Power Struggles between Robert and Lady Audley

The power struggle between the characters of Lady Audley’s Secret is complicated and shifts back and forth between several characters. Most notably, Lady Audley and Robert Audley are in conflict for power and both seem, at different times, to have the most. Whether or not the reader knows Lady Audley is indeed George’s killer—or at least tried to kill him—she seems to have more power in the beginning. She is secretive, powerful, and has Sir Michael Audley’s ear. She even insinuates that she will prove Robert mad. “You are mad, Mr. Robert Audley…you are mad, and your fancies are a madman’s fancies” (311). This would have ruined Robert’s social standing, which is partially the source of his power. She also control the domestic sphere, in which most of the evidence of the murder lies. In having the full story of the murder, Lady Audley also has an advantage over Robert. However, Robert seems to wrest most of the power away from her throughout the story. In societal standing, he is a rich male, so he has social standing over her. Lady Audley does not have the option to run away if Robert “wins”. She thinks, “If I were to run away and disappear…what would become of me? I have no money…what could I do?” (328). However, if Lady Audley “wins” nothing really happens to Robert.  He also only needs to uncover clues, rather than cover up the tracks of an unplanned murder, which is a slightly easier task. Moreover, he was given the choice of whether or not he really wanted to undertake the solving of George’s murder, while Lady Audley has no choice but to cover it up.

Robert’s power seems to come from solid evidence and the intimidation of Lady Audley, as well as higher social standing. On the other hand, Lady Audley’s power comes from domestic control and simply knowing a bit more than Robert does. When Lady Audley appears to have the most power, she is influencing Sir Michael Audley, manipulating her servants, or going to wild lengths to hide the murder. When Robert has more power, he is using evidence and social pressure to frighten Lady Audley.

Interestingly, Lady Audley seems to have the final say. When Robert finally uncovers her murder of George and her real identity as Helen Talboys, he cannot act on this information, for fear of destroying Michael Audley. After Helen confesses, she tells him, “You see I do not fear to make my confession to you…for two reasons. The first is that…it would kill your uncle to see me in a criminal dock” (399).  Lady Audley once again uses her influence over Sir Michael Audley to her advantage. I would argue that power shifts between the two of them, but ultimately, Lady Audley gets to keep her secret, mainly because of the power she derives from her emotional hold over her husband.

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