Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s sensational Lady Audley’s Secret features twists and turns, conniving plots, and multiple identities. Among the insanity, the reader may forget about the effect on a character outside of Lady Audley’s domestic sphere. This character, being the direct product of one of the most central of the dramatic storylines: Georgey. What is the ultimate role of Georgey in the novel? Perhaps Braddon intended for him to provide sympathy and show a different family dynamic and its effect on the young boy.
Georgey, as a relatively minor character, garners much sympathy from readers and characters alike as he plays the innocent bystander and byproduct of his parents’ troubled relationship. George leaves his wife and their weeks old infant, and in turn, she leaves as well. This abandonment illustrates the complete lack of power that Georgey holds over his life trajectory, which serves to indicate the extent of Braddon’s sympathy rhetoric. His grandfather supports Georgey, but he grows up without much structure and in poverty with his alcoholic family member. Georgey does elicit much sympathy for himself, but ultimately, he may serve to also elicit both sympathy and resentment from Lady Audley and George. While both parents have wronged their son deeply, could Braddon also be using Georgey as a plot device that not only creates sympathy, but also enhances it? For example, the first conversation between Georgey and his father begins with George’s outcry to him,“‘I am your father, come across the sea to find you…will you love me?’” (Braddon 83) which is sad enough on its own, but then amplified by Georgey’s response. Uncertain, he “pushed him away” and said “‘I don’t know you’” (Braddon 83).The heartwarming tenderness of a father and son reuniting is as absent as George during Georgey’s early childhood. Georgey’s purpose in the novel may be to strengthen the readers’ emotional response to George and to Lady Audley.
Although initially the parents have wronged him, Braddon complicates the narrative with empathetic background motivations. George left his family, but only in an effort to support them. Lady Audley, then Helen, took drastic measures only because her choices as a single mother at this time were very limited. She returns to him in secret, and her son knows her only as “the pretty lady” about whom “Granpa told [him] not to tell anybody” (Braddon 191). He goes on to describe how she visited him when he was little, “came up into [his] room, and sat upon the bed, and cried—and she left the watch under [his] pillow” (Braddon 191). Through the relationships in the novel, Braddon allows Georgey to work as a central force of sympathy, as he increases the often bittersweet, sympathetic aspects to other characters. He does so namely for his parents, but also for his grandfather and Robert.
Georgey’s connections to the other characters are subverted from typical Victorian standards of the family unit. The inclusion of a child complicates the Talboys couple’s relationship and dynamic. Once uncared for by his parents, he is given to his grandfather. Now, Georgey’s upbringing was not ideal but was also not abusive, for he was “happy enough with his drunken old grandfather, who had always displayed a maudlin affection for the pretty child, and had done his best to spoil Georgey, by letting him have his own way in everything” (Braddon 201). Further still, he is then given to Robert, who enrolls him in boarding school. Georgey got quite unlucky and quite lucky with his family connections, as his family members both abandon and support him.
Ultimately, Braddon uses the character of Georgey to create higher stakes and more drama for his surrounding family. We are supposed to feel sympathy for him specifically, but it also seems to be intended that we mainly view Georgey as he stands in relation to the other characters. For this reason, Georgey remains a minor character, with long-reaching effects on how the readers view the surrounding George, Lady Audley, Robert, and Maldon. Fortunately, he does receive a happy ending and truly reconnects with his father George, as well as Robert and Clara. This is pleasurable, to see such a sympathetic character with continuously low power eventually reach contentment at the novel’s end. This ending is even more satisfying considering the heavy work of sympathy that Braddon used on him – and through him.