Two [Stories] Diverge…

Wide Sargasso Sea answers, and yet continues to raise, many questions concerning the case of Antoinette Mason, as it offers a very dissimilar account of Rochester’s marriage to Bertha from the narrative he paints for Jane in Jane Eyre. Though Rochester himself recounts both versions of the history of his courtship and marriage to Bertha, his accounts contradict each other at many points.To begin, in Jane Eyre, Rochester tells Jane that he was originally ignorant of the money that would be gained through this marriage: “My father said nothing about money, but he told me Miss Mason was the boast of Spanish town for her beauty” (Bronte 395). However, in Wide Sargasso Sea, Rochester’s mental rough draft letter to his father implies that the money had been discussed between them prior to the courtship and marriage, for Rochester imagines informing him “the thirty thousand pounds have been paid to me without question or condition” (Rhys 41).

Next, the details concerning the courtship itself also contrast. When telling Jane of the event, Rochester implies the period was brimming with festivities and parties and that “all men in her circle seemed to admire her and envy me” (Bronte 395). In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rochester informs the reader that he “was married a month after [he] arrived in Jamaica and for nearly three weeks of that time [he] was in bed with fever” (Rhys 39). Neither does Rochester mention any social gatherings or any contenders for Antoinette’s affection. Likewise, Antoinette’s account of her society, at least the society knew before attending the convent, was very scarce. The peers she did speak of, whether black or creoles like herself (such as the red-haired boy who pestered her on the walk to the convent) treated her with more indignation and disgust than adoration.

In Jane Eyre, Rochester describes himself as having been originally “dazzled” by Antoinette, and he confesses that he thought he loved her. He implies this period of infatuation endured throughout their honeymoon, the end of which Rochester marks as the moment he “learned [his] mistake” (Bronte 395). The first few pages of Part II in Wide Sargasso Sea submit an altogether divergent illustration of Rochester. He presents himself as one who already seems disinterested in his wife and whom has already given up on the marriage. As they arrive to their final honeymoon destination, he describes himself “watch[ing] her critically”, rather than gazing after her in admiration (Rhys 39). He notes that her “pleading expressions annoy [him]” and, upon entering Granbois— their honeymoon home— immediately identifies the writing desk as a potential place of refuge (Rhys 41). Refuge from what? His new wife? More concerning, however, is his comment concerning his wife’s bedroom. Rochester expresses feeling unsafe, and surveys the room “suspiciously” before comforting himself by the notion that ‘the door into her room could be bolted, a stout wooden bar pushed across the other” (Rhys 44). This surprising comment, as well the myriad of contradictions between his two tales, imply that Rochester knew more about Antoinette Bertha Mason as he entered the marriage than disclosed to Jane.

Is it just a chair?

In Return of the Soldier, West uses inanimate objects to aid in emphasizing attributes of her characters. For instance, she begins the story with a detailed description of a child’s nursery. This at first seemed odd and strange to me, but after finishing the story, I see how relevant her descriptions were. A particular object that I found a sort of interest in was the chair Kitty frequently sat in. It was called, “Nanny’s big chair” in both chapters I and IV and was located by the window in the nursery.

So what is the big deal about a chair? Maybe I’m strange, but I find chairs to be symbolic of the human individual. Chairs come any many forms, such as wood, plastic, or wicker, and they can be decorated in many different ways. This is symbolic of the diversity of humans. More applicative to the story, however, is the use of chairs. They steadfastly endure great weight in support of what is sitting on them. Kitty is frequently sitting in the story, such as the times when she was lounging in Nanny’s chair or hopelessly laying on the couch with her arm hanging down. I think that this represents the emotional load Kitty is bearing on her shoulders. She seems to still be grieving the death of her son and she has to find a way to cope with her husband having no recollection of her or their marriage. In essence, it is as if she is bearing the weight of another person. Chris’s memory loss does not only affect him, but greatly affects Kitty too. She has to carry the emotional load along with him, if not more so than Chris since she is the one who remembers their relationship.

