Among the many genres of literature in Lady Audleys Secret, the gothic genre is the most distinguishable and most present of all, but how important are the gothic elements in this particular story? I believe that without the gothic, the novel wouldn’t produce such an impact. The reasons are, because it sets the mood, the contrasting themes of this genre help with the realism of novel, the messages and hints evoke more emotion in the reader thanks to the gothic, and the attempted crime itself would lose its potency if it didn’t have the gothic to frame it.
The beginning of our story starts with a gothic description of the Audley estate. Audley court is described as “sheltered”, “hidden” (p.44) “a place in which a conspiracy might have been planned” (p.45), it has a history, and the description often personifies the objects and the house itself in a disturbing way: “a house in which no one room had any sympathy with another” (p.45), “The principal door was squeezed into a corner of a turret at one angle of the building, as if it was hiding from danger and wished to keep itself secret” (p.44). One of the main elements in gothic literature is often a faraway house or manor that has a history and has qualities that make it seem unusual and dangerous. In this case the danger lies in its secrets. By using the gothic to position and describe this house, the author is painting a canvas in the reader’s mind of a story that is not pleasant, and at the same time its evoking in the reader a sense of alertness of peril in the novel. If the author had just given a happy and beautiful description, perhaps it would have lost the attention of the reader, and the abrupt change in tone and mood that comes later in the novel would have been too sudden and unexpected.
Then, another element of the gothic that is ever present in the novel is the subject of change. The novel gives us the message that things we thought completely harmless have an unknown side that is dark and dangerous. The most important example is Lady Audley herself. When looking at her portrait, the description and contrast between beauty and malice, and the unification of both inspires a feeling of unease and fear in the reader because now every face could hold a dangerous secret. The description of the portrait goes: “to give a lurid lightness to the blonde complexion, and a strange, sinister light to the deep blue eyes. No one but a pre-Raphaelite could have given to that pretty pouting mouth the hard and almost wicked look it had in the portrait” (p.106) Then it continues by saying that the portrait “had something of the aspect of a beautiful fiend” (p.106). Perhaps Mr. Robert deemed these aspects of the painting as an exaggeration from the painter, but this particular description, personally as a reader, struck anxiety for Sophie and Lord Audley in my heart.
Furthermore messages and hints like these, wouldn’t have enough potency to elicit anxiety to the reader if the gothic description didn’t follow: “There was something in the manner of the dog which was, if anything, more indicative of terror than of fury, incredible as it appears that Ceasar should be frightened of so fragile a creature as Lady Audley”(p.137) This is one of the most subtle but distinct hints in the whole book about Lady Audley. The supernatural aspect of the dog being not territorial or cautions around a new person, like most dogs do, but being completely afraid of them makes us even more suspicious of Lady Audley and especially since around her an aura of malice is perceived by both the painter and the dog.
And finally, the overall crime wouldn’t have caused that much of a shock if the gothic was not present. The interesting aspect of this particular novel is that the gothic seems to be inversed, causing a more realistic and terrifying emotion in the reader. As I mentioned before, this inversion of gothic focuses on the darker side of what we consider normal around us. The fact that a seemingly innocent, angelic role model of a wife would have tried to murder people must have been shocking to a person, but the addition of insanity, which is a sort of an uncontrollable force that none of us can stop gives the crime and the book a whole new and more horrific meaning: “People are insane for years and years before their insanity is found out. They know that they are mad, but they know how to keep their secret; and, may sometimes keep it till they die” (p.301) and the message exposed here, is that we could all end up insane like Lady Audley as much as we could end up almost killed like George. Both things are out of our control, and one of the biggest elements in gothic is lack of control from the characters, usually lack of control over supernatural or unpredictable things. Without these gothic elements in this message, it wouldn’t instill emotion at all.