The End of the Fallen Women

Many novels deal with the idea of the fallen woman and her fate. The Mill on the Floss, Lady Audley’s Secret, and Tess of the d’Ubervilles each do just that. While the respectability of the women and their ends differ in each, there is an idea of the woman being replaceable, or at least being unnecessary to the other characters, in all three of the novels. The endings for these fallen women show how they were viewed. While writers garnered sympathy for their characters, in the end they had to be disposed of, and life had to carry on.

In The Mill on the Floss, Maggie is deemed to be a fallen woman after her extended boat ride with Stephen. When she returns, she is rejected by most of society, including her brother. While Phillip, her mother, and others do take her side, most of society sees Maggie as someone to avoid, even though she did not actually do anything with Stephen. However, this is enough not only to gain the ill will of the town she grew up in, but also for her to have to die. When the flood comes, she and her brother Tom die in each other’s arms, their ship sunk by debris in the water. Maggie had to die despite not actually doing anything wrong. In the end, Maggie is dead, and Stephen has moved on to be with Lucy. Life carries on, and while Phillip is sad and alone and Stephen visits her grave, the rest of the world doesn’t seem to care about the fate of this fallen woman.

Things are worse in Lady Audley’s Secret, however. When Robert discovers that Lady Audley is the wife of his friend, George Talboys, he exposes her to his uncle Michael Audley. Lady Audley’s fate for marrying two men is not death like Maggie. She instead gets sent off to a sort of mental institution where she cannot bother either of her husbands anymore. She is just shoved out of the story at the end, despite all the sympathy the narrator tries to make the readers feel for her. While she is not replaced by either George or Michael, she is shown to be unnecessary to either. George lives with his sister and Robert, and Michael has his daughter to depend on. Everyone seems to get along fine with Lady Audley out of the picture, almost as though she never existed at all, save for the melancholy of the men who had married her.

In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, however, the main character is actually replaced, at her own suggestion. Tess is a fallen woman because of what Alec did to her. She keeps what happened to her a secret, however, and by doing so is able to marry Angel. Once he finds out about Alec, he wants nothing to do with Tess, leaving her to fend for herself and eventually to be drawn back to Alec’s side. When he comes back for her though, Tess longs to be with him, murdering Alec so that she can. She is caught and persecuted for this crime, and interesting change from being punished for being fallen. Lady Audley of course did try to kill people, but Tess here is punished solely for her murder of Alec. She too though is replaced, this time by the younger sister whom she told Angel to be with when she was caught eventually. Tess’s death is in line with getting rid of a fallen woman, but the sister getting with her husband, at her own suggestion, is not. Still, however, to most of society Tess was a fallen woman, so she had to die in the end.

Tess of the d’Ubervilles stands out from other novels about fallen women because Tess is killed for a different, though related, crime and because Tess is replaced by her younger sister. Tess being killed for murder shows that the real crime was that she was influenced into taking such measures after all the terrible things that had happened to make her fallen. Her being replaced by her sister shows a form of sympathy for her, trying to have Angel be with Tess, or the closest thing to her, while still getting rid of the fallen woman who has no place in society. So while all these novels deal with fallen women, giving them bad fates and showing that they are unnecessary to the people in their lives, Tess of the d’Ubervilles goes farther, showing that the fallen women are only criminals because of the extreme situations wrongly forced upon them. It demonstrates that, if the woman had not done the one thing that made her fall, she would have been able to have a good life like readers can presume Tess’s sister can have with Angel. The way this novel deals sympathetically with the fallen woman sets it apart from others and makes it a novel truly worth studying.

