Group read: Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

TalkVirago Modern Classics

Join LibraryThing to post.

Group read: Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Apr 2, 2020, 4:40 pm

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1862)

    Wherever she went she seemed to take sunshine and gladness with her. In spite of Miss Alicia's undisguised contempt for her step-mother's childishness and frivolity, Lucy was better loved and more admired than the baronet's daughter. That very childishness had a charm which few could resist. The innocence and candor of an infant beamed in Lady Audley's fair face, and shone out of her large and liquid blue eyes. The rosy lips, the delicate nose, the profusion of fair ringlets, all contributed to preserve to her beauty the character of extreme youth and freshness. She owned to twenty years of age, but it was hard to believe her more than seventeen. Her fragile figure, which she loved to dress in heavy velvets, and stiff, rustling silks, till she looked like a child tricked out for a masquerade, was as girlish as if she had just left the nursery...
    She had appeared at several public balls at Chelmsford and Colchester, and was immediately established as the belle of the county. Pleased with her high position and her handsome house; with every caprice gratified, every whim indulged; admired and caressed wherever she went; fond of her generous husband; rich in a noble allowance of pin-money; with no poor relations to worry her with claims upon her purse or patronage; it would have been hard to find in the County of Essex a more fortunate creature than Lucy, Lady Audley...

Apr 2, 2020, 4:51 pm

Welcome to the group read of Mary Elizabeth Braddon's breakthrough novel, Lady Audley's Secret---and to the extremely belated resumption of the Virago Chronological Read Project.

For the latter, I and a few others began plugging the gaps in our Virago reading via groups reads conducted chronologically by original publication date. The project stalled for a couple of reasons: we got diverted into an examination of the works of Frances Burney, which led in turn to other group reads of important female authors prior to Jane Austen. At the same time, I was - also chronologically - reading Braddon's early works for my blog; and wanted to put off this group read until I was up to Lady Audley's Secret, which was her seventh work of fiction following four novels, a collection of short stories and a penny-dreadful.

So here we are at last, back on track!

Apr 2, 2020, 5:20 pm


Mary Elizabeth Braddon was one of the most popular authors of her time---she was the best-selling author in Australia year after year---though she also attracted a great deal of criticism. She dealt predominantly in so-called "sensation fiction", which was very much disapproved by certain sections of moralist Victorian society at the best of times, but particularly when it was written by a woman---since this genre was very much about things that "nice" women weren't supposed to know anything about.

But in fact Braddon knew a great many unpleasant things first-hand. When she was only five years old, her parents separated. For a time her father sent money, but one day this just stopped, leaving Braddon and her mother and brother near-destitute.

As young men did at the time, Edward chased his fortune first in India, then in Australia (where he ended up Premier of Tasmania!). Mary and her mother struggled on until the girl turned seventeen, when she adopted a false name and went on the stage. During this period she also began to write. She found some initial success chiefly as a poet, but poetry didn't really pay the bills. She turned to fiction---and published her first novel in 1859, when she was twenty-four, under the title, Three Times Dead.

The novel was not a success---but it attracted the attention of the publisher, John Maxwell, who saw untapped potential in its melodramatic plot. Maxwell contacted the young author, offering his advice about the novel's strengths and weaknesses. Under his guidance, Braddon rewrote her book, and published it again as The Trail Of The Serpent. Maxwell's instincts had been correct: in this new form, the novel became a popular hit.

The consequences of this initial collaboration were far-reaching. Aside from their professional relationship, Braddon and Maxwell fell in love---only he was already married. His wife was in an institution in Ireland, suffering from mental-health issues which, among other things, meant Maxwell couldn't get a divorce. In 1861, Braddon and Maxwell began living together. He already had custody of his five children, and together they had six more. It was not until 1874 that the first Mrs Maxwell died, and two were able to quietly marry.

This extraordinarily complicated personal life did nothing to hinder Braddon's professional life, however---though of course it shocked her society. On the contrary, she stayed almost insanely busy, editing various magazines (most notably the Belgravia) and continuing to write novels and short stories aimed at all levels of society.

Because she sometimes wrote anonymously and sometimes under a pseudonym, in addition to using her own name, it is difficult to be certain exactly how many books Braddon wrote; though research in this area suggests she authored better than eighty works of fiction.

Edited: Apr 4, 2020, 7:42 pm


Published in 1862, Lady Audley's Secret became Mary Elizabeth Braddon's breakthrough work. It was an enormous popular success---but also something of a succès de scandale, attracting outrage and criticism from some quarters, for reasons we shall consider as we read.

Yet the novel had an unpromising beginning. Most of Braddon's early works were serialised in the magazines before being issued in book form; and Lady Audley's Secret began its run in the monthly magazine Robin Goodfellow in July of 1861. Possibly this was an attempt to prop up the ailing publication, but if so, it failed; the magazine folded and was sold off, after only three installments of its serial.

After this false start, Lady Audley's Secret began all over again in the much more sturdy Sixpenny Magazine, running in its entirety between January - December, 1982.

In this arena, the story became so outrageously successful that Braddon's book publisher, William Tinsley, took the unprecedented step of releasing in it book form before the conclusion of the magazine serial---meaning that those who were willing to pay didn't have to wait to see how it ended.

(The novel made Tinsley so much money he was able to build himself a lovely new country villa, which he called "Audley Lodge".)


As we begin the group read, we should keep a few things in mind.

First, Lady Audley's Secret is by no means great literature; in fact, Braddon wrote better books than this one, even if it was her most popular.

And at all times, Braddon wrote chiefly to entertain; though, that said, there was usually a streak of social criticism in her novels. Her own experiences made her a cynic about her society, and in particular its unrealistic view of women and the social demands made upon them. She was a generous-minded woman who tended to champion the underdog. She also knew first-hand what it was like to be poor, and to live hand-to-mouth---and to be a woman trying to support herself in a society that almost made it impossible.

(Note that initially, John Maxwell was only her magazine publisher and not her book publisher: Braddon learned her mother's hard lessons and kept herself financially independent.)

