriously, he “enrolled [himself] in the ranks of a profession… which hold solemn responsibility and have sacred duties to perform” (152).

When Robert begins to take action, readers are more likely to side with him and more likely to hope he discovers the truth of George. Robert becomes the sympathetic and moral hero who is exposing the corruption in society. Readers begin to fear for his safety when to Sir Michael, Lady Audley lies of the “attention Mr. Audley pays” her (160). Lady Audley seems to be turning people against Robert and in the end this could be deadly. Despite this, Robert continues to play a major role in the theme of deception in that he exposes the deception with the power of knowledge of the disappearance of George.

What’s the deal with Luke Marks?

In Lady’s Audley’s Secret, several characters contribute to the development and depth of the plot also aiding in the thematic function as well. One such character, Luke Marks, plays a particularly interesting and peculiar role. Though introduced later in the story line, His demanding and manipulative nature seen in Volume 2, leaves the readers questioning just how important major or minor of a character he will be as the plot continues to unfold.

Though a minor character up to this point, several instances aid the reader to know to keep a close eye on Mr. Marks. However, perhaps the most impactful is his manipulation of Lady Audley into giving him more money in order that he can purchase Castle Inn. After meeting Luke Marks, and being rather unimpressed, Lady Audley pesters her dear maid, Phoebe, as to why she wants to marry such a man like Mr. Marks, to which Phoebe hints of his violent and vengeful nature saying “I tell you, my lady, I must marry him” (Vol. 1, Ch. 14, pg. 141). After much argument between the two women, Lady Audley agrees to pay for Mr. Marks to own a pub–something he has always dreamed of, as a way of helping appease Mr. Marks and aid in Phoebe winning more of his favor. When the encounter between Lady Audley and Luke Marks occurs, Lucy had “expected that, uncouth as the man was, he would in his own rough manner have expressed his gratitude. To her surprise he stood staring at the floor without uttering a word in answer to her offer” (Vol. 1, Ch. 14, pg. 142). To appease such awkwardness, Phoebe implores her “lover” to “tell my lady how thankful you are, Luke” to which he responds that “I’m not so over and above thankful” suggesting that Lady Audley should double the amount she gives to him (Vol. 1, Ch. 14, pg. 142). As if not shocked enough as readers, we learn that after Lady Audley obviously refuses the greedy Mr. Mark’s request, he asserts that she ” ‘will though’…with quiet insolence that had a hidden meaning. “You’ll make it a hundred my lady” (Vol. 1, Ch. 14, pg. 142). It is here that every single, bell, whistle, red flag and sign of warning should be going off in the reader’s head. Where in the world does a low-life punk like Luke Marks get off on making such demands. As if not bad enough, through Lady Audley’s response of “Phoebe Marks, you have told this man!”, we as readers are let in on just how juicy the secret Mr. Marks clearly knows is. It is clear that whatever Mr. Mark knows has already given him enough power to not only force Phoebe to marry him, but also enough to blackmail Lady Audley into giving him the large sum of money he had demanded.

With this power over two important major characters, though Luke Marks currently inhibits a small role, something seems to itch as us at readers, making us almost positive that Luke Mark’s role is MUCH bigger than we originally thought.

Which type of knowledge is more dangerous?

In Lady Audley’s Secret, Braddon succeeds in contrasting the generally accepted empirical knowledge of the time with the not as accepted superstitious based judgements. Through Robert’s conversations with Lady Audley and observations of Phoebe, Braddon establishes a tension between these two knowledges, specifically within the mind of Robert.

In chapter 15, Robert specifically asks Lady Audley about her knowledge of circumstantial evidence, a form of empirical evidence. He asks her if “[she] ever [studied] the theory of circumstantial evidence” in which she essentially replies no to knowing anything about such a “horrid” thing (ch 15). Robert continues by describing circumstantial evidence as “a thousand circumstances so slight as to be forgotten by the criminal, but links of iron in the wonderful chain” that aid in, and are ultimately responsible for, catching a criminal (ch 15). Being a lawyer and all, Robert’s reason for sharing this knowledge about circumstantial evidence with Lady Audley is understandable; however, her dramatic response causes him to draw additional, more speculative, conclusions.

In chapter 17, with knowledge of Lady Audley’s suspicious reaction to their conversation, Robert visits Phoebe at the Castle Inn where he makes another observation that adds to his knowledge in his quest to find George. At one point, Robert observes Phoebe “thoughtfully as she spread the cloth, and drew the table nearer to the fireplace” where he precedes to say, “‘that. . . is a woman who could keep a secret.’” (ch 17). To this point, Robert has been consistent with making very objective and empirically based judgements. However, he gets frustrated later and questions himself.

