Lady Audley and Robert represent opposing forces that drive this story forward. The build up to the climax of the story is centered around the struggle between these two characters to gain an advantage over the other. Lady Audley’s power comes from her desperately trying to keep her identity a secret, while Robert’s power comes from his friendship with George and his determination to find the truth.
Lady Audley’s deception is made possible by her quick thinking and calculated strategy. She has great power in the fact that she is beautiful and charming and is capable of easily manipulating others as she needs. She has also managed to place herself in a very powerful position as the lady of Audley Court which gives her false stories more merit. While she has inherent power her power also relies on the assumptions and stereotypes she is able to play with. Because she seems beautiful and charming, people assume that she must be a good person, and it reflects the changing role of women in Braddon’s society. However, even when she is at her most powerful, Lady Audley cannot totally execute her deception. small clues keep falling through the cracks such as the way Alicia’s dog growls at her implying that her true nature cannot totally be hidden and the dog recognizes her character.
Robert on the other hand actually feels that women have too much power, and are capable of tricking and manipulating men. He recognizes the power women can wield and sees through Lady Audley’s secret. As he becomes more and more convinced that Lady Audley murdered his friend George and is now deceiving everyone about her true nature, Robert wonders whether all women are inherently deceitful and untrustworthy. He says “I hate women,” … “They’re bold, brazen, abominable creatures, invented for the annoyance and destruction of their superiors. Look at this business of poor George’s! It’s all woman’s work from one end to the other.” His speech about women, while negative, assigns them a great deal of power and agency and Robert does not think that women are frail, helpless, or unintelligent. Robert has been trained as a lawyer, but at the beginning of the novel he is not very motivated and lives a lazy lifestyle. Robert becomes so obsessed with the mystery of George’s disappearance, that his efforts to solve the case make him more focused, disciplined, and motivated.
It for these reasons that I think Robert now has the upper hand and holds the most power at this point. Robert’s search to find his friend combined with his knowledge and new found determination seeks to unravel Lady Audley;s power of deception. I believe this determination stems from Robert’s friendship with George. It is precisely this relationship that causes him to mistrust Lady Audley gives him a powerful motive to find the truth over Lady’s Audley’s own motives for her deception. It is also interesting that while Lady Audley is the primary agent of deception in the novel, it turns out that she herself is being deceived the whole time. Luke allows her to believe that she has killed George; because he tricks her, he gains a great deal of power over her. In this way, I view Lady Audley as similar to a cornered beast. There is great power in her having her back against the wall and her being forced to do whatever is necessary to keep her secrets. However, she is still trapped and Robert is slowly closing her farther and farther into that corner until eventually, something has to give.