This is nevertheless an important work in terms of both Victorian society and the conventions of Victorian literature. This is something I hope you will all stick around to discuss after we finish reading.

Lady Audley's Secret is also a pivotal work in the development of the English mystery novel---though it is not a "mystery" as such. Like the earlier The Trail Of The Serpent, this is not a book about solving a mystery, so much as how the mystery might be solved.

Today we absolutely take for granted the figure of the detective - real-life and fictional - but we must remember that the first British detective force was not established until 1842---and it was greeted with suspicion and hostility by the public, who felt that there was something "dirty" about the methods that detectives were required to employ.

Charles Dickens' admiring articles did something to alter that feeling, but the ambivalence generally remained---and it is exactly that which forms much of the tension in Lady Audley's Secret, which asks not just what it takes to be a successful detective, but examines the personal cost that might be involved in such work.

I don't want to say too much on that point either, but hopefully we can return to that too.

Edited: Apr 4, 2020, 7:44 pm

Group read:

I appreciate that current events may mean that not everyone who planned to participate in this group read may now be able to do so, or feel like doing so.

I also realise that shutdowns may mean that not everyone has been able to obtain a hard-copy of the novel.

However, Lady Audley's Secret is readily available as an ebook---though unfortunately we are again dealing with variant editions.

ETA: If you already have a copy of this novel in any format, please add your edition details down below when you check in, including how many chapters the different releases have.

The copy at Project Gutenberg is (I believe) taken from a slightly shortened American edition, and should not be your source unless you have no other choice. The changes are not huge, mostly just some cutting of certain passages, though obviously this should be avoided if at all possible. (Again, I understand that at the moment, people's choices may be limited.)

Both Penguin and the Oxford University Press have reissued the novel with its original format and text, in both hard-copy and ebook formats. There is also a 'Wordsworth Classics' hard-copy edition.

The Virago edition is also complete, I am happy to say.

Look for an edition of this book with a total of 42 chapters, not 41.

By the standards of Victorian literature this is not a long book; I am going to suggest that we aim at three chapters per day, which gives us a comfortable fortnight's reading---with extra time available for anyone who needs it.

The usual rules for a group read apply---only more so:

1. Please begin any post by including which volume / chapter you are referring to in bold.

2. Be mindful of others in your posting. If you have read this book before or seen any of its adaptations, or if you get ahead of the group, be careful about spoilers. I cannot stress this enough: this is the kind of book that depends upon its secrets and surprises. If you need to, use spoiler tags for your comments; I may not respond to your remarks immediately, but I will when it is safe to do so.

3. Similarly, DO NOT read any introduction, afterword or foot- or end-notes. In fact, avoid ANY commentary on the book of any kind---which, by the way, may be difficult even if you're just buying a copy! I have been appalled when clicking around this morning by how enthusiastically people present massive spoilers in their opening remarks.

4. Please post as many comments and questions as possible. Experience shows that this stimulates conversation and makes for a much better group experience.

Apr 2, 2020, 6:44 pm

I think that's enough for now!

Please check in if you will be participating or just lurking. Also, if you are planning to do so but need more time to obtain a copy of the book, just let us know. We have time to be flexible and can slow tings down if it would help.

Can people also indicate whether they have read the book before or are coming new to it?

Apr 2, 2020, 7:04 pm

I will join in! I've had this on my kindle for years and have never gotten around to reading it. I looked and I had the 41 chapter version, so I downloaded the penguin English Library edition to read instead. It has the 42 chapters, though each of the 3 volumes restarts chapter numbering.

I have been distracted from reading from world events, but I think a group read will help keep me motivated. Looking forward to this!

Apr 2, 2020, 7:21 pm

>7 japaul22:

Welcome, Jennifer! - I hope this works for you. I would consider it comfort reading myself, so perhaps others will too? :)

Can I ask you to post the publishing details and chapter numbers of your two Kindle editions? It may be helpful for those who need to choose.

Apr 2, 2020, 7:34 pm

I was just looking at some of the ebook options - it's hard to tell how many chapters they have. Any info would be welcome!

Edited: Apr 2, 2020, 7:57 pm

>9 Dejah_Thoris:

Hi, Dejah, great to see you here!

It is hard: not all of them list their chapters at the beginning. I only know that the Penguin edition is the "right" one and the Project Gutenberg edition is the "wrong" one.

(As a general rule, British editions are more likely to be complete.)

I will add a note up above for people to share info.

Apr 2, 2020, 7:42 pm

I read this a long time ago and really enjoyed it. It was interesting to read your introductory information, Liz. I didn't know the details of her personal life. I'll be lurking here as you all read and discuss.

Edited: Apr 2, 2020, 7:59 pm

>8 lyzard:
The version I just bought today was the Penguin English Classics but actually I thought I was buying the Oxford World Classics for $5.99. Luckily I didn't really mind as long as it was one of those.

Volume One: Chapters 1-19
Volume Two: Chapters 1-13
Volume Three: Chapters 1-10

The other version I had gotten was a free version. It's hard to distinguish those on amazon, but once you buy it is say "produced by Jonathan Ingram" - whatever that means! It is not divided into volumes and has 41 chapters.

Apr 2, 2020, 8:03 pm

>11 lauralkeet:

Welcome, Laura!

>12 japaul22:

Thanks for that, Jennifer, that's really helpful.

It appears that the cut American edition is the one in the public domain and therefore available free; whereas the complete British edition is still under copyright.

Pity. :)

Edited: Apr 2, 2020, 10:02 pm

I'm in. I've got the Virago edition pictured in >1 lyzard: (42 chapters--no volumes listed, with intro by Jennifer Uglow), and have not read any Braddon before.

Edited: Apr 3, 2020, 3:27 am

I shall be joining in. This was one of the first (possibly the first) Virago that I bought, back in 1987. I read it then and watched a TV adaptation so I know what Lady Audley's secret is, although I can't remember much else of the plot.

ETA: I also have a free ebook version and it is chapter 19 The Blacksmith's Mistake which is missing, as well as any minor cuts, and the chapter titles are often slightly different - Americanized?