“Am I never to get any nearer to the truth, but am I to be tormented all my life by vague doubts, and wretched suspicions, which may grow upon me till I become a monomaniac” (ch 17)? Here, Robert, for one of the first times, expresses his disbelief and frustration in seeking out solely empirical knowledge. He isn’t satisfied with the knowledge he’s gathered thus far, and wonders if he might just have to live with his questions and doubts until he is essentially mad. Robert’s frustration with his lack of empirical knowledge is evident and gives rise to the tension, and resulting internal battle, between empirical knowledge and superstition in Robert’s mind. At one point, Robert lets his thoughts run wild and boldly claims that “in plainer, crueler words I believe [George] to be dead,” another speculative conclusion (ch 17).

As humans, it is our natural inclination to make judgments based off what we know and the information we have gathered. To some extent, I think Robert’s superstitious based judgments are valid to an extent, because they are made with his underlying knowledge of empirical evidence.




How do you read? How do you do this/that?

Within the novel, Braddon does cause confusion in the types of “knowledge” that are presented within the novel.

Knowledge is always power, and has always been. It can been seen in many events and reins in history. For those who possess knowledge has a “leg up” on those that do not possess some form of knowledge. It is know that dictators did not like to have the lower class educated so they did not gain the knowledge of literacy. Because people who are knowledgeable in reading can know what the government is doing and potentially overthrow the government. Those who contain the most knowledge have the most experience and tend to hold the highest position in a certain field.

We as readers have the knowledge of what all the characters are doing and also thinking. The characters in the novel do not get to know what others are thinking, along with what characters that are not around them are actually doing. In books we get a birds-eye-view of the story and get to move from one character to the next as the story goes along. We also are given narrators who will lay out information for us that the characters are unaware of, along with the thoughts of the characters who are talking at the time.


What are you hiding, Phoebe?

In Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, Phoebe Marks is described “as a person who never lost her individuality. Silent and self-contained, she seemed to hold herself within herself” (pg 163).  As readers, especially because of the description given, we should definitely pay close attention to Phoebe’s actions because she does seem a little skeptical. We get a feeling that she may be a good manipulator and may be up to some scheme as Robert suggests that Phoebe “is a woman who can keep a secret” (pg 164). What secret? Does he have a secret for her as well? We later learn during an encounter between Robert and Luke that Phoebe is extremely anxious and terrified of Luke saying something he is not supposed to say, that he may spill this “secret”, “you’re very anxious all of a sudden…I suppose you don’t want me to open my mouth to this gent” (pg 166).  How bad is that secret that she is willing to be living on the edge of being revealed, she can’t leave Luke Marks and is willing to suffer through the marriage, “her pale eyes were still paler from the tears she had shed, and the red rims which surrounded them: (pg 144). Luke seems to care more about money and for his own image than he does for her.

Does Phoebe know something about the handwritten letters? Is that why Lady Audley and her seem frustrated at times? Is that what Luke and her are holding back? We’ll just have to wait and see as the novel continues unfolding. At this point in the novel, I would say Phoebe is not a minor character, but not a major character either. She is in between the spectrum, but leaning more towards major character. I predict that by the end of the novel she will be a major character and play a big part in the plot of Lady Audley’s Secret. Who knows she may be Lady Audley’s shadow.

Can you handle the truth?

From Robert Audley’s perspective, it seems that knowledge and what he deems to be “true” is more based on his subjective opinion of a person’s credibility than specific empirical facts. For example, Robert believes Lady Audley’s stagecoach driver without a doubt when he tells them where Lady Audley has gone. Later on however, he questions Lady Audley’s motives for visiting London and the blacksmith for why he visited his apartment. All three give equally valid reasons, yet Robert seems to doubt Lady Audley and the blacksmith simply because he doesn’t trust their integrity. In Robert’s defense, he also has other reasons to not believe the two; he’s already suspicious of Lady Audley from his gathered evidence and he finds the blacksmith drinking wine more expensive than he should be able to afford. Yet at the same time, Robert never questions the reliability of the stagecoach driver despite his close ties with Lady Audley.

This double standard seems to cloud the line between fact and fiction. Basing a person’s credibility on your own suspicion of them isn’t the most empirical way of determining what is true. I don’t mind Robert questioning Lady Audley’s and the Blacksmith’s reliability; he has a decent enough reason to not believe them besides his unwillingness to believe what they say. However, I do mind that Robert undoubtedly believes the stagecoach driver. All good scientists and detectives should question everything in the pursuit of knowledge. If a scientist questions one thing yet mindlessly believes another, then he or she is not much of a scientist at all.  On the other hand, Robert could simply be combining his suspicions with his empirical evidence to judge others’ truthfulness. This unclear line between truth and and falsehood add to the suspenseful mystery in the novel.

How does Mr. Marks add to Lady Audley’s Secret?

Mr. Luke Marks is one of the smaller characters in Lady Audley’s Secret, but that certainly doesn’t make his characteristics any less unique.  He appears throughout the novel in many evidence revealing and foreshadowing events. While he doesn’t give much to the readers till much later, he is used as a way to give us more information and foreshadow the mystery behind the novel.  This is seen in as he is shown blackmailing Lady Audley in Chapter 14, pg 142.