Maybe the chair does not actually mean much in the context of the story. I do, however, see significance in how Kitty is sitting throughout most of the story and she, of course, must sit in a chair.

More than just a house?

Objects throughout The Return of the Soldier symbolize ideas, mirror and elaborate on the characters, and act as catalysts. Margaret’s “unpardonable raincoat” is a physical manifestation of her poverty and separation from the Baldry’s upper class. The nymph in its black bowl represents Chris, or perhaps more accurately, Jenny’s perception of Chris and his thoughts. The picture of Oliver sparked Margaret’s idea to heal Chris, and the boy’s ball and clothing held the power to remind Chris of all he had forgotten. Though they possess many smaller objects with additional meaning, the homes of Baldry Court and Mariposa are a helpful representation of the people who live in them and they way in which they live.

Baldry Court is presented as a magnificent home at the outset of the novel. Kitty and Jenny have painstakingly decorated each room to satisfy the finest tastes and trends. The house exudes the rank of those who inhabit it, and even the boarder around the home, as described by Jenny, “proclaims that here we estimate only controlled beauty, that the wild will not have its way within our gates, that it must be made delicate and decorated into felicity” (Pg. 90). In this house, Kitty and Jenny tried to seclude themselves from the reality of life outside its walls. They attempt to produce a haven where Chris’s happiness is inevitable, believing their creation to be that “one little part of the world that was…good enough for his amazing goodness” (Pg. 50). Yet when Chris returned from the war, the changes they made caused him to stumble; he did not recognize his home just as he did not recognize his wife (Pg. 65). All Kitty’s efforts to maintain an image of class and happiness failed to preserve her marriage – a façade was simply not enough.

Mariposa, like its inhabitants, is the opposite of Baldry Court. It is one of many identical “brick boxes” on a mundane row, and it even lacks an almond tree, the one aesthetic feature of the street (Pg. 80). Margaret herself admits, “It is a horrid little house” (Pg. 84). Yet inside, Jenny finds all the objects mentioned in Chris’s descriptions of Monkey Island. Margaret has carried the decorations and possessions along with her, and this manages to transport even her skeptical visitor to the past. Just like her home, Margaret is consistent. She pursues truth and kindness always, whether in her dealings with the Baldry’s, with the families she served, or with her old and clumsy husband. Though the location of her home has changed, just as her beauty has faded, she remains the same. Chris knew that she would not – could not – change, and he was right. Jenny, despite whatever jealousy she felt, took note early on of “this woman whose personality was sounding through her squalor like a beautiful voice singing in a darkened room” (Pg. 82). This consistency and commitment to truth and righteousness lead Margaret to make the difficult choice of honesty in the end, despite her personal hopes and desires. Though she was not much to look at, Margaret held goodness and strength within her walls. She was the constant thread in Chris’s memory, and she possessed the power and courage to take action while Kitty looked on from her lofty window, looking exquisite on the outside but requiring Margaret’s action to fill her pretty shell.

How Does One Paint a Scene?

A scene is painted by creating a very particular environment. To elaborate briefly, one puts a larger picture on the main wall of a room to draw attention to that particular location. It magnetizes one’s eyes in a manner that allows the painter to build an aura around this one centerpiece. This one item becomes more important than the story behind it, simply because it creates a story all on its own. Such is the manner in which Rebecca West creates her own scenes in the novel ‘The Return of the Soldier.’ As a reader progresses through the pagers of the novel, they note how it is teeming with descriptive imagery, often created by the mention of one essential item – or a group of items – in any particular scene. Whether West wants to describe the visceral feelings of characters such as Kitty or Jenny, or illustrate the power of love between two people, the mentioning and description of certain items in any particular scene is certainly her modus operandi.