Apr 3, 2020, 4:59 pm

>14 kac522:, >15 CDVicarage:

Welcome, Kathy and Kerry!

Yes, it's clearly a British / American thing. They didn't omit the 19th chapter, they cut the text and merged it into Chapter 18. I don't know that that is only cut place in the American edition (you'd think probably not), but it's the one place that the cutting is obvious.

Apr 3, 2020, 5:02 pm

>1 lyzard: Thanks for taking us through another great book.

>5 lyzard: My edition is from broadview, edited by Natalie M Houston. It has 3 volumes, broken down in the same format as that in >12 japaul22:.

I would highly recommend this edition.

In addition to the expected Introduction, Note on the Text and brief chronology of the author, there are several appendices:

- the serialization of Lady Audley's Secret
- dramatizations
- satires
- reviews
- The New Criminal Heroine
- Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Penny Fiction

My edition tells me I bought it on Feb 24, 2012 on a trip out of town, and finished it at home on Feb 29th of that year.

It was great fun, not serious literature, but for those who love Victorian novels, a must.

>2 lyzard: Will have to check out your blog for the other Braddon readings

Apr 3, 2020, 8:42 pm

>17 SassyLassy:

Thank you for joining us!

Thanks also for that edition information. I own several Broadviews, although not this book.

Always very grateful for blog-visitors... :D

Apr 3, 2020, 8:44 pm

Now---my plan at the moment is to hold off beginning for a bit, probably until tomorrow morning (my time), in the hope of others joining us. We had quite a big group building before this situation developed: some now might not be able to, or want to, or the disrupted routine might mean they haven't see the thread.

So we will give it just a little longer.

Apr 3, 2020, 10:19 pm

Hi Liz and all - I am planning to join the group read but can only post irregularly as we have had no internet or home phone for the past two days and apologies for using the iPad. Fortunately I have a small portable connector I can use sometimes depending on battery.
I have the VMC edition but am also using a Kindle edition from the complete works of M.E. Braddon because of the small size of the print in the Virago edition. There is no publication information about the works included in this Kindle edition but I will keep track with the Virago edition.
I have read through to chapter 10 and am enjoying it immensely.
The imagery in the opening chapter is superb and there are a couple of dubious characters already present.
Thanks Liz for the information already posted.

Apr 4, 2020, 5:29 pm

I'm joining in. I need a boost to my reading mojo, and I loved this the first time I read it a few years ago.

I'm using an image of the Tinsley 3-decker, with 42 chapters.

Apr 4, 2020, 7:48 pm

>20 mrspenny:

Welcome, Trish!

Do what you can and don't fret about it. Obviously we would love to have your comments, but we also just have to accept that there are going to be certain barriers to participation this time.

>21 NinieB:

Hi Ninie! - great to see you here. :)

Where are you sourcing your copy from?

Edited: Apr 4, 2020, 8:02 pm

Okay: let's make a start.

Volume I Chapter 1 / Chapter 1 begins with a slow, detailed, slightly creepy description of Audley Court, in Essex:

It was very old, and very irregular and rambling. The windows were uneven; some small, some large, some with heavy stone mullions and rich stained glass; others with frail lattices that rattled in every breeze; others so modern that they might have been added only yesterday. Great piles of chimneys rose up here and there behind the pointed gables, and seemed as if they were so broken down by age and long service that they must have fallen but for the straggling ivy which, crawling up the walls and trailing even over the roof, wound itself about them and supported them. The principal door was squeezed into a corner of a turret at one angle of the building, as if it were in hiding from dangerous visitors, and wished to keep itself a secret...

One of the things that we need to keep in mind here is that the sensation fiction of the second half of the 19th century was a lineal descendant of the true Gothic novels of the late 18th century.

Essentially, sensation fiction adopted the tropes of the Gothic novels, which were nearly always set "somewhere else" and "long ago", and transplanted them to contemporary England. Braddon's description of Audley Court could almost be that of a crumbling castle in the Pyrenees, that favourite Gothic setting.

Early English crime fiction, which arose in around 1830, was the first to do this sort of thing; but such works (like sensation fiction itself), were widely disapproved as immoral. Perhaps the first mainstream novel to take this approach (although it, too, was criticised) was Jane Eyre---which is really the ur-example of the "domestic-Gothic", a novel largely set in a brooding country house, that includes touches of crime and mystery, and builds its plot around dangerous secrets.

Of course Jane Eyre is about a lot of other things too, much more serious and moral things; and really, it was this that drew criticism of sensation fiction: that it wallowed in its crime and mystery to the exclusion of any higher material.

Edited: Apr 5, 2020, 8:53 am

>22 lyzard: I'm getting it from HathiTrust--I'm fortunate enough to have partner institution access, so I can download full books that are in the public domain.

It looks like the Tinsley edition is also available at Internet Archive.

The Victorian Women Writers Project ( has the same edition in full text if you want to be able to search a high-quality transcription. It includes page numbers from the original edition.

Apr 5, 2020, 12:26 pm

I'm gonna be a lurker here, this time. I read Lady Audley's Secret six years ago in a Victorian lit course, and I enjoyed it quite a lot then, so it'll be nice now to read other reader's observations and especially Liz's background analyses.

Apr 5, 2020, 2:35 pm

I'm here! I have the Oxford World's Classics edition which has 42 chapters. I have the same chapter and volume split as >12 japaul22:.

>2 lyzard: Interesting - I hadn't realised Braddon had an Australian connection!

Edited: Apr 5, 2020, 5:38 pm

>24 NinieB:

Oh, you're so lucky! I can't download from the HathiTrust (though occasionally I have been tempted to do a one-page-at-a-time PDF download). I do sometimes read books online there but only as a last resort (my poor eyes!).

Thanks again, that's all really helpful.

>25 Majel-Susan:

Welcome, Janet!