Additionally he is the image of the common man by being very complacent when receiving what he wants, and thinks no further than what he will gain.  On pg 143, “Mr. Luke Marks, the hero of the occasion, thought very little of all this [the setting and atmosphere of his own wedding]”.  This image is also shown throughout chapter 17, when his habitual drinking leads him to spill more information than he should, which pushes the plot forward.  Later he speaks about his own blackmail to Mr. Audley, saying “No, you’re not agoin’ to stop my mouth with all your ‘Luke, Lukes!  I say again, what’s a hundred pound?” (pg 166).  This type of imagery for Luke and other characters such as the baronet and Talboy’s father, contrast the strong secret keeping and strategic mindset of the other female characters in this story.  Only Robert Audley seems to break out from this complacent mindset, as he continues to uncover the mystery of his friend.  This type of imagery reminds us that gender is a factor in how our other characters interact with each other.

The laziest linchpin

Robert Audley could arguably be called the keystone character in Braddon’s “Lady Audley’s Secret” for many reasons, but the most important are that he is the reason George Talboys becomes acquainted with Audley Court, and he is the one who begins to sniff out a suspicious story, follow his intuitions, and make connections. Much like in the mystery novels that raged during the 1920s and 30s, or the old black and white films narrated by a private investigator, Robert is the reader embodied in the story, gathering evidence and being able to “draw a conclusion by induction” (155). Robert is the detective, the clue-finder, the gut-follower and inference maker who propels the story along.

Robert seems the least likely character of anyone in the book to pursue an interest such as the mystery of Talboys’ disappearance. Braddon describes him as “handsome, lazy, care-for-nothing fellow” (71) at the start, and nothing seems to interest him overmuch, a fact which is emphasized by Alicia Audley’s fury at his “stupid, inanimate countenance” (147). Braddon himself characterizes Robert as someone who “took life as altogether too absurd a mistake for any one event in its foolish course to be for a moment considered seriously by a sensible man” (98). However, he is also portrayed with a certain softness for anyone in need, as is shown by the many stray dogs he picks up, and even in his treatment of Talboys after the man discovers the loss of his wife. Robert’s whole attitude, in fact, seems to change after his time spent with Talboys. Robert’s compassionate and caring side seems to kick into high gear, something which surprises even him. “If any one had ventured to tell Mr. Robert Audley that he could possibly feel a strong attachment to any creature breathing, that cynical gentleman would have elevated his eyebrows in supreme contempt at the preposterous notion.Yet here he was, flurried and anxious… about his missing friend” (117). This side of Robert, almost unrecognizable even to himself, perpetuates the theme of there being much more going on behind a person’s exterior than anyone really assumes. In a time when the outward appearance was considered an accurate portrayal of an inward morality, Braddon seems to be toying with that generally accepted concept. The”lazy look” (164) that Robert turns on Phoebe is hardly accurate to describe the depth of thought that he puts into his conversation with her and her husband, Luke. These attributes also serve to place Robert in a good light with the reader. His growing curiosity and animation in his search for Talboys rubs off on the reader, bolstering their excitement as they follow the case and slowly see more and more facts become more and more intertwined.

Because of his role as the bridge between Talboys and Lady Audley, and his fervent desire to find Talboys after his disappearance, I would say that Robert Audley is a key character in the book. Without him, the whole story would end after Talboys buys Helen’s gravestone, but because something managed to spark excitement in Robert’s mind, he begins the arduous process of unraveling the mystery around Audley Court.

She’s got a secret…Can she keep it?

In Braddon’s, “Lady Audley’s Secret,” she holds back much detail about her main character, Lucy Audley. All descriptions of Lady Audley have either pertained to her outward appearance, or the thoughts of what other people think about her and they seemed to only think good things. The novel even says, “Everyone loved, admired, and praised her” (Ch. I, p. 47). But even though everyone admired her, nobody seems to know her past. The novel states, “No one knew anything of her except that she came in answer to an advertisement” (Ch I, p. 47). The story of Lady Audley is shrouded in mystery. She’s the typical figure of someone who puts up a wonderful façade, but leaves people wondering what secrets she holds.

Braddon leaves the reader guessing what Lady Audley’s story is. Chapter II indicates the Lady is possibly Miss Morley, but that is never confirmed. We are told the Lady travels to England to visit a dying friend, but we know nothing of what actually occurred on the trip. The most mysterious thing about the Lady is why she keeps avoiding Robert and George. We do not know why she keeps avoiding him, but one day, she goes on a walk, but returns in the opposite direction of where she was going. What was she doing on this walk? Possibly corresponding with her acquaintance, George? Based on Braddon’s lack of detail of the Lady’s actions, the reader cannot determine what to think of her. One can only assume that she’s devious because her actions are suspicious, but the reader does not know for sure.

Sorry this is a few minutes late! I forgot that Julia and I switched until late this morning. Also, I know I didn’t talk about Lady Audley keeping her secret, as was indicated in the title, but I wanted my title to rhyme.