Towards the beginning of the novel, West uses particular items worn by Margaret Grey to create a scene that highlights the emotions of Kitty and Jenny while simultaneously creating a darker, more awkward atmosphere. Even before Mrs. Grey begins her discussion with the two ladies of Baldry Court, West describes Jenny’s account of what she is wearing. The account is very dreary and makes Mrs. Grey out as someone who is very low in status, perhaps poverty-stricken: “She wore a yellowish raincoat and a black hat with plumes [of] sticky straw…she could turn her grey alpaca skirt well above her muddy boots and adjust its brushbraid with a seamed red hand” (West, 53). Compared to the ladies of Baldry Court, this was very unbecoming and twisted the scene in a manner which makes the reader either very wary of Mrs. Grey, or full of pity towards her. This mix of potential emotions is important as, by this point in the novel, we have not yet been introduced to the past of Mrs. Grey and cannot actually understand her role in the story. Juxtaposed with the very prim and proper adornment of Baldry Court, West uses this grey atmosphere to paint a scene full of mystery and the looming sense of the threat of change. Additionally, this description also allows us to understand the feelings of Kitty and Jenny at the time, before it was discovered that Chris had amnesia, and how they loathed Margaret’s company due to her appalling appearance. This same descriptive factor would come into play later in the novel when Margaret was being fetched to see Chris.

By the very end of the novel, similarly, a critical group of items, the ball and jersey of Chris and Kitty’s deceased son Oliver, surface that bring an impending sense of doom and threatening change. Two items that normally create thoughts of nostalgia and a faint sense of joy instead play the role of antagonist as the reader is force to understand that these items will force Chris to sacrifice all his bliss for a contorted sense of what is normal or just. With this in mind, West describes the items in the following manner: “[Margaret] nursed the jersey and the ball…she kissed them…and regarded them with tears” (114). Unlike the previous description, this one is short and sweet, as it should be. Where the reader may initially have the notion that these items will bring back Chris’s memory and all will proceed for the better, West very swiftly knocks the notion aside. With this quick mention of the reaction that the items create in Margaret, the reader understands now that this is a melancholy, stressful event, that will lead to Chris and Margaret’s downfall. As Margaret describes: “Put it like this…if my boy had been a cripple…and the doctors had said to me, ‘we’ll straighten [his] legs for you, but he’ll be in pain all the rest of his life,’ I’d not have let them touch him” (114). This analogy to the power of the items is powerful and alarming; the choice being to simply spare Chris or damn him. By the end, when we are told Margaret has shown him the items, the reader does not need to know what is written further to understand the conclusion. The dark and brooding description behind the power of these items allows one to understand that their heroes’ love story has come to an end.

In summation, one may come to understand the power of the items spread all throughout the novel by West. By simply describing the effects of one group of items, the scene is amply created and fulfills its role substantially, whether creating a sense of wonder or threatening inevitable downfall. I find it meaningful here to make one quick aside as I describe my own personal feelings towards one particular item, the mackintosh rug that Chris and Margaret rested on in the garden in chapter five. West allows Jenny to describe the rug and scene as such: the rug was “spread on [a] little space of clear grass…it lay quite smooth and comfortable under him…the woman has gathered the soul of the man into her soul and is keeping it warm in love and peace so that his body can rest” (100). This scene is the epitome of love and peace. West allows for the rug to be one small item isolated from the world on one clean square of grass where two people in love can go to escape and seek happiness in a universe so full of distress and darkness. West allowed for both the beginning and end of the novel to include items that created a gloomy atmosphere, but for one brief period in the middle, she allows for small pieces such as this rug to manifest themselves and create these all-too-short moments of peace. As West ends the novel by creating an ironic scene where a woman is bound by societal norms to damn herself and her lover to despair, it’s as if she uses this novel as a critique to society itself. What is the rationale behind sacrificing our own happiness to submit to a societal norm of complacent neutrality? Whatever one’s opinions might behind the writing of this novel, it is still a steadfast understanding that it is only through West’s masterful use of items and imagery that one is able to come to any understanding whatsoever.

 

Will Mr. Hat and Mr. Blanket please stand up?