>26 souloftherose:

Very glad to see you here, Heather. :)

Braddon was hugely popular here; whether it was because her books tended to deal with "nice" British people doing terrible criminal things, I don't know. :D

One of the consequences is that many of our libraries still hold original copies of her books---and occasionally even lend them: when I blogged about her novel, Lady Lisle, I was able to borrow a copy from the University of Queensland.

Apr 5, 2020, 5:54 pm

As has been said, and several other people have already noted, while reading Lady Audley's Secret we need to be placing it in the context of mainstream Victorian literature, and thinking about it in terms of the Victorian view of women.

At her first introduction, Lady Audley could hardly be more familiar: she is an example of the favourite Victorian heroine, the beautiful, delicate blonde; furthermore, she seems the personification of that cherished Victorian construct, "the angel in the house":

Volume I, Chapter 1:

Wherever she went she seemed to take joy and brightness with her. In the cottages of the poor her fair face shone like a sunbeam. She would sit for a quarter of an hour talking to some old woman, and apparently as pleased with the admiration of a toothless crone as if she had been listening to the compliments of a marquis; and when she tripped away, leaving nothing behind her (for her poor salary gave no scope to her benevolence), the old woman would burst out into senile raptures with her grace, beauty, and her kindliness, such as she never bestowed upon the vicar's wife, who half fed and clothed her. For you see, Miss Lucy Graham was blessed with that magic power of fascination, by which a woman can charm with a word or intoxicate with a smile. Every one loved, admired, and praised her...


That one quiet evening sealed Sir Michael's fate. He could no more resist the tender fascination of those soft and melting blue eyes; the graceful beauty of that slender throat and drooping head, with its wealth of showering flaxen curls; the low music of that gentle voice; the perfect harmony which pervaded every charm, and made all doubly charming in this woman...

But of course, as we know from the beginning in the novel's very title, there must be more to it than that; more than immediately meets the eye.

We should also note at the outset that there would have been a challenge to Victorian readers in that title. One of the dicta of Victorian society was that a wife must not keep secrets from her husband: you will see again and again in literature the insistence that there must be "complete confidence", that a wife must be "confiding" in all things and show her trust in her husband by telling him everything.

So by calling her novel Lady Audley's Secret, Braddon would put her readers on high alert for untoward doings of one kind or another... :)

Apr 5, 2020, 6:00 pm

Further to that point---

It is amusing to note the points of concurrence between Mary Elizabeth Braddon and her American counterpart, E. D. E. N. Southworth.

Both women became highly successful as the authors of outrageous sensation fiction. Both, at the same time, were in anomalous personal situations: Braddon was "living in sin", while Southworth had been deserted by her husband. Both used their novels to dissect their society's views on women and marriage.

Both were brunettes.

And both of them were, self-evidently, exasperated with their society's preference for beautiful, fragile blondes: an exasperation which they took out in their novels. Southworth's blondes tend to be helpless creatures who get eaten alive by reality; while as for Braddon's---

Well, we shall see. :D

Apr 5, 2020, 6:12 pm

More seriously---

Though Braddon rarely foregrounded her social criticism, her novels are always sensitive to the difficulties of the poor and the disenfranchised. How difficult it was for women to support themselves, and the inadequacy of the wages offered for women's work of all kinds, is something that frequently recurs.

Though Chapter 1 focuses upon the life of "Lady Audley" as she is now, there is also this flashback which allows us to understand the magnitude of the temptation that Sir Michael Audley's proposal represented to the poor governess, Lucy Graham:

"Remember what my life has been; only remember that! From my very babyhood I have never seen anything but poverty. My father was a gentleman; clever, accomplished, generous, handsome---but poor. My mother--- But do not let me speak of her. Poverty, poverty, trials, vexations, humiliations, deprivations! You cannot tell; you, who are amongst those for whom life is so smooth and easy; you can never guess what is endured by such as we. Do not ask too much of me, then. I cannot be disinterested; I cannot be blind to the advantages of such an alliance. I cannot, I cannot!"

Apr 5, 2020, 6:21 pm

>28 lyzard: On the topic of secrecy, when reading chapter 1 this afternoon, I was struck by Sir Michael's lecture to Lucy:

"I scarcely think there is a greater sin, Lucy," he said solemnly, "than that of the woman who marries a man she does not love. You are so precious to me, my beloved, that deeply as my heart is set on this, and bitter as the mere thought of disappointment is to me, I would not have you commit such a sin for any happiness of mine. If my happiness could be achieved by such an act, which it could not—which it never could," he repeated earnestly, ''nothing but misery can result from a marriage dictated by any motive but truth and love."

Apr 6, 2020, 3:52 am

>31 NinieB: I was coming here to comment on the same passage from chapter 1 :-)

As well as thinking this seems quite foreboding for Lady Audley-to-be, it reminded me of our discussions from Anthony Trollope's books around the inconsistencies of women only being permitted to marry for love but not being permitted to develop feelings for anyone before they were proposed to.

Apr 6, 2020, 8:29 am

I started reading last night, and before I knew it I'd read 7 chapters. There are many familiar tropes and I'm finding it very enjoyable. I do feel like all of the "secrets" are pretty easy to figure out. Would that have been true for readers at the time or were these plot devices that seem formulaic now have been new and exciting?

As a side note, I'm reading a nonfiction work called The Five: the Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper that looks at the lives of the victims. It's a really interesting look at women's lives in the Victorian Era. All the women, so far, were impoverished, living on the street or in the workhouses. So I've been thinking a lot about the different options that women had when they didn't have a reliable husband or family to provide for them. Lady Audley's story could have easily slipped into the same result as the cycle of living in workhouses and on the street that these women experienced. I assume most readers at the time would be aware of the alternative life that Lady Audley could have led.

Apr 6, 2020, 5:36 pm

>31 NinieB:, >32 souloftherose:

And Sir Michael knows she doesn't love him and marries her anyway.

That's an interesting early comment upon the gap that can exist between social theory and social practice.

Edited: Apr 6, 2020, 5:54 pm

>33 japaul22:

We need to understand where literature was at when thus novel appeared.