Luke – Possibly the MOST Pivotal Character

For the majority of Lady Audley’s Secret, Luke Marks was a character I did not think much of. He did not seem to add much to the plot and was kind of just there in a way. That is, until the end. Luke ends up playing one of the biggest roles in the novel when he reveals the wealth of information he possesses that ends up solving the mystery about Lady Audley. “‘…suppose I feel that I can’t die with a secret on my mind (…) I’d have been burnt alive before I’d have told her.’ He spoke these words between set teeth, and scowled savagely as he uttered them” (Braddon 421). I find it so intriguing that Luke knew something about Lady Audley for the entire novel and only decided to disclose it when he was close to death. He obviously has strong negative feelings regarding her, so one would think that he would have wanted to reveal this information sooner. In addition to this, “‘…I’d never have told her – never, never! I had my power over her, and I kept it; I had my secret, and I was paid for it…’” (Braddon 421). It is revealed to the readers that the main reason behind Luke’s decision to withhold the information about George from Lady Audley is because it gave him a sense of power over her. Lady Audley believed she had killed George when she accidentally pushed him into the well. Luke believed that this idea of being responsible for George’s death probably tormented Lady Audley. Luke was the only person who knew George was actually alive for awhile, and he knew that knowing this would bring Lady Audley relief – something he did not think she deserved.

The fact that he withheld this information shows how much power he actually has in this novel. If Luke was not involved in this way, the novel would probably have a completely different outcome. I find this extremely interesting, since Luke is a character I previously thought nothing of. The fact that Braddon uses him in this way makes for a very interesting plot twist that I really enjoyed. As soon as Luke is an important part of the novel, he is gone. “The landlord waited upon him at dinner, and told him that Luke Marks had died at five o’clock that afternoon. ‘He went off rather sudden like,’ the man said, ‘but very quiet’” (Braddon 434). Luke had been struggling to survive ever since he was badly injured in the fire, and it was this pivotal information he possessed about the supposed murder of George that was keeping him alive. The fact that he dies so suddenly after revealing his information to Robert shows what an intense hold it had over him. The thing that intrigues me the most about Braddon’s use of Luke is that he becomes important in one chapter and is then dead by the end of it. This really adds to the suspense and intrigue of the novel in my opinion, and is one of the reasons this novel is known as “sensational.”


Neglected Georgey

One of the main concerns for the characters in Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s novel Lady Audley’s Secret is that of how Lady Audley left her son and husband to go and start a new life. Little Georgey, however, was not only abandoned by his mother, but neglected by almost everyone he came across, showing how this ideal for women was one that men could ignore without any consequence.

Lady Audley herself admits to not having a connection with her son. In telling her story to Robert and Sir Michael, she states “my baby was born, and the crisis which had been fatal to my mother arose in me” (Braddon 361). Of course, not all mothers are happy to be so when they first become mothers and have to readjust to their new lives, but Lady Audley here never does. She sees her child as “a burden upon [her] hands” and seems to have no trouble leaving the boy with his father, even though she knows that Mr. Maldon has used up her money in going to bars (Braddon 364). She eventually does check up on her son, but only after she is forced into seeing her father by the return of the elder George Talboys. Gerogey himself never knows this woman as his mother, or at least does not remember it, and therefore is neglected by her.

The men in the novel blame Lady Audley for leaving her son, even if it seems to be only an addition to her leaving her husband, but they also neglect the boy. Mr. Maldon does not take great care of the child, as seen by his house being “shabbily furnished, and disorderly, with a child’s broken toys scattered on the floor, and the scent of stale tobacco hanging about the muslin window curtains,” (Braddon 79). That coupled with Maldons repeated sale of little Georgey’s watch to get money proves that this certainly was not the best environment for the child [Braddon 191]. Of course Mr. Maldon is poor and stuck in bad habits, but this does not excuse the fact that he is bringing up his grandson in a poor environment, even if he loves the lad.

The boy’s father, however, does the same. When George gets home from being in Australia, he is stricken to learn about his wife’s alleged death. He does not, however, think of his son until he actually sees him. In fact, at first George is only talking to his father-in-law before little George speaks, and only then does the father call out “my darling! My darling! … I am your father” (Braddon 83). He even leaves Georgey with Mr. Maldon since the boy “is very fond of his grandfather” (Braddon 83). There is no thought of how the environment is bad for the boy. !t is only when Robert, now the boy’s guardian, sees a child’s coffin being carried out of the neighborhood that Georgey is removed from it (Braddon 188). Neither George or Robert are criticized for leaving, neglecting, or otherwise not doing right by the child, however, unlike Lady Audley.

