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.

The Fallen Woman

In Tess of the D’Ubervilles, Lady Audley’s Secret and Mary Barton, the author writes about the character development of a fallen woman. Each of these texts critiques the society of the time period the author writes in. Within these critiques, there are models for how people of the society should act and also as a counter to the models, the characters that show how not to act. The fallen woman does something that society deems as unforgivable so they are cast from society. Mary Barton’s Ester becomes a prostitute to take care of her baby, Lady Audley represents a fallen woman who keeps a secret and betrays her family, and Tess is raped by Alec which leads complications in her marriage. Each of these fallen women act out of necessity, have a secret to keep and feel ashamed through out the novels.

In Mary Barton, Mary serves as the model woman who is loyal, dedicated and hard working despite the poverty and horror around her. Ester and Mary’s lives parallel. They both work hard to provide for their family because the man in their life left (or is unable to work, in Mary’s case of her father); however, because Ester does so in a way deemed wrong by society, she is cast out. They also both fall for an upper-class man. Marrying a richer man is the only way women have agency in the society. If the man Ester fell for had stayed, her life would have been set. Since the man left her, Ester had no other option and she was forced to act out of necessity to provide for her child. She then flees from her family and keeps it a secret because she is so ashamed. When she sees Mary going down her same path, she desparetly tries to warn Mary. Mary and Ester parallel because any woman could turn into a fallen woman. There are only so many options for a woman. While Ester succumbed to a life of poverty and shame, she was able to warn Mary and help give her a better life.

Similar to Ester, Lucy tries to marry a rich man to get out of poverty, however, her secret comes back to haunt her. When Sir Michael Audley proposes, she tries to refuse and say she doesn’t love him but he persists. Like Ester, marrying rich does not make one a fallen woman. It is what the woman does when something goes wrong that makes her a fallen woman. When Lucy, or Helen’s secret comes out is when she must act of necessity. When George comes back, Lucy fakes her death; when he finds her out, she tries to kill him; and when Robert confronts her, she tries to set a hotel on fire to kill both him and Luke. On top of these acts, she hides another secret: her mother’s heredity madness. All of these things do add up to a fallen woman, so much so, Sir Michael Audley basically flees the moment he finds out. When Ester knew she could not get that life back, she gave up. Lucy fought hard to keep her life in luxury, but it backfired and her real secret of madness came out. Madness is another option for a woman, and in this novel, it seems to be an excuse. The author allows her to die peacefully in a institution despite her actions, and leaves the reader wondering if she learned her lesson like Ester did.

While each of these reasons the women “fell” happened because of a man, the same is true for Tess. Despite her constant decline of Alec’s love, he still rapes her which leaves Tess a tarnished woman. Just as with Ester, society cast her away and she believed it. Tess continues to work, though her self worth is devalued in her eyes, which is why she is distant and removed from Angel, even though she has real feelings for him. When she tells him the truth, he sleepwalks and imagines her as dead. The scene is so obviously how Angel really feels about Tess. Even though he leaves her, Tess is faced with the same problem as Ester and Lucy: marrying a richer man. As we have seen with these two, it does not go well. Tess fights to succumb to the temptation of being taken care of by Alec until he finally convinces her Angel isn’t ever coming back. When Angel comes back, Tess fully surrenders to the “fallen woman” image and kills Alec, though it is out of love of Angel, unlike Lady Audley who does it for selfish reasons. Like Lucy, Tess is able to have a time of peace with Angel where they fall back in love, but unlike Lucy’s death, Tess is taken by the police to face her punishment. Tess battles with temptation throughout the entire book, but with her “moral woman” image being taken from her in the beginning, her fate is set.

