Does the destitution justify the deceit?

As the plot continued to unravel in “Lady Audley’s Secret,” my perception of Lady Audley began to shift from one of disgust and dislike to one that could sympathize with, although not excuse, her actions. Robert’s findings in Wildernsea especially gave me a better understanding of her actions as an adult.

According to Mrs. Barkamb, whom Robert discovers was Helen Talboys’ landlady, Helen “tried to support herself after her husband’s desertion by giving music lessons” (266), having been left alone with a new baby and having no idea when to expect her husband’s return. See, Mr. Talboy’s only said that he would return after he had made enough of a fortune to make Helen happy, which might have taken decades or never happened at all. Helen had no idea when her husband would return and started out by making a good effort at keeping herself and her child alive. However, “her father took her money from her, and spent it in public-houses” (266), supporting his drinking habit on her hard-earned money and leaving her even more destitute than before. Thus, having been left by her husband and swindled by her father, I can understand how alone and misused Helen must have felt, how she truly did have a “hateful past” (267). There is something within me which cries out that any truly good woman would have waited for her husband to return, but in conditions such as those Helen faced and with little or no promise of her husband actually coming back, I can’t say I would have acted much differently. Robert calls her a “wicked woman, who did not care what misery she might inflict upon the honest heart of the man she betrayed” (284), but I would say that I feel more for Helen than I do for George Talboys. I don’t agree with her deceptions nor do I condone what she does to hide them, but poverty is not an easy place to be, nor is friendlessness and the inability to rely on the people who are supposed to be closest to you.

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