Objects and possessions hold a role almost equivalent to characters in “Return of the Soldier”. One of the most notable items that receives references repeatedly is the ugly cheap feathered hat worn by Margaret. It comes to symbolize the poverty and uncaring unfashionableness of Margaret, and although at one point Jenny even tries to preen it with her hands into a socially acceptable article, she finally admits it is an “inoperable case” and gives up (p106). Margaret is unaware of her ugly clothing, and even if it were pointed out to her, she would probably not care, for she does not have the means to do anything about it. Not only is she modest and humble, but as Jenny pointed out, the clothes in fact serve to put her beautiful personality and character in the best light. Like a rough frame around a masterpiece, Margaret has no finery to distract “from the message of her soul”(102).

Another object that obtains profundity is the blanket on which Margaret and Chris sit peacefully in the woods. The fact that Margaret spread it so carefully “smooth and comfortable” with her “dreadful hands” indicates that she can create kindness and loveliness even though she is poor, rough from work, and not pretty. Her devoted attention to the comfort of Chris is an indication of her golden personality, and it further impresses on Jenny that Kitty and Jenny herself are not and never were the sole providers of Chris’s happiness, as previously thought. This revelation probably continues to strike a dissonant chord on Jenny’s peace of mind as well as shaking her conception of her place in the world- no longer does she have a monopoly on his affections and comfort.

The blanket further symbolizes a tiny island of happiness, security, and beauty in the troubled world. Chris and Margaret are briefly recapturing the honeyed bliss of youth and true love. On their little island they are separate from reality and untroubled by the truth. Jenny notes that on their blanket they “sat thus englobed in peace as in a crystal sphere”(100). Her resulting envy of this admirable untroubled bliss is so strong that she is “forced to go and sit down on the the rug” beside them”(102). Although she doesn’t belong there, Margaret allows this with kind humility. Thus finally Jenny is able to step into the other world she’s observed and looked down upon for so long- she used to see peasants outside her gates sit on blankets and nap in just such a fashion. This symbolizes her final steps into empathy and self-awareness, which morphed throughout the novel from proud delight in wealth to scorning her selfish lifestyle and admiring the good at heart.

What Do the Letters Say?

Since there are not a lot of characters present in Rebecca West’s novel The Return of the Soldier, inanimate objects begin to play a more important role in character and story development. These objects give us insight into character relationships and background story to further explain why certain events are occurring the way that they are in the novel.

I found the letters to be of major importance in making the novel what it is. Putting in letters or notes seems to be a popular device used in British literature as we have seen letters in all three of the novels we have read this semester (Frankenstein, Lady Audley, and now The Return of the Soldier). There is one major difference between the letters from the other two novels and this one. In The Return of the Soldier, we are never shown exactly what any of the letters say. In chapter 1, Mrs. Grey is telling Kitty and Jenny of the letter she received from Captain Baldry when he is in the hospital. Again, in chapter 4 we hear about more letters from Chris to Margaret but never see them.

It is interesting that West chooses to never show us, the reader, what the letters say and only have a character from the novel relay what they said or merely bring up their presence. For starters, we don’t even know if these letter truly exist or if this is just Margaret making them up. Mrs. Grey could also be leaving out important details of these letters or twisting Chris’s words around when telling Kitty and Jenny what these letters say.

Since we do not get the actual letters in the novel, it becomes important to see how the characters respond to them. After Kitty sees the letter from Chris to Margaret explaining that he is in the hospital, she responds by saying “This is a likely story” (58). Kitty hasn’t believed Mrs. Grey’s story the entire time and getting physical proof that her husband is hurt doesn’t change her mind either. This shows Kitty’s untrusting nature towards Margaret and her belief that Margaret is trying to steal money from her just because she is from a lower class.

Jenny is the only other person present when Margaret talks about the other letters that she received from Chris when she returned to Monkey Island. Although Jenny doesn’t give us her response to these letters, we do see how distraught Margaret is over them. Jenny says that “She bowed her head and wept” (89). When I read this for the first time, I saw this as Margaret regretting not getting these letters sooner. It seems to me that she is pondering what life would be life if she had married Chris instead of her husband and if she had seen these letters sooner, maybe she would have ended up with Chris instead.