Even though, Tess is labeled as a “fallen woman” by society in the very first phase, Thomas Hardy labels her as a “pure woman” before the novel even starts on the title page. This is the difference between Tess and the other fallen women: she is pure despite what she has done. While there are very few options for a woman, Ester does not seem to look very hard before becoming a prostitute. She does not ask her family for help nor does she seek other work. Though it seems she learned her lesson when she tries to save Mary, the author paints a negative picture of her when she implies Ester fleeing is the reason for Mary’s mother’s death. Ester is a fallen woman from the beginning. Several different times the author implies there is something wrong with Lady Audley. The most notable being the dog doesn’t like her. Also, the end of the very first chapter, the author allows the reader to suspect she is hiding something with the description of the lock of hair and locket. Again, from the very beginning, Lady Audley is a fallen woman. Ester and Lucy both act out of necessity but seem to do it easily. The author makes it clear Tess does not love Alec before he rapes her. Tess has preserverance and denies Alec’s proposals many times despite what is happening in her family. Even though Tess eventually succumbs to Alec and then killing Alec, she surrenders to her punishment. She goes willinglingly when the police show up: “I am ready” she says (487). Tess understands what she has done wrong because all along she is a pure woman.

 

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.

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.

WHAT CAN BE SAID ABOUT WHAT IS NOT SAID?

Secrets are obviously themed throughout the bindings of this novel. However, the concealing of information is not always meant to be so evident in narratives like Lady Audley’s Secret. Despite the apparent trigger word located in the book’s title. Could we as readers pick up on such themes if the title was subtler and more ambiguous? Is there a rhetorical intention for applying such a keyword in the title or does Mary Elizabeth Braddon lack the literary creativity to construct a New-York-Times-best-selling-have-to-pick-it-up-catchy-title? Sorry, I don’t know Braddon personally, so I do not know the answer. But we can make some assumptions or educated guesses, right?

Let’s consider the events that have occurred thus far and determine what types of assumptions we can conclude as pointing to the best definitive answer. So the question, once again, is the following:

“Why does Braddon add the word “secret” to the novel’s title?”

Hint: To answer this question, we must see if there are instants in the pages read thus far that show us scenes of some withholding or concealing of information by the characters in the novel.

My Short Answer: There are many examples of concealing information that many characters keep to themselves. I have listed out the following characters that I found “secretive” in some way or another. Take some time to consider what actions or information these characters have possibly hidden. Maybe we found the same or different ones?

  • Lucy
  • Hellen
  • Robert
  • George
  • Mrs. Vincent
  • Mr. Dawson

Stereotyping Women?

I firmly believe that, when writing a story, a writer does not make any final decisions about their story on a whim or fancy; it was done for a certain purpose through clear insight. In this case, considering the female characters Braddon has created along with their thoughts and treatment toward the other sex, she may be addressing the gender divide that was common between men and women at the time. However, are we meant to completely agree with everything that Braddon says in her book?

This divisive nature is noticeable through Robert’s point of view as the story goes on. He claims “to hate women” because of they are nothing more than “bold, brazen, abominable creatures, invented for the annoyance and destruction of their superiors” (229). As much as we may want to disagree with his viewpoint, within the context of the book, Robert is right. For example, Alicia comes off as very strong willed and at times childish, which interferes with any possible future courtships. She’s also dead-set on marrying Robert and refuses to consider anyone else. Such behavior, in the day and age of the book, was more than likely seen as unbecoming of a young woman of her class. Yet, are we meant to feel sorry for her at the same time?

We can also look at Phoebe, Lady Audley’s ex-personal maid. She snoops about and is able to dig up blackmail against her Lady and is made to later use this information to make Lady Audley pay her and her husband hush money for their bar and home. Sure, we are later made to feel sorry for her after her marriage, but her intention on discovering potential blackmail may not be so easily be forgotten nor forgiven.

Lastly, we can look toward Lady Audley and her own circumstances along with how she deals with each issue that comes her way. She uses her husband, Sir Michael, as heavy muscle to deal with any problems she doesn’t want to face head on. Furthermore, she is able to charm him into shamelessly doing whatever she wants with the right words and actions. Again, like Phoebe and Alicia, we may be able to feel sorry for her in the future, but for now, the probability of that happening seems very low.