Lady Audley did wrong by leaving her son, especially in the care of her father who vexed her so much with his money issues and bad habits that she herself left. However, George did the same, leaving his wife and son to live with Mr. Maldon. Maldon himself did not take proper care of the lad, even though he did love him, and Robert Audley, the boy’s guardian, did not start protecting him until he realized the lad could die. None of these men are criticized for leaving or neglecting Georgey in the way that Lady Audley is. Only George has to bear some criticism for leaving, but he is often forgive for it mush quicker than she is. In the end, it is the woman who is blamed for leaving while the men don’t concern themselves too much with the needs of the child. Thus this standard of making women and only women in charge of the children leads, through one woman not living up to her gender norms and several men not stepping in to fill that roll, to young Georgey being neglected.The gender norms lead to an innocent child being neglected, and so the novel displays how these norms can be harmful.

Sir Michael’s Fate

One of the prominent male characters in “Lady Audley’s Secret” by Mary Elizabeth Braddon is Sir Michael, the second husband of Lady Audley.  Toward the end of the novel, Sir Michael “has no fancy to return to the familiar dwelling-place” that he and Lady Audley had shared before her secret of her past was revealed (Ch. XLI).  He has no desire to revisit the home that he was supposed to live in with his wife because it would only remind him of the happiness that building a larger family would bring him.  He decides to stay with his daughter in Europe until her marriage, and will eventually move into another estate that Sir Michael had bought.  This ending, or fate, of Sir Michael simply shows him as a disappointed man who is ready to move on from the wrongdoings of someone he loved.

Sir Michael is possibly one of the least problematic characters in the novel, always going on “his morning walk around his farm” and always having “presents spread out” for Lady Audley (Ch. IX, Ch. VII).  His peaceful nature and generous heart allows the reader to judge Sir Michael as one of the “good guys” in the novel, as he seems to not have any deceit or malicious motives, much like Lady Audley.  His character is consistent throughout the novel as one of the bystanders who got hurt by the lies and secrets of Lady Audley, his wife.  The reader may tend to be on his side toward the end of the novel simply because he is so hurt by the secrets that he does not have the heart to return to his home that he had shared with Lady Audley.

A significant scene in the novel that cements the idea that Sir Michael is innocent and was unsuspecting of his wife’s murderous past was when Lady Audley confesses to him that she has been lying and deceiving him about Robert being mad and her past.  He begins to remember a “crowd of unheeded words and forgotten circumstances” that had not held much importance individually (Ch. XXXIV).  This shows that Sir Michael had been lied to by her, and that he did not make the connections until he heard the full story from Lady Audley.  He honestly had been living in the dream world that Lady Audley had created for them, and the reader can observe the raw emotions that Sir Michael experiences after he is told that that world is based on lies and possibly murder.  He is so distraught that he flees with his daughter Lucy, who is conveniently headed to London, indicating that he truly had no idea about his wife’s past throughout the entire novel.  Even though Sir Michael did not reveal any of his personal secrets, the secrets that were revealed by Lady Audley affected his life to the point that he had to eventually leave his home permanently because the memories caused too much pain.

