Lady Audley: Villain or Victim?

By the end of Lady Audley’s Secret, we, the reader, are torn between whether we should feel sorry for Lady Audley or if we should view her as the villain of her own life. Braddon tries to play with our emotions into making us sympathize with Lady Audley by making her seem like a helpless victim. This becomes very apparent when Robert has taken Lady Audley to the mad house, where she will live the rest of her life, and Monsieur Val claims that he lets “the inmates dine together when it is wished” (395). This line is important because it allows readers that are unfamiliar with these mad houses to understand that the conditions were nowhere near ideal and most of the time the patients were treated like prisoners.

But contrasting to this want to feel sympathy for Lady Audley, Braddon again plays with the reader’s emotions and at times also wants us to see Lady Audley in the light of all her wrongdoings. The psychologist that Robert calls on to evaluate Lady Audley says that she is not mad (383) and that she is in fact dangerous after hearing all that Robert had to tell him about Lady Audley’s past (385). Although Robert was the one responsible for leaving Lady Audley in a mad house, with possibly less than humane conditions, he believes that “she will be very kindly treated” (415). Robert honestly believes in his heart that he has done the best he can for Lady Audley by sending her away.

By the end of the story, I still viewed Lady Audley as a villain. There may have been moments when I felt sorry for her (being thrown out by Sir Michael and put into a mad house), but I always came back to the conclusion that she got herself in this situation. She left her first husband and child, remarried and never told Sir Michael about her previous life, tried to kill multiple people, and was selfish and manipulative throughout the entirety of the novel. I believe that she got everything she deserved in the end and honestly thought it was generous of Robert to make sure she was taken care of properly (or so he believed) and not just kick her out and leave her to fend for herself.

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