Valid concerns or explainable occurrences?

Braddon’s characterization of Lady Audley through the beginning of the novel feels incomplete, thus creating an air of mystery about the woman that makes it difficult to discern what type of person she may truly be. One of the first descriptive statements about her in Chapter I tells us that “No one knew anything of her except that she came in answer to an advertisement…”. And the one link to Mrs. Audley’s past – the teacher who provided such a wonderful reference that dissipated any worry of the Dawson’s about her previous situation – is nowhere to be found when the Audley’s go looking for her (Vol. I, Ch. XI). We begin to question her honesty upon Robert’s observation of the bruises on her wrist and the incongruence of her explanation, and we wonder why she feels the need to lock her chambers when she leaves for London without any expressed reason. These unknowns and the suspicion they arouse are augmented by details that seem to contradict the lovely, delicate impression Lady Audley seems to leave on most people she meets. Alicia seems to have a stereotypically negative opinion of her young step mother, one that could be understood even if it had no merit, but she makes statements that are somewhat startling, such as in Chapter XIII when she says, “I’ve seen her do cruel things with those slender white fingers, and laugh at the pain she inflicted.” It feels odd that her dog, Caesar, shares this dislike and responds to Mrs. Audley in a way “more indicative of terror than of fury, incredible as it appears that Caesar should be frightened of so fragile a creature as Lucy Audley” (Vol. I, Ch. XIV). And we wonder if Braddon is trying to provide deeper insight into the woman’s character when she describes her portrait and the way it adds “sinister light to the deep blue eyes” and gives her mouth “an almost wicked look”, creating “the aspect of a beautiful fiend” (Vol I, Ch. VII). Finally, perhaps most concerning is the secret she entrusts to Phoebe, whose cousin apparently believes it powerful enough to be used as a bargaining chip for money.

Though these details certainly seem suspicious when gathered together, they are smattered through much more positive impressions of Lady Audley. We are told regularly of how “Wherever she went, she seemed to take joy and brightness with her” (Vol I, Ch. I). Nearly everyone loves the woman, and she even sparks the admiration of Robert, who seems to have no feelings in regard to any other person or thing in life. Michael Audley also seems to be a good man, and he has fallen completely in love with her and trusts fully in her goodness. There are also explanations that could dismiss all of these mysteries surrounding Lucy Audley. Her past of poverty may be incredibly painful, thus she hasn’t shared it with anyone in this new life. The teacher may have forgotten to include her address in the telegram due to illness and distraction. Lucy may have been embarrassed of the foolishness that caused her bruises and didn’t want to share it with a new acquaintance like Robert. Alicia may just be jealous of the new woman taking over her home and father’s affection, and her dog is a dog – his opinion cannot carry too much weight. The painting may be the result of an artist who loves to paint with a sinister slant, as is suggested, and considering the limits placed on women at this time, her secret may not be something that truly proves her to be of terrible character. These contradictory descriptions and explanations create even more questions, and the resulting uncertainty solidifies the novel as sensation fiction and makes us keep turning the page in search of a more complete picture.

2 thoughts on “Valid concerns or explainable occurrences?

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