The Ins and Outs of Lady Audley’s Secret

Lady Audley’s Secret uses the sensation genre to question the difference between appearance and reality. One way the novel does this is through the contrast of exteriors against interiors. It uses the domestic setting of sensation novels to explore outward appearance to morality. The book opens, not with Lady Lucy Audley, but with a description of Audley Court even though the first chapter is called “Lucy.” Through extensive description, the house becomes a character of its own. The first three pages exclusively describe the court. To describe the manor, the narrator states, “It was very old, and very irregular and rambling” (3). The word “old” suggests the home’s deeper, invisible history, such as how it was once a convent. “Irregular” ties to the patchwork nature of the place while “rambling” personifies the house as either a drawn-out character or a random growth, both of which fit according to the rest of the description. Yet, the outer appearance of the house differs to its inner character. The narrator goes on to call the house “a noble place; inside as well as out, a noble place” (4). Later passages provide a catalogue of the interior of the house, which contains objects of beauty, specifically paintings, but this section focuses on the religious and aristocratic history of the house as justification for its appearance. While the description of the outside of the home is not characteristically noble or beautiful, the interior beauty and history cover its outer flaws to make it “noble.” Through this image, the author sets up the idea that appearance does not equal character. The tension of the differences arises from the horrible secret the fine, old house holds; Lady Audley’s secret past taints the nobility of the home. One of the main symbols of this is the painting of Lady Audley (107). The painting hints at Lady Audley’s secret within the materialistic context of the house. It also highlights the connection between her extreme beauty and her selfish actions. Through the painting, the narrator reveals how Audley Court takes on and reflects Lady Audley’s sins.

Lady Audley embodies the juxtaposition of interiors and exteriors; her outer beauty masks her inner darkness. The narrator suggests that when Lady Audley was a child, she saw her beauty as “a counter-balance of every youthful sin” (310). From the beginning of her life, her beauty is her sole virtue against all her other sins. The first thing, and sometimes the only thing, people notice about Lady Audley is her beauty, in which she grounds her identity and self-worth. When Robert questions a landlord of a hotel about Lady Audley’s original identity, the landlord responds, she “was much pitied by the Wildersnea folks… for she was very pretty, and had such nice winning ways, that she was a favourite with everybody who knew her” (262). The first thing the landlord comments on is not her character but her beauty. Additionally, the first reference of Lady Audley in the novel is as Sir Michael’s “pretty young wife” (46). Indeed, the majority of the descriptions of her focus on her physical beauty (49). Characters within the novel equate beauty with morality and form their moral judgments on appearance. Lady Audley recognizes societal understanding of beauty and manipulates it to hide her lack of morality. Even after Robert learns her secret, and she receives her punishment, she states, “But even exile was not hopeless, for there was scarcely any spot upon this wide earth in which her beauty would not constitute a little royalty” (387). While Lady Audley claims her beauty as justification for her actions, she also uses it as a way to gain power. She never learns that she needs to change her character instead of relying on her beauty. In the end, she refuses to repent.

The novel’s treatment of the house and Lady Audley condemns the way that their exteriors do not match their interiors, specifically because of Lady Audley’s secret. At the end of the novel, “Audley Court is shut up”; a year earlier, Lady Audley “had expired peacefully at Villebrumeuse, dying after a long illness” (445). Neither the house nor the woman survives the struggle of the book, perhaps because of the discord between their appearances and realities. The secret of Lady Audley’s past destroys the beautiful and noble facades that Lady Audley and Audley Court create. Despite the novel’s critique, the protagonist, Robert Audley, experiences the same disjunction between the way that others see him and his true character. Sir Michael, as well as most if not all of the other characters, “mistook laziness for incapacity” because he had “no occasion to look below the surface” (297). Through Robert’s search for justice, he proves his worth. He reveals his honest and loyal character under the guise of lazy indifference. Clara Talboys, similarly, seems to be cold and unfeeling toward her brother. When she is alone with Robert, however, she reveals her deeper affection for George and her overall virtue. The narrator explains, “This girl, this apparently passionless girl, had found a voice, and was urging [Robert] on toward his fate” (221). Clara forces Robert to confront and question his first impression of her. She therefore comes to serve as a major motivation and model for him. There are also characters within the novel, both houses and people, whose interiors and exteriors match. For example, Harcourt Talboys appearance matches his character, which also matches the appearance and character of his home (205). Later on, however, Robert learns the depths of Harcourt and his home underneath their appearances. In addition, Luke Marks begins and ends the novel as a gruff character, yet he reveals depths to his character, both through his blackmail of Lady Audley and his ultimate treatment of Robert (421). Just as characters automatically favor Lady Audley, they immediately overlook and underestimate Luke for his lower-class behavior, such as heavy drinking. His home, the Castle Inn, mirrors this appearance, inside and out (161). While Lady Audley uses these expectations, Luke rejects them by gaining power over Lady Audley. The novel explores the ways in which exteriors and interiors differ or match to show that the reader cannot rely on either to form a moral judgement of a character.