We need to be clear that the mystery novel as we now know it had not yet been invented. These forerunner novels were more about suspense, so they often would make clear - in general terms - what had happened and who was responsible.

The "mystery" - like the devil - was in the unknown details, and the narrative tended to be about how the mystery could be resolved, rather than what the mystery was.

So various things are revealed to the reader here, who is privy to the situation of all the characters; yet we don't entirely know how or why, nor what the consequences are going to be.

>32 souloftherose:, >33 japaul22:

That is one of the infuriating things about a lot of Victorian literature: the refusal to engage with the realities of female life, particularly on the social borderline between respectable and not-respectable. At the higher levels - as Heather points out, in >32 souloftherose: - there was a tacit or overt suggestion that as long as a woman behaved herself, there would always be a man to take care of her, there would always be someone to marry. Of course that wasn't true; while most novels didn't deal at all (or not realistically) with the lower middle classes, where poverty threatened and options were few.

But Braddon herself knew what it was like to be in that situation. She was one of the lucky ones, but she never forgot that early struggle to support herself and her mother. And so her novels almost always contain passages reflecting on the reality of poverty and criticising the attitudes of people living in security and comfort. She also knew very well that a woman in dire need was not just going to passively sit around being "good" and waiting for Prince Charming.

(Literally: isn't that what fairy tales teach? Snow White in the forest, Rapunzel in her tower, Sleeping Beauty dead to the world... Just remove yourself from reality and wait, girls, you'll be fine.)

Edited: Apr 7, 2020, 6:15 pm

...and we should bring all of those thoughts to Chapter 2, where we find George Talboys on his way back to England after making his fortune in Australia.

One of the things that Braddon does in this novel (another thing we might want to discuss at the end) is privilege the male narrative: the story is predominantly told from the perspective of a man, and it tends to place that perspective between the reader and the unfolding mystery.

But at the same time, we always need to dissect what we are being told and look into the fine detail.

So here. Overtly this is George Talboys' story of how he has overcome impossible odds to carry home a fortune to his much-loved wife and child.

Covertly, it is George Talboys' story of how he deserted his wife and child and left them to fend for themselves---or starve.

The tone of Talboys' admission is particularly infuriating: on one level he is confessing this terrible thing he did; yet at the same time his mental focus is himself, almost with an air of patting himself on the back. There is no sense he really grasps the likely consequences of his actions. He genuinely believes that his wife will just be sitting there waiting, where he left her, when he gets home:

“Poor little girl, how pleased she'll be!” he muttered, opening his cigar case, and lazily surveying its contents; “how pleased and how surprised! Poor little girl! After three years and a half, too; she will be surprised.”

And maybe she won't be the only one.

Note, though, that the woman to whom Talboys is speaking immediately grasps the bigger picture:

    “So is mine,” said George, impatiently. “I tell you that mine is an exceptional case, although I swear to you that, until this moment, I have never known a fear as to the result of my voyage home. But you are right; your terrors have nothing to do with me. You have been away fifteen years; all kinds of things may happen in fifteen years. Now, it is only three years and a-half this very month since I left England. What can have happened in such a short time as that?”
    Miss Morley looked at him with a mournful smile, but did not speak...

We might also want to place this chapter in the context of >35 lyzard:, the dogma around marriage:

"I returned to my darling, to find her nursing a son and heir to his father's poverty. Poor little girl, she was very low-spirited; and when I told her that my London expedition had failed, she fairly broke down, and burst into a storm of sobs and lamentations, telling me that I ought not to have married her if I could give her nothing but poverty and misery; and that I had done her a cruel wrong in making her my wife. By heaven! Miss Morley, her tears and reproaches drove me almost mad; and I flew into a rage with her..."

Apr 7, 2020, 7:04 am

I'm a lurker here, but these posts are *so* interesting, particularly in illuminating the social context and the lack of choices for women. Fascinating stuff - thank you! :D

Apr 7, 2020, 5:24 pm

>37 kaggsy:

Thank you for joining us, Karen. :)

Apr 7, 2020, 5:33 pm

In Chapter 3 we are introduced to Phoebe Marks, who has been elevated to the position of the new Lady Audley's maid, and her rather brutish cousin Luke, to whom she is - now somewhat against her will - engaged.

Phoebe is strangely presented in the narrative, positioned both figuratively and almost literally as Lady Audley's shadow: like a negative image of the bright and beautiful young bride and perhaps meant to hint at shadows in Lucy's past.

We also get a description of Luke and, oh dear---

His dark-red hair grew low upon his forehead...


Another revelation is made towards the end of this chapter. Again it might seem that Braddon is revealing too much of her plot, but we must understand that this is not the modern concept of a mystery.

At this time, novels of suspense were more like jigsaw puzzles, being solved from the edges inwards. Often you are allowed to see more of the complete image than you expect, but there are always those missing pieces towards the middle that stop you from getting the whole picture. The hunt for those missing pieces forms the narrative.

Edited: Apr 7, 2020, 6:00 pm

Chapter 4 introduces Robert Audley, the novel's---well, I'm hesitant to say either "hero" or "protagonist"; we'll settle for "central character":

...they all agreed that Robert Audley was a good fellow; a generous-hearted fellow; rather a curious fellow too, with a fund of sly wit and quiet humour, under his listless, dawdling, indifferent, irresolute manner. A man who would never get on in the world; but who would not hurt a worm...

The negativity of terminology with which Robert is presented to us is interesting. There is a definite suggestion of untapped ability in all this; yet there is also a hint, I think, of authorial resentment at the way young men of his class could afford to waste the opportunities granted to them by their position in the world.

However---in the narrative sense the immediate importance of Robert Audley is that he is an old schoolfriend of George Talboys, who he encounters after his arrival from Australia.

Of course Robert too hears the story of George Talboys' wife and his plans for their life together, now that he has made his fortune:

“I shall take a villa on the banks of the Thames, Bob,” he said, “for the little wife and myself; and we'll have a yacht, Bob, old boy, and you shall lie on the deck and smoke while my pretty one plays her guitar and sings songs to us. She's for all the world like one of those what's-its-names, who got poor old Ulysses into trouble,” added the young man, whose classic lore was not very great.