It’s interesting to see the importance that letters have taken in the novels that we have read this semester, but it is more so to see how characters respond to letters when we never get to see them. Although this is frustrating, feeling like you’re missing out on part of the story, it leaves you wondering what the letters actually said and doesn’t allow you to build bias towards anyone because they may react to the letters differently than you would have.

How should I feel about Kitty?

Kitty is definitely another example of a character that is neither totally monstrous but not totally virtuous either. Kitty is presented as this worrying wife of a soldier at war. She is at the mercy of the effects of the war on her and her husband. Kitty Baldry is very classical in her outlook on life. Instead of the romantic optimism which Chris exhibits throughout the novel, Kitty’s life revolves around the “proper forms” of an upperclass performance. I am, however, compelled to sympathize with her because she is a woman who just married this man who is then sent off to war. War would be tough on anyone and to have to lament over whether or not your husband is going to return would drive anyone crazy. On top of that she also just lost her child at a very young age. This coupled with Chris’ return in which he doesn’t even remember her represents a loss of Chris as well. To have hope upon Chris’ return only to find out that you are not a part of his memories anymore gives me a reason to sympathize with her.

On the other hand, she is not totally blameless either. She is obsessed with self-control, good breeding, manners and making life tidy and comfortable. She even goes as far as to create a facade of happiness which she projects on Baldry Court. Baldry Court, is a mirror of Kitty, a woman of delicacy and refinement removed from the world and the war that had rocked it. She will do anything to keep her perfect little life intact even if it means not facing reality. Facing realty is a big theme in this book and eventually Kitty must be told about Margaret’s place in Chris’s life because she must understand that she was neither his first lover nor his most important one.  She must accept this in order to move on and help Chris.

In the end, I believe I sympathize with Kitty because she has been placed in a very hard situation and is simply trying to keep hope and her life intact. For example, Margaret receives a letter from Chris about his return, however, Kitty receives no such message about her husband’s imminent return, hearing about it secondhand from Jenny. Not receiving a letter, combined with Kitty’s discovery that Chris has experienced a partial memory loss, causes her great psychological stress and pain. It is almost as if she has lost her husband twice. Once upon his leave for war and again when he comes back a different man. This roller coaster of emotions would be taxing on anyone.

How does one feel about Kitty?

In just the beginning of The Return of the Soldier, we have encountered quite a few interesting characters, but what does one think of Kitty in particular? Is the author challenging us to sympathize with her? Kitty Baldry, wife of Chris Baldry, can be described as an upperclass woman with her life revolving around luxury, manners, and the comfort of the aristocratic life.  I do not think Kitty will ever be able to snap out of that lifestyle as proven that not even after the death of her child. This is why at this point in the novel I do not find her a sympathetic character and do not sympathize when her husband does not recognize her.

The author emphasizes society, like Kitty, that stayed back during WWI because their viewpoints do not change like a soldier’s viewpoints do. Their lifestyles remain relatively the same, while soldiers have been wounded with what they’ve seen.  Kitty is stuck in the mentality of making herself seem nice, important, and trying so hard to please others. She says, “I specially want to be kind to people while Chris is away. One wants to deserve well of Heaven” (pg 52). By those statements it becomes more clear to the reader that Kitty is self-seeking and wants to do life for the well-being of her, not because she actually cares for others. We have to remember that Chris has gone through a traumatic period in his life. He no longer sees the world like Kitty does, it is no longer about luxuries and what others think of him; he has experienced one of the worst wars humanity has ever known. A class system does not mean much to him. His perspective of everyday life is not the same anymore. The life he is used to now is not the life she is used to and she clearly does not seem to understand. When a soldier, in this case her husband, returns from war, the reader would think that a wife would be so attentive and give full attention to him. War is not something to brush off, but Kitty once again still has to make his arrival about her. Being worried and stuck in the mentality that appearance and class are still all that matter, she greets her husband in an extravagant unnecessary way. She restored her wedding dress wearing it with pearls around her throat and lets a longer chain of diamonds droop (pg 66). Chris not only arrives to a new surprising home, “up here …in this old place…how one hears the pines… this house is different” (pg 65), but thinks of another woman when he sees his wife.