Think about the children!

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.

Sympathy for the Lady

Braddon’s carefully architected portrayal of Lady Audley becomes infinitely more successful when the reader chooses to be complicit in her crimes.  Braddon compromises the reader with her subtle attempts to elicit sympathy for Lady Audley and distaste for Robert.  I think that the novel’s “success” is directly proportional to the sympathy or distaste created in the reader.  In this blog post I will identify several methods and examples employed by Braddon.

There is no question as to the guilt of Lady Audley.  The only item therefore would be the justification for her actions, those criminal, immoral and unethical.  A method Braddon uses to portray Lady Audley as a victim is to paint the men around her as immoral, unethical and misogynistic.  Robert repeatedly offers to the reader accounts of his vile views of women.  He shamelessly states that he “hate[s] women” and that they simply act in self-interest and are calculating mercenaries (229).  He laments that women control men like marionettes, pulling their strings, forcing men into undesired behavior and actions at a whim.  Men may be the head, but women function as the neck, driving them to action.  He evokes Tennyson, “men might lie in the sunshine and eat lotuses, and fancy it ‘always afternoon,’ if his wife would let him! But she won’t, bless her impulsive heart and active mind (228)!”

Braddon’s narrator often breaks action of the novel to provide an observation or create perspective for the reader.  On Page 243, the narrator interrupts the seemingly mundane to express the sacrifice women must make and the continuously shifting gender expectations placed on women.  Lady Audley is preparing tea, where “she reigns omnipotent, unapproachable.”  The choice of words expresses the shrinking sphere of influence and the small arena that women are allowed to control.  Fear exists that even this task of serving tea may be stripped away.  “To do away with the tea-table is to rob woman of her legitimate empire (243).”  “Better the pretty influence of the teacups and saucers gracefully wielded in a woman’s hand, than all the inappropriate power snatched at the point of the pen from the unwilling sterner sexy (243).”  Men legislate away everything from women, leaving them the remaining scraps to rule over.

Lady Audley is described as victim of uncontrollable circumstances, cast upon her by fates beyond her control.  Her beauty was her fatal flaw.  After her encounter with Robert in the lime-walk, she reflects on “that fatal early time in which she had first begun to look upon her liveliness as a right divine, a boundless possession which was to be a set-off against all girlish short-comings, a counter-balance to of every youthful sin (310).”  The narrator personifies character flaw to remove guilt from Lady Audley.  “Surely, if her thoughts wandered so far along in the backward current of her life, she must have repented in bitterness and despair of that first day in which the master-passions of her life had become her rulers, and the three demons of Vanity, Selfishness and Ambition had joined hands and said, ‘This woman is our slave; let us see what she will become under our guidance (310-311).’”

I’m not certain what Braddon was attempting to do in this last passage.  I personally found it more revolting than humanizing.  I still believe that the success of this novel is directly linked to the response of the reader and how sympathetic they feel for Lady Audley.  However, I think that gender, class and time alter this success.  With many of the novels we have read this semester for class, I think we must recognize that as modern readers we were not the intended audience.  We should understand who the intended audience would have been and make every attempt to view it through that lens.