Even more interesting, above all, is the fact that Braddon herself, using the voice of the narrator, seems to agree with Robert’s stance:

“Ah, Heaven help a strong man’s tender weakness for the woman he loves.                        Heaven pity him when the guilty creature has deceived him and comes with                        her tears and lamentations to through herself at his feet…Pity him, pity him.”                        (298).

So then, what is Braddon trying to accomplish through this negative viewpoint of women? Are we simply meant to take this idea with a grain of salt because of the genre of the work? Or, are we meant to sit down and discuss this division between the sexes?

(The male equivalent of) Damsel in Distress

“I am not a romantic man, Bob… I never read a line of poetry in my life that was any more to me than so many words and so much jingle; but a feeling has come over me since my wife’s death, that I am like a man standing upon a long low shore, with hideous cliffs frowning down upon him from behind, and the rising tide crawling slowly but surely about his feet. It seems to grow nearer and nearer every day, the black, pitiless tide; not rushing upon me with a great noise and a mighty impetus, but crawling, creeping, stealing, gliding towards me, ready to close in above my head when I am least prepared for the end.”

 

George says he “is not a romantic man” and has “never read a line of poetry in [his] life that was any more to [him] than so many words”. In other words, George acknowledges himself as never having experienced emotion on such as deep level as he does now over the loss of his wife.

He proceeds to explain the feeling, “I am like a man standing upon a long low shore, with hideous cliffs frowning down upon him from behind, and the tide crawling slowly but surely about his feet.” Perhaps the cliffs frowning down upon him from behind symbolize the moments he neglected to have and take advantage of when his life was behind. Opportunities that now taunt him. Or perhaps they symbolize people in his life, such as his father and law, who he imagines places blame on George for leaving. Whichever the literal symbolization, this analogy shows George’s sense of guilt, a huge contributing factor to the intense gloom he is currently overtaken with.

He then elaborates on the “tide” analogy, saying, “It seems to grow nearer and nearer every day, that black, pitiless tide; not rushing upon me with a great noise and a mighty impetus, but crawling, creeping, stealing, gliding towards me, ready to close in above my head when I am least prepared for the end.” This part of his explanation indicates another huge contributing factor to George’s depressive state: fear. Whether George fears the intensity of the emotional distress that slowly continues to consume him or the recollections of all that he has lost or missed with his wife as a result of his past action that he continues to gain is questionable. I’d assume it’s a mixture of both: truly a recipe for mental darkness and a state of emotional desperation.

Simply Thoughts

There were were a couple of things that stood out to me in Lady Audley’s Secret.  The first is pretty simple.  It can be inferred from the title that Lady Audley has some big secret that she is hiding from everyone.  When she finds out that Sir Audley is interested in her, her reaction is so weird.  Her tone changes, and it seems like she gets a little angry as she grabs the ring around her neck.  I guessed that her secret was that she has or had a husband that she still loves, and I figured that was her big secret, even though she denies this to Sir Audley.  Then, we find out that she keeps a piece of blonde hair and a small wrapped up baby shoe hidden and kept with her belongings.  This kind of confused me because I thought I already knew her secret, but here we are finding out through Phoebe that Lady Audley has or had a baby.  Lady Audley has two secrets.

A second thing that caught my attention Braddon’s use of the gothic.  There is the huge mansion with all of it’s hidden passages.  Lady Audley’s beauty is a characteristic that caught me off guard.  I understand that she is pretty, but for little boys to be running home to just to tell their mother how beautiful she is comes across as weird.  In discussion of gothic in another class, it was stated that when things are taken to an extreme, such as the lady’s beauty, then it leads to the grotesque.  I can’t help but wonder if the author plans to reveal something extremely grotesque about Lady Audley’s character.  Apparently, her past is something that she is really interested on leaving behind as she decides that she will marry Sir Audley.  I also feel like Braddon could possibly be hinting at something with Lady Audley weird laugh that catches Sir Audley by surprise during his proposal.  It brought to mind a witch’s laugh.  So is Lady Audley’s extreme beauty just a mask for her pure evil?