The way Chris reacts to all the change around him since his arrival shows that his lifestyle has drastically changed and no longer has the ego of Kitty. Kitty in the mind of the child does not seem to have it and leaves “like a child who hasn’t enjoyed a party” (pg 71). How does one sympathize with acts like those?

 

To sympathize or to not…

Kitty is the epitome of a complicated and complex woman, as she struggles with maintaining an ostentatious façade for the public while repressing her internal pain. Although Kitty has endured hardship and tragedy, there is an element of judgment that West uses, which provokes the reader from completely sympathizing with her character. West uses Kitty as a tactic to cultivate the question to readers of whether or not she deserves wrath or sympathy.

Kitty is initially presented as a woman of high class and beauty, full of cold heartedness and pitilessness. This is shown in the scene when Margaret arrives to share the news about Chris and his amnesia, as Kitty gives her the time of day solely because she “wants to be kind to people while Chis is away… [and] wants to deserve well of Heaven” (52). This in itself begins to unravel the judgment that West is attempting to get readers to feel towards Kitty- Is kindness really kindness if there are selfish motives at hand? Jenny, the unreliable narrator, goes on to describe Kitty as a “splendid bird of prey” and hopes she will let Margaret go without “scarring her too much with words” (56). Kitty and her seemingly heartless self are exposed in this interaction, as Margaret has simply come to do a good deed and is completely mistreated for her compassion. At this point, as a result Kitty’s coldness, readers are challenged to sympathize with her character.

To play Devil’s Advocate, you would have to take into consideration all that Kitty has been through over the last years. She has lost her sweet baby boy, she has lost her husband to the war, and now his ex-lover shows up to announce that he has no recollection of whom she is. The poor woman “dressed in all respects like a bride” just to impress him on his arrival (66), and if that’s not complete desperation, I don’t know what is. Kitty is in a mad spiral of desperation to win her husband back (rightfully so), which leads her to show weakness, therefore tugging on reader’s heartstrings. It seems to me that although there is no excuse for mean-heartedness, Kitty is simply repressing many internal struggles, which have invited me to ultimately sympathize with her.

How can I judge such a “perfect woman”?

Kitty initially symbolizing high class, grace, and pure beauty would cause me to think quite highly of her. However, this perfection is quickly undone by the return of her soldier and dementia ridden husband, Chris. My sympathy for her turns to judgment as a result of her response to his return. Firstly, West sets the foundation for Kitty’s character up by utilizing Kitty’s outward appearance through Jenny’s narration; “I saw that golden hair was all about her shoulders and that she wore over her frock a little silken jacket trimmed with rosebuds. She looked so like a girl on a magazine cover that one expected to find a large “7d.” somewhere attached to her person” (Page 48). The change of appearance that will result from Chris’ return will demonstrate the identity crisis Kitty undergoes, transforming her from a “angel in the house” to a woman enveloped by childish tendencies and a jealousy that turns her beauty into ugliness. Instead of reuniting with her war torn husband with patience and loving him like a wife of 10 years would reasonably do, she further attempts to exude perfection around him. She is concerned with her social status, and the appearance she gives off to the world. Her obsession with her social status is first evident when Margaret Grey comes to visit.

Furthermore and more significant in my rationale for lacking sympathy for Kitty, after Chris comes home, her reaction is to impress him with her appearance in order to make him fall in love with her and out of love with Margaret. She puts her wedding dress on before their first dinner together, adorned with jewels and perfected hair. However, her image comes off as more peculiar than beautiful. Jenny describes her as looking “cold as moonlight, as virginity, but precious; the falling candlelight struck her hair to bright, pure gold” (Page 66). Kitty thinks that her beauty will make Chris remember his former perfect life with her. However, his love for Margaret is too strong and Kitty’s beauty does not help her. Chris’ “shellshock” has unraveled her identity and life. When she goes up to bed, Jenny describes her as “a child who hasn’t enjoyed a party as much as she though she would” (Page 70). Kitty has become childish because she is frustrated that her life is out of her hands and her idealistic world is now gone. 