The Power Struggle in Lady Audley’s Secret

Throughout her novel Lady Audley’s Secret, Mary Elizabeth Braddon explores the theme of power through the use of several tools. In some situations, Braddon uses non-physical, abstract means to communicate power — charm, manipulation, blackmail, secrets, etc. In other cases, the reader might notice more concrete forms of power such as physical evidence, gender, money, or social status. Although these are all effective sources of power, I would like to propose yet another form of power I have noticed throughout the novel: the power of choice.

Braddon makes it clear that Lady Audley’s origins did not offer her much choice in her life. This is shown in her response to Sir Michael’s proposal, “…you ask too much of me! Remember what my life has been; only remember that! From my very babyhood I have never seen anything but poverty” (Volume 1, Chapter 1, pg. 52). Up until Sir Michael’s proposal, Lady Audley seemed to lack the amount of choice the upper class was given. In her life prior to becoming Lucy Graham,  Lady Audley was caught between abandoning her family for a new life or suffering a life of poverty. By marrying Sir Michael, Lady Audley inherits more choice. She’s free to live the life she wants, free of the discomforts of poverty. It is, perhaps, in this “bargain” that Lady Audley gains her power.

As the novel progresses, the power seems to shift from Lady Audley to Robert. Despite Lady Audley’s ability to charm those around her, Robert manages to collect concrete knowledge about her secrets and stores them in his pocketbook. It is only once he has compiled all the information he needs to connect the dots between Lady Audley’s lives that he realizes his power, “My duty is clear enough… not the less clear because it is painful – not the less clear because it leads me step by step, carrying ruin and desolation with me, to the home I love” (Volume 2, Chapter 9, pg. 258). On one hand, Robert feels his duty is to tell Sir Michael, his dear uncle, the truth. On the other hand, Robert knows telling his uncle the truth means he will be taking away his uncle’s happiness and sentencing a woman to a life of poverty and a lack of autonomy.

As Robert gets closer to exposing her secrets to Sir Michael, Lady Audley’s choices begin to narrow. This is best shown in Chapter 1 of Volume 3:

Perhaps it would be wiser in me to run away, to take this man’s warning, and escape out of his power forever… But where could I go? what would become of me? I have no money; my jewels are not worth a couple of hundred pounds, now that I have got rid of the best part of them. What could I do? I must go back to the old life, the old, hard, cruel, wretched life—the life of poverty, and humiliation, and vexation, and discontent (pg. 328).

In this moment, Lady Audley is faced with a powerful choice – should she run away and let go of the only power she’s ever known, or should she continue to try to hide her true identity in hopes of holding onto the power she has gained throughout the novel?

The characters in Lady Audley’s Secret use several tools to gain power over one another; however, the concept of choice as a weapon of power is among the most interesting. Although I believe every character is responsible for his or her actions, both George and Lady Audley are equally at fault for choosing to abandon their family, it is true that some characters have a larger variety of choices to make than others.

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.

How does the gothic help the novel of lady Audley’s secret

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.

Blondes Have More Fun!

While discussing Richardson’s Pamela, Nancy Armstrong argues that through the act of writing “Pamela writes herself into existence as the wife of a wealthy landowner” (6). I find that this act of writing is also significant for Lady Audley in Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, yet her writing creates not only opportunities but complications, as well.

As a young mother, left behind by her husband, whom she felt abandoned her, Helen Talboys’ first act of authorial definition was to negate her roles as mother and wife and daughter: “I go out into the world, dissevered from every link which binds me to the hateful past, to seek another home and another fortune” (250). Interestingly, these words read less like the fraught emotions of a fleeing woman and more like the diction from a legal contract – as though she believed she could, through writing, separate herself from her former life.

Helen again wrote herself a new identity when her new life was threatened by George’s return by constructing her own death: “amongst the list of deaths[…]Helen Talboys, aged twenty-two” (36). Not only did Helen/Lady Audley divorce herself from her previous life, but she continued to be the author of that new identity by assuring that others could not prove her authority false.

