The Real Power Robert Possess is Character

In the novel, Robert possess the most power because of the knowledge he discovers about Lady Audley, however, he gives part of his power up to Lady Audley to preserve the Audley name as well as avoid scandal. This would then mean that Lady Audley holds the power, but her mental state forces her to give the power back to Robert. In his refusal to hurt Sir Michael, tarnish the Audley name and staying with Lady Audley, his real power lies in his character.

The knowledge that Robert gains comes from the original motive of looking for George first reveals his character. In the beginning, Robert was lazy, carefree and didn’t seem to care about much. It is not until George goes missing that he becomes motivated and dedicated which then leads him to discover a slew of secrets. These secrets allow him to hold the power though they originally stemmed from a motive of good character. When he confronts Lady Audley near the end, he basically gives her the power because he doesn’t want to hurt his brother or tarnish the Audley name. After he confronts Lady Audley he says: “I would have condoned our crimes out of pity of your wretchedness, You have refused to to accept my mercy…I shall henceforth only remember my duty to the dead” (291). This seems to suggest that Robert will tell Sir Michael about George and her secret identity, but he does not and Lady Audley gets to him first. This is when Lady Audley suggests that Robert is mad by implying “madness is sometime hereditary” (300). Even though Robert has the upper hand in this moment, he knows Lady Sudley’s secret and still refuses to tell Sir Michael. This shows Robert’s as well as Lady Audley’s character. While Robert holds power over Lady Audley, he chooses not to hurt his brother, but Lady Audley goes directly to him in hopes he will turn on Robert. She tells him that Robert is mad because he says George was murdered at Audley Court, which upsets Sir Michael. The author uses exclamation points and dashes to show his exasperation and disbelief: “This Mr. Talboys—a perfect stranger to all of us—murdered, at Audley Court!” While this is something Robert wanted to avoid (302). Her actions could be proof that Lady Audley does use her situation and knowledge for her benefit and power, and does not care about the emotions of her husband. She uses Sir Michael’s ignorance and Robert’s silence to carry the power at this point in the novel, though it is only because Robert basically let to her.

In the ironic turn of events, Lady Audley is the one who has hereditary madness and this forces her to give the power back to Robert. Again, however, Robert simply wants to send away Lady Audley so that the Audley name is not ruined. After Lady Audley confesses to Sir Michael, Alicia does not know what just happened. Robert does not reveal to details which also proves his character: he is not a gossip. This reminds the reader that he did not seek out these secrets or power, he just came upon them and does not wish to involve anyone who does not need to be. This can be contrasted with the scene where Lady Audley complains to Phoebe about Robert tormenting her because she involves Phoebe and even tries to solve both of their problems with a fire. This solution reveals the madness in her mind. Then when Dr. Mosgrave says, “She has the cunning of madness, with the prudence of intelligence… She is dangerous,” Robert still agrees to go with her to the institution (385). Sir Michael leaves immediately after her confession and does not give their relationship a chance or even wait for the doctor’s verdict on her madness. He leaves her with Robert, which shows how much he trusts him, even though Sir Michael may not have the best judge of character. The reader must remember Robert knows how much Lady Audley hurt his best friend, and he still does not abandon her. While he may have other motivations, like finding our what truly happened to George and upholding the Audley name, it still shows his character. It also shows his final power over Lady Audley, he could have killed her or left her to go insane.

The power struggle between Lady Audley and Robert can be disguised as who holds the knowledge, though the true possession of power is held by Robert because of his character. He reveals his good character again and again with his decisions and how he handles the power, which in turn reveals Lady Audley’s character as she does almost the opposite in each instance. His aversion of scandal also shows that he did not dig up these secrets for the fun or drama of it, and the preservation of the Audley name proves he doesn’t want to be taken as something he is not. Robert is the moral character in the story, and this is why he holds the power.