But George's castles in the sky evaporate almost immediately. We may be tempted to smile unkindly at his blithe assumption that - presumably after sitting still for three-and-a-half years - his wife then obediently directed a letter to the coffee-house of his instruction; we may or may not feel that he (if not she) is getting what he deserves when he sees the newspaper:

    I cannot tell how long he sat blankly staring at one paragraph among the list of deaths, before his dazed brain took in its full meaning; but after a considerable pause he pushed the newspaper over to Robert Audley, and with a face that had changed from its dark bronze to a sickly, chalky, greyish white, and with an awful calmness in his manner, he pointed with his finger to a line which ran thus---
    “On the 24th inst., at Ventnor, Isle of Wight, Helen Talboys, aged twenty-two.”

Apr 7, 2020, 5:59 pm

Whatever else we may think of Robert Audley, I'll say this for him:

He may well be the first important male character in all Victorian literature to have no interest whatsoever in hunting.

Speaking of contrasts with Anthony Trollope... :D

Female authors had been criticising the practice in their novels for about one hundred years at this point, but it was something rarely brought front and centre, and which male authors rarely touched at all. Like duelling, hunting was one of those things that supposedly made a gentleman a gentleman.

So we may consider Robert the first of a new breed.

Edited: Apr 7, 2020, 6:30 pm

Chapter 5:

For all his simplicity and unconscious selfishness, we are left in no doubt of the depth and sincerity of George Talboys' feeling for his wife; her death is a crushing blow, almost a mortal wound.

But though George's misery is foregrounded, we also get this:

    Robert summoned the landlady. She was a good-natured, garrulous creature, used to sickness and death, for many of her lodgers came to her to die. She told all the particulars of Mrs Talboys' last hours; how she had come to Ventnor only a week before her death in the last stage of decline; and how day by day she had gradually but surely sunk under the fatal malady. “Was the gentleman any relative?” she asked of Robert Audley, as George sobbed aloud.
    “Yes, he is the lady's husband.”
    “What!” the woman cried; “him as deserted her so cruel, and left her with her pretty boy upon her poor old father's hands, which Captain Maldon has told me often, with the tears in his poor eyes?”

This jab is followed up in Chapter 6, when Robert and George track down the latter's rather dreadful father-in-law. But there is authorial intervention here: we learn of Helen Talboys' short life indirectly, giving these words more weight:

He had not the heart to ask any questions about the past, and his father-in-law only told him that a few months after his departure they had gone from the place where George left them to live at Southampton, where Helen got a few pupils for the piano, and where they managed pretty well till her health failed, and she fell into the decline of which she died. Like most sad stories, it was a very brief one.

Apr 7, 2020, 7:54 pm

>39 lyzard: Would a low forehead be a negative characteristic in phrenology?

Edited: Apr 7, 2020, 8:00 pm

>43 NinieB:

Yes, suggesting rather brutal or animalistic qualities; and probably less brain than brawn. Of course the expressions 'low-brow' and 'high-brow' derive from these sorts of assumptions.

Apr 7, 2020, 8:05 pm

>44 lyzard: Here we go: "A very small forehead is a sign of a small, diminutive intellect. . . . A low forehead, if deep and full, shows good native ability to understand material and commercial operations. But a forehead very low and very shallow, shows neither talent nor tenderness. Reason comes from the upper, and Observation from the lower half of the forehead."

Apr 8, 2020, 2:03 am

>45 NinieB:

I always imagine the authors of stuff like that looking carefully in a mirror at the same time. :D

Apr 8, 2020, 2:27 am

Chapter 7 finds Robert and George returning to England after a year's absence. Their intended visit to Audley Court proves rather abortive, however, due to Lady Audley's reluctance to receive visitors, on a plea of ill health; and becomes instead a week at the local inn with fishing as an excuse.

This chapter also contains one of the lengthiest and most detailed of all this novel's various descriptions of Lady Audley, one I think is worth examining:

In spite of Miss Alicia's undisguised contempt for her step-mother's childishness and frivolity, Lucy was better loved and more admired than the baronet's daughter. That very childishness had a charm which few could resist. The innocence and candor of an infant beamed in Lady Audley's fair face, and shone out of her large and liquid blue eyes. The rosy lips, the delicate nose, the profusion of fair ringlets, all contributed to preserve to her beauty the character of extreme youth and freshness. She owned to twenty years of age, but it was hard to believe her more than seventeen. Her fragile figure, which she loved to dress in heavy velvets and stiff rustling silks, till she looked like a child tricked out for a masquerade, was as girlish as if she had but just left the nursery...

Lady Audley is, to a point, the ne plus ultra of Victorian heroines: this was the era's ideal, a beautiful, fragile blonde, a girl rather than a woman, with an air of innocence suggesting ignorance of the world and its wicked ways.

Yet note Braddon's choice of language in the expansion of this description: Lady Audley is not merely child-like (a positive descriptor at the time), but childish:

All her amusements were childish. She hated reading, or study of any kind, and loved society; rather than be alone she would admit Phoebe Marks into her confidence, and loll on one of the sofas in her luxurious dressing-room, discussing a new costume for some coming dinner party, or sit chattering to the girl, with her jewel box beside her, upon the satin cushions, and Sir Michael's presents spread out in her lap, while she counted and admired her treasures.

We get a sense here of Braddon's scorn for her era's taste for pretty shallows. (Look out for usage of the term 'wax doll', one of her favourite pejoratives!)

However, something serious is in development here: this is really the beginning of this novel's split-vision presentation of its title character.

Apr 8, 2020, 2:48 am

>39 lyzard: certainly Braddon didn’t hold back with her description of Luke!!

The most likeable female character so far for me is Alicia..although she has lost her position in the house with her father’s marriage, she remains spirited and independent.