By continually reasserting her individualism and subjectivity, Helen becomes an intriguing Victorian entity – the villainous woman. Yet Helen is smart and calculated, unlike many other wicked women. She took the frail, simpering woman-child ideal and used it as a tool for her own betterment: “she looked upon her beauty as a weapon” (337). I would argue that even her claim to madness was a way of crafting an identity that would most profit her situation. As a madwoman she would be ostracized, but she would perhaps be free instead of in a labor prison.

My first instinct is to say that this calculated temperament is unlike Pamela, who seems to be simply a victim to Mr. B’s calculated moves to deflower her. However, as my peers (and I believe my esteemed professor) have intimated, it is possible that Pamela was also purposefully creating an identity for herself. For Pamela this identity would have been aimed at her reader – first her parents and second Mr. B.

Yet, I believe it is safe to say that, unlike Pamela, Helen’s writing is the means of her undoing. When Pamela’s letters and journal are discovered by Mr. B, this results in her rise from servant girl to lady of the house (though an argument could be made that, since these writings are what continued to intrigue Mr. B, they could have as easily lead to her disgrace). However, when Helen’s writings are discovered – her letter to her father compared with the notes she wrote to Robert – they culminate in her fall from grace, or at least the grace of the Mr. Audleys.

Most interesting perhaps is that it was not necessarily even the contents of what she wrote that undermined her plans, but simply that she wrote while she was both Helen and Lady Audley. I don’t know what this means, or what the significance is yet. Writing, in the end, was the key to her failure and (if you believe the letter from Villebrumeuse) her death (445).

They wretched feminist side of me wishes to believe that she was able to write herself a new identity while at Villebrumeuse; that she again faked her own death so that she may “seek another home and another fortune.” Her last narrative act would have been of individual construction and would reinforce the more progressive sentiments present throughout the novel.

Robert Audley: Amateur Detective

For a few moments in class, we touched on whether readers are to consider Lady Audley the protagonist because it is her name, alone, that shows up in the title. As the book progresses, however, more and more signs point to our lymphatic friend, Robert, being the true protagonist. So, why throw us off with the title? I would think two main reasons, both directly related to the tradition of sensation novels. One, it emphasizes the secret rather than the solving and in turn, the oddity that is a person in a “Lady” position even having secrets or a hidden identity. (The upper class was often assumed to have a better nature than the lower class). The more mysterious and unexpected the premise, the better the sensation novel. And two, it allowed readers to follow the events with an open perspective. Had this book been titled “Robert’s Zany Adventures” or “Robert Audley: Amateur Detective,” reader’s initial focus would have been on Robert instead of the nuances of Lady Audley’s behavior which later help us solve the mystery alongside Robert.

That being said, though the attention should be on Lady Audley, I think readers are meant to root for Robert. Lady Audley certainly does not make herself out to be a sympathetic character. From her reducing the hope of Sir Michael to a mere corpse in the very first chapter to her distasteful treatment of Phoebe to her very character (!) shown to be manipulative and calculated, the Lucy we know, we do not like. So, we are that much more eager to understand the Lucy we do not know, with the help of our amateur detective, of course.

Lucy, Bad or Good?

In my reading of Lady Audley’s Secret, there is this controversial issue over whether I feel that Lucy is good or bad.  This may be easy for a lot of people to decide because of all of the things she is willing to do to keep her secret.  When Lucy abandons her old life, she abandons her son.  Even after faking her death, I cannot see how she is able to just leave her son behind.  To be fair, George did abandon them first.  How is Lucy to know that he will come back?  For all she knows, leaving could have been George’s way to escape his old life.  Keeping this in mind, once Lucy does move on, she remarries Sir Michael.  We learned pretty early on that this marriage has been superficial from its beginning.