How are we supposed to feel about Kitty?

Many of the characters we have experienced within the stories have presented multiple sides to their characters so we struggle with how to view/side with them.

In the novel, Kitty is presented to us as one who is lamenting over the loss of her son and the fact that she is not able to raise her son. Along with the fact that she dresses as a bride to show her purity and make Chris fall back into love with her.

Although we have contrasting sides where we see her as a very controlling and power wanting upper-class women, whose life revolves around the “proper form” of upper-class performances/status. Along with this, Kitty is short to Magaret whenever Margaret reveals the information about Chris. Beautiful women of her type lose, in this matter of admiration alone, their otherwise tremendous sense of class distinction; they are obscurely aware that it is their civilizing mission to flash the jewel of their beauty before all men. She tries extremely hard to be pretty and is visibly disgusted by poor people.

At this point in the text, I would say that we are to sympathize with Kitty from the standpoint that she has lost her son and that she has lost the love of her husband, and she is trying to fight to gain his love back. Kitty has lost two things in her life that are possible of loving her. However, she is also wrapped up in her desire to be proper, so she is also somewhat disliked.

Why is it never that easy?

If the characters in Lady Audley’s Secret were simplified to the terms of protagonist and antagonist, hero and villain, (perhaps in some high school English class,) then Lady Audley would be the obvious antagonist and villain. But one of the main themes in the book is that people in real life cannot be categorized simply- lines between good and evil, victim and villain are often blurred and depend on point of view. Therefore, given the book’s intention to suggest this theme, it would be careless and crass to attempt to settle for simple categories.

Lady Audley made the most mistakes in the novel. But every other character made mistakes as well- especially George Talboys’ “desertion” of his young wife, who was left “with no protector but a weak, tipsy father, and with a child to support”(pg 361). He didn’t contact her the entire three years he was away. The ship journey to Australia and the gold fields in Australia were so dangerous in the 1800s, it is understandable for Lady Audley to come to the conclusion that her husband was dead. She moved on as best she could- as a dependent woman in the 1800s, she didn’t have the luxury of mourning him for the rest of her life.

But although she was victimized in this instance, her actions later upon the realization of George’s return are malignant and calculated. She posted the “advertisement of [her] death”(364), and left George for dead after knocking him into a well. It is difficult to conclude if her “inheritance of insanity” from her mother is real or imagined, and if it excuses her in any way (359). Her attempt to kill Robert with a fire is another blatantly villainous action. But her sad response later when Robert informed her that no lives were lost in the fire makes you doubt how truly villaionous she is; three times she repeats that she is glad- “I am glad of that…I am glad of that- I am glad no life was lost”(373). Is that something a villain would say?

Lady Audley is a strong active character, who takes her fate into her own hands, however misguided her decisions turn out to be. The book makes it clear that it is difficult when you are living the events to see what decisions will turn out good, and what bad. One must rely on past experiences and a well-trained moral compass, and Lady Audley’s experiences and moral values were from childhood deprived and neglected. It is no wonder that she found it difficult to choose auspiciously, when passion, fear, and limited information muddied the distinctions between ill-advised decisions and good ones.

Surprised or satisfied?

George Talboy’s and Lady Audley’s fates at the end of this novel clearly differ but both satisfy the reader who wants to be content in the end.

George’s fate was a reversal of the presentation of his character from the beginning to end of the novel. When we meet George, we like George. Everybody likes George. “This George Talboys was the life and soul of the vessel… but everybody liked him” (Vol. 1, Ch. 2). But as much as we like George, Braddon sets us up to believe that George’s story may not have the happiest ending. We met George on a ship that is London bound and read this conversation that leads the reader to believe George’s fate is the character who is royally let down. “My wish is that we may find no disappointment when we get there” and “the person I go to meet may be changed in his feelings toward me” are two comments the governess makes to George that ultimately define his experience when he returns home (Vol. 1, Ch. 2). George then disappears for the majority of the novel so as the reader we assume he received the destiny we expected. This fate is completely reversed when George shows up alive and ends with a hope for a brighter future.