Apr 8, 2020, 2:04 pm

>33 japaul22:, >39 lyzard: I'm enjoying spotting the 'clues' for the secrets even if I can guess what the secrets are (and yes, it feels a bit like a jigsaw puzzle as Liz said). It's having quite a more-ish effect on my reading (just one more chapter)....

>42 lyzard: From Chapter 5

'He pressed the soft lock to his lips. "Yes," he murmured; "this is the dear hair that I have kissed so often when her head lay upon my shoulder. But it always had a rippling wave in it then, and now it seems smooth and straight."

"It changes in illness," said the landlady.'

A clue?? (I know, I know - wait and see)

>47 lyzard: I can't decide what to make of Lady Audley herself at the moment - sometimes she's portrayed as very childish and other times she seems to be quite cunning from certain behaviours (or maybe I'm reading too much into the 'clues')

Apr 8, 2020, 6:08 pm

>48 mrspenny:

I find the use of Alicia slightly odd. In some ways she seems like Braddon's own mouthpiece, yet she isn't kindly used in the narrative.

>49 souloftherose:

I think her entire presentation is a jigsaw in itself; that's another thing we might discuss at the end.

And yes, I know I keep saying that, but this really is the kind of book best discussed in its entirety when we're finished. It's quite tricky saying things without saying too much! :D

Apr 8, 2020, 6:16 pm

One other interesting touch in Chapter 7:

    For once in his life, Robert was almost enthusiastic.
    “She's the prettiest little creature you ever saw in your life, George,” he cried, when the carriage had driven off and he returned to his friend. “Such blue eyes, such ringlets, such a ravishing smile, such a fairy-like bonnet---all of a tremble with heartsease and dewy spangles, shining out of a cloud of gauze. George Talboys, I feel like the hero of a French novel; I am falling in love with my aunt.”

The English critics were savage about sensation fiction, particularly those examples written by women; and I think the references throughout to Robert's taste for "French novels" is Braddon's tongue-in-cheek way of reminding them that her books were positively tame compared to what being written elsewhere. :)

Edited: Apr 8, 2020, 7:28 pm

Chapter 8 finds our characters at cross-purposes: Robert - and George, disinterestedly - are still planning to visit Audley Court, only to be forestalled by the departure for London of Sir Michael and Lady Audley, called away by an emergency telegram to the latter.

The young men give up and plan to return to London, only to be delayed by Robert's bad headache. This grants them an opportunity to at least see the inside of the Court, its redecorations and its valuable artworks---except that most of the latter have been moved into Lady Audley's locked rooms, requiring the use if the connecting passageway dating from the Court's time as a refuge for persecuted Catholics.

The most striking thing to be found in Lady Audley's rooms is her unfinished portrait:

    Yes; the painter must have been a pre-Raphaelite. No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have painted, hair by hair, those feathery masses of ringlets with every glimmer of gold, and every shadow of pale brown. No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have so exaggerated every attribute of that delicate face as 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.
    It was so like and yet so unlike; it was as if you had burned strange-coloured fires before my lady's face, and by their influence brought out new lines and new expressions never seen in it before. The perfection of feature, the brilliancy of colouring, were there; but I suppose the painter had copied quaint medieval monstrosities until his brain had grown bewildered, for my lady, in his portrait of her, had something of the aspect of a beautiful fiend...

Since Braddon will use the term again again, and clearly expected her readers to understand the inference, it might be worth clarifying the implications of "pre-Raphaelite".

This was a controversial school of Victorian painting which challenged the contemporary view of womanhood by presenting women as, unmistakably, sensual - even sexual - beings. There was an emphasis upon the body, and physicality rather than spirituality, at a time when "good" women were almost expected not to have bodies. The paintings often dealt with confronting or scandalous themes, as opposed to the domestic images that dominated more mainstream art: fallen women, irregular relationships, etc.

This is a brief and rather simplistic overview of the topic, but hopefully it helps clarify what Braddon is doing here.

(Ahem. Heather, anything you'd like to contribute here?? :D )

Again we get a sort of split-vision here: there is a suggestion that the pre-Raphaelite artist has seen caught something in Lady Audley that no-one else has seen; yet this suggestion is then undermined by the narrator's wry counter-argument that by this point the pre-Raphaelites were seeing monsters everywhere and couldn't help themselves.

There is a split-vision within the plot, too: Alicia sides with narrator, insisting that the artist has captured something real; while Robert recoils from the thought.

Apr 8, 2020, 8:20 pm

>50 lyzard: Isn’t Alicia in the class of those feisty young women who would possibly/probably have read “sensation fiction” if she could have obtained copies?

How easy would it have been for genteel young Victorian ladies to gain access to it?

>49 souloftherose: re Lady Audley - I have definitely put her in the highly manipulative and dangerous category who will go to any lengths to preserve her secret. Maybe I am being extra harsh in judgement of her. I should really reserve my decision until all the clues are revealed, shouldn’t I?

I am enjoying everybody’s postings. It is really expanding my enjoyment of the novel.

Apr 8, 2020, 9:03 pm

>52 lyzard: The description of Lady Audley in the painting is quite striking. Thank you for the gloss on pre-Raphaelite.

The funny thing is that I read this chapter last night, then later read a couple of stories in Lord Peter Views the Body. "The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face" also involves a portrait that is quite revealing of the sitter. Then I thought of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Has anyone run across this device in other 19th-early 20th century fiction?

Edited: Apr 9, 2020, 6:14 pm

>54 NinieB:

Not off the top of my head. Anthony Trollope's The Last Chronicle Of Barset has a subplot built around the painting of a portrait. That's mostly about how painting and modelling can be a front for untoward things (the artist is a woman, sigh); though it does touch on some of this, for instance, how people were represented in portraits - how they chose to be represented - and the gap between that and reality. And alternatively, what an artist can express indirectly through portraiture.

ETA: There is George du Maurier's Trilby, in which the "hero" and his friend are artists: there is a subplot in that about an idealised portrait of the working-class heroine.

But both of these examples are about portraits showing people as better than they are, rather than revealing something hidden.