Keeping the idea that women were not given much power outside the home in mind, abandoning her old lifestyle could have been Lucy’s way of attaining freedom and power.  Maybe being abandoned in a lifestyle of poverty with a son was too much for Lucy to handle, especially when she was unsure of her husband’s return.  Maybe I’m just making excuses for Lucy, but the stresses of being a poor woman with a child were and still are problems.  Lucy could be viewed as a bad person. She does murder, plot, and abandon.  Playing devil’s advocate, I simply see a woman who chooses herself over society’s expectations.  Even when she leaves her son, at least her son is being taken care of.

Who is the hero?

While I applaud Robert Audley for his ability to see through Lady Audley, I cannot ignore a certain belief of his. The first incident that caught my attention was when Robert notices Lady Audley’s bruised skin around her wrist. Even though she claims that the bruise came from a tightly worn ribbon, Robert tells her that she is telling “childish white lies” (Braddon 123). Robert is like a detective. The truth will come out because of his devotion to George’s disappearance. Readers expect him to be the hero. I admire Robert’s determination to prove that Lady Audley is involved with the disappearance of George Talboys. Her charms do not work on him. He believes that her beauty is only physical. At first, I was sure that Robert was one of my favorite male characters. I liked that he was not like the other men in the novel who are blinded by Lady Audley. However, I soon realized that I should wait to decide how I feel about Robert. There is a scene in the book when Robert remembers “the horrible things that have been done by women, since that day upon which Eve was created to be Adam’s companion…” (Braddon 289). This is only one example out of many. Robert makes plenty more insulting remarks about women throughout the novel.

What is the point of having a character like Robert? I like that he is intelligent, but I dislike that he thinks he is above women. I think that Robert is an important character because he contributes to the suspense that Braddon is trying to create. I think that some would easily label Robert as the protagonist and Lady Audley as the antagonist. But, I think that this is only an easy conclusion to make when one is considering the mystery aspect of the story. I think it is more complicated than this. While all signs point to Lady Audley as being the antagonist, there are some positive qualities that I cannot ignore. She is a brave and determined character. Female readers can count on her to put Robert in his place. He constantly comes across something that he thinks he can use against Lady Audley, but she continues to prove him wrong. She brings out Robert’s anger towards women (something that I enjoy). Also, I have no words to describe her complete power over men. When considering the issue of gender, Lady Audley might be considered a hero.

Robert the “Young Philosopher”


In chapter 6 of the second volume of Lady Audley’s Secret, the reader hears Robert’s thoughts on various subjects.   He is very contemplative about life, which I think is sprung by his newly made acquaintance with Clara Talboys.  In this chapter, I think Braddon takes some liberties with the narrator by purposely confusing the narrative voice with Robert’s own thoughts.  The narrative voice says things like, “ We are apt to be angry with this cruel hardness in our life,” which sounds like it could be Robert’s thoughts, but it is not in quotations like the rest of his thoughts.   She also utilizes the first person “we” in these interruptions by the narrative voice.  These moments in the text draw the reader in by asking the reader questions and including the reader in the discussion of the narrative.

The style and the topics discussed in this chapter also reveal characteristics of sensation novels.  Sensation fiction reintroduced the questioning of fate and the meaning of life.  In this chapter we see Robert questioning fate.  His mind wonders as he contemplates what his life will be like now that he has met Clara and agreed to include her in his investigation into George Talboys’s disappearance.  He also, I think rather comically, thinks about marriage and how you never know who fate will bring together.  He exclaims, “that the woman on the kerb-stone yonder…may be the woman…who could make me a happy man.”   I found his thoughts on marriage entertaining but also interesting because his views are normally something I think one would think would be women’s thoughts not men’s.  Braddon seems concerned with men’s views on marriage as well as women’s, as at the very beginning of the novel we see Sir Michael’s view that marriage should be for love and then Lady Audley squashes this view, and then Robert’s thoughts here.  Fate is further discussed in the narration of the “human machine.”  The narrator discusses how the “cruel hardness in our life” is that fate or life “knows no stoppage or cessation.”  These contemplative moments in the narration and in Robert are characteristics of sensation fiction, connect the reader to text, and give insight into the characters.