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.