On the other hand, LA’s fate was a continuation throughout the novel. LA’s character is like a tornado where we are exposed to only the small part that touches the ground at first, but as the novel progresses we get caught up in the chaos of the storm and are thrown out at the top of the mayhem. LA started off similar to George’s character in the sense that “every one loved, admired, and praised her,” but LA quickly and severely had a negative development (Vol. 1, Ch. 1). Through shady acts, and manipulation of other characters the reader quickly begins to doubt and judge LA more and more harshly. And ultimately Braddon lets LA reveal her story, “I must tell you the story of my life in order to tell you why I have become the miserable wretch” at a point in the novel that helps the reader proceed to the next step of anticipated misery for LA (Vol. 3, Ch. 3).

To sum it up, I think George’s fate was initially unexpected for the reader whereas LA’s fate was bound to happen. But I think both of their fates pleased the reader rooting for the happy ending so job well done, Braddon.

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.

Who will prevail, Deception or Truth?

Lady Audley and Robert represent opposing forces that drive this story forward. The build up to the climax of the story is centered around the struggle between these two characters to gain an advantage over the other. Lady Audley’s power comes from her desperately trying to keep her identity a secret, while Robert’s power comes from his friendship with George and his determination to find the truth.

Lady Audley’s deception is made possible by her quick thinking and calculated strategy. She has great power in the fact that she is beautiful and charming and is capable of easily manipulating others as she needs. She has also managed to place herself in a very powerful position as the lady of Audley Court which gives her false stories more merit. While she has inherent power her power also relies on the assumptions and stereotypes she is able to play with. Because she seems beautiful and charming, people assume that she must be a good person, and it reflects the changing role of women in Braddon’s society. However, even when she is at her most powerful, Lady Audley cannot totally execute her deception. small clues keep falling through the cracks such as the way Alicia’s dog growls at her implying that her true nature cannot totally be hidden and the dog recognizes her character.

Robert on the other hand actually feels that women have too much power, and are capable of tricking and manipulating men. He recognizes the power women can wield and sees through Lady Audley’s secret. As he becomes more and more convinced that Lady Audley murdered his friend George and is now deceiving everyone about her true nature, Robert wonders whether all women are inherently deceitful and untrustworthy. He says “I hate women,” … “They’re bold, brazen, abominable creatures, invented for the annoyance and destruction of their superiors. Look at this business of poor George’s! It’s all woman’s work from one end to the other.” His speech about women, while negative, assigns them a great deal of power and agency and Robert does not think that women are frail, helpless, or unintelligent. Robert has been trained as a lawyer, but at the beginning of the novel he is not very motivated and lives a lazy lifestyle. Robert becomes so obsessed with the mystery of George’s disappearance, that his efforts to solve the case make him more focused, disciplined, and motivated.

It for these reasons that I think Robert now has the upper hand and holds the most power at this point.  Robert’s search to find his friend combined with his knowledge and new found determination seeks to unravel Lady Audley;s power of deception. I believe this determination stems from Robert’s friendship with George. It is precisely this relationship that causes him to mistrust Lady Audley gives him a powerful motive to find the truth over Lady’s Audley’s own motives for her deception. It is also interesting that while Lady Audley is the primary agent of deception in the novel, it turns out that she herself is being deceived the whole time. Luke allows her to believe that she has killed George; because he tricks her, he gains a great deal of power over her. In this way, I view Lady Audley as similar to a cornered beast. There is great power in her having her back against the wall and her being forced to do whatever is necessary to keep her secrets. However, she is still trapped and Robert is slowly closing her farther and farther into that corner until eventually, something has to give.