Striking Similarities: Harriet Martineau’s Autobiographical Novel

By Richard Evans (died 1871) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Richard Evans (died 1871) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“…Creating a plot is a task above human faculties…. The only thing to be done, therefore, is to derive the plot from actual life, where the work is achieved for us: and, accordingly, it seems that every perfect plot in fiction is taken bodily from real life.” – Harriet Martineau, Autobiography, p. 189

Reading Deerbrook alongside Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography highlights just how much she followed her own advice, drawing her plots from her everyday life. In fact, each of the main female characters in Deerbrook pick up pieces of Martineau’s own life story and personality. Of course, all characters are inextricably tied to the character and life experiences of their authors, since they are products of the author’s mind. However, Martineau seems to take this idea a step further, fracturing aspects of her identity into the characters of Margaret, Hester, and Maria. These “identity-fragments” persist, even when they go against the character’s own nature, and can only be explained when compared to the Autobiography.

Margaret’s case is the most striking. At the beginning of the story, she is the mature one; her sister Hester is the one given to fear, jealousy, and mood swings. Hope describes her wisdom, stability, “without question, without introspection, without hesitation or consiousness,” unselfish, with “not a morbid tendency…to be discerned” (37). Yet, merely halfway through the story, we get a different picture of Margaret:

“Her mind sank back into what it had been in her childhood…. when, to get rid of a life of contradiction, she had had serious thoughts of cutting her throat, had gone to the kitchen door to get the carving-knife, and had been much disappointed to find the servants at dinner, and the knife-tray out of reach. This spirit, so long ago driven out by the genial influences of family love… now came back to inhabit the purified bosom” (104).

This passage does not seem to fit with what we already know about Margaret’s character. However, it could have easily been lifted from Martineau’s own suicide story in the Autobiography:

“No doubt, there was much vindictiveness in it. I gloated over the thought that I would make somebody care about me… One day I went to the kitchen to get the great carving knife, to cut my throat; but the servants were at dinner, and this put it off for that time… My temper might have been early made a thoroughly good one, by the slightest indulgence shown to my natural affections” (45).

The similarity of the anecdotes is telling, as is the final part of the passage: while Margaret had the “influences of family love,” Martineau apparently did not. One wonders if the adult Margaret’s predilection to suicide after losing Enderby bears any resemblance to the adult Martineau, dealing with the sudden insanity and death of her own love.

Miss Young, too, bears similarities to Martineau’s own personality. Hampered by disability, single, and not wealthy, Miss Young turns to teaching instead of writing, but bits of Martineau’s personality peek through. “What is it to be alone, and to be let alone, as I am?” Miss Young speculates to herself. “It is to be put into a post of observation on others: but the knowledge so gained is anything but a good if it stops at mere knowledge, — if it does not make me feel and act… Without daring to meddle, one may stand clear-sighted, ready to act” (Deerbrook 16). Such a passage could easily have been lifted from How to Observe Morals and Manners, and one could picture Harriet Martineau speaking them on her American journey.

Martineau’s experience also parallels Hester’s struggles with irrational fear, her “sick heart”: “I thought I had got over it,” she tells Hope just before the wedding (67). Yet her change is gradual, not immediate; it is finally the intrusion of poverty that begins to change her character. One wonders if this is what Martineau desired to achieve from her own poverty and trials. However, she is cut short in this achievement. Unlike Hester, she does not have her Hope: “Just when I was growing happy, surmounting my fears and doubts, and enjoying his attachment, the consequences of his long struggle and suspense overtook him. He became suddenly insane; and after months of illness of body and mind, he died” (Autobiography, 119).

Each of the characters in Harriet Martineau’s Deerbrook appear to bear an idealized fragment of their author’s identity. Even their names– Hester, Maria, and Margaret– each start with and include letters in common with Harriet Martineau’s name. Margaret is what she might have been in a loving family; Hester is what she imagined herself without the death of the man she loved. Miss Young, perhaps, is closest to the actual Harriet in all but occupation; perhaps this is who she might have been if she possessed a more longsuffering peace with the world.