Apr 9, 2020, 12:52 pm

I have a language question. Several times the clock (I think a church tower clock) is referred to as a "stupid clock."

In this context, does "stupid" mean 1) silent (it doesn't chime) or 2) doesn't keep time correctly or 3) something else?

Edited: Apr 9, 2020, 6:12 pm

>56 kac522:

Yes, the first usage is right at the beginning, in Chapter 1:

At the end of this avenue there was an old arch and a clock-tower, with a stupid, bewildering clock, which had only one hand; and which jumped straight from one hour to the next, and was therefore always in extremes.

The original meaning of 'stupid' derived from 'in a stupor', and it was therefore something people often said of themselves - "I'm stupid today" - as we might say instead, "My brain's not working." It wasn't an insult, or a reference to lack of intelligence. "You stupid person!" meant that someone wasn't thinking, not that they couldn't.

But a secondary meaning was something like 'annoying', which we still do use today; and this seems to be how Braddon is using it---"You stupid clock!"

Edited: Apr 9, 2020, 6:28 pm

Chapters 9 and 10 deal further with the characters just missing each other. An unconcerned Robert goes to sleep at the edge of the river---and wakes to find his friend gone:

    By-and-by he took out his watch, and was surprised to find that it was a quarter past four.
    “Why, the selfish beggar must have gone home to his dinner!” he muttered reflectively; “and yet that isn't much like him, for he seldom remembers even his meals unless I jog his memory.”
    Even a good appetite, and the knowledge that his dinner would very likely suffer by this delay, could not quicken Mr Robert Audley's constitutional dawdle, and by the time he strolled in at the front door of the Sun the clocks were striking five. He so fully expected to find George Talboys waiting for him in the little sitting-room, that the absence of that gentleman seemed to give the apartment a dreary look, and Robert groaned aloud.
    “This is lively!” he said. “A cold dinner, and nobody to eat it with!”
    The landlord of the Sun came himself to apologise for his ruined dishes
    “As fine a pair of ducks, Mr. Audley, as ever you clapped eyes on, but burnt up to a cinder, along of being kep' hot.”
    “Never mind the ducks,” Robert said, impatiently; “where's Mr Talboys?”
    “He ain't been in, sir, since you went out together this morning.”
    “What!” cried Robert. “Why, in heaven's name, what has the man done with himself?”

This turns out to be a pivotal moment in the narrative---not merely with regard to the question of George Talboys' whereabouts, but - perhaps more importantly - the 'waking up' of Robert Audley.

Robert's circumstances have hitherto allowed him a dawdling, unambitious existence devoted chiefly to his own comfort and pleasure. He is a barrister who has never practised, and financially secure enough to spend a year travelling without having to worry about his income. His natural emotional state is rather tepid, with no strong passion or interest of any kind.

Until now:

    If any one had ventured to tell Mr Robert Audley that he could possibly feel a strong attachment to any creature breathing, that cynical gentleman would have elevated his eyebrows in supreme contempt at the preposterous notion. Yet here he was, flurried and anxious, bewildering his brain by all manner of conjectures about his missing friend, and, false to every attribute of his nature, walking fast.
    “I haven't walked fast since I was at Eton,” he murmured, as he hurried across one of Sir Michael's meadows in the direction of the village; “and the worst of it is that I haven't the most remote idea where I am going...”

He doesn't know the half of it... :D

Edited: Apr 9, 2020, 7:09 pm

Since from this point Lady Audley's Secret becomes very much about Robert's quest to discover the whereabouts of his missing friend, I think it is worth stopping and reiterating where this novel sits in the timeline of crime and mystery fiction.

The detective story as we now know it was still a few years away: the French pioneered that sort of writing, with the first mystery series with a central detective figure being the Monsieur Lecoq stories of Emile Gaboriau.

But there had certainly been forerunner works from the 1830s onwards---perhaps most importantly, the Arsene Dupin stories of Edgar Allan Poe, which do feature a central detective of sorts, but amount only to three short stories, The Murders In The Rue Morgue, The Purloined Letter and The Mystery Of Marie Roget.

In England, there tends to be emphasis placed upon Inspector Bucket in Charles Dickens' Bleak House and Sergeant Cuff in Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone; yet in neither of these cases do we find a central mystery being solved by the detective-figure.

Other works of this period, if less well-known, are much closer to the modern concept of the detective story: for example, The Notting Hill Mystery by "Charles Felix" (Charles Warren Adams), which was serialised across 1862 - 1863.

However, at this time publishing was still dominated by the three-volume novel, which meant that writers tended to spin out their narratives rather than focusing upon the central mystery as we now expect in this sort of fiction.

This is where Mary Elizabeth Braddon steps in. I consider The Trail Of The Serpent to be the first modern detective novel: it has a central detective figure - a professional detective, who over the course of the narrative leaves the police force to become a private investigator - and a central mystery; while the backbone of the narrative is the detective's pursuit of the criminal villain.

Lady Audley's Secret has a similar structure---but what it gives us is the first amateur detective: someone who inadvertently gets involved in a mystery and devotes himself to solving it in spite of his lack of any formal qualifications; also in spite - and this is very important - of any formal justification for doing so.

Both of Braddon's novels are, of course, still three-volume Victorian efforts, which means they are longer than modern crime novels and more given to going off on tangents.

But what really separates---not so much The Trail Of The Serpent, where the detective is a professional, but certainly Lady Audley's Secret from its descendants is the amount of time Robert spends agonising over whether he has any right to do what he is doing; whether the ultimate cost of solving the mystery isn't too high.

We're accustomed now to fiction in which it is taken absolutely for granted that a mystery must be solved - and in which random strangers just butt into police business - but this was far from being the case at the time. This novel spends a lot of time pondering the demands of justice and the morality of detective work; whether the end justified the means.

The sense that detective work was a rather vile business didn't go away in a hurry. Part of the appeal of Sherlock Holmes was that he was a cerebral detective: he thought about his mysteries, rather than getting his hands dirty. The early Hercule Poirot novels tend to find Arthur Hastings expressing his horror at his friend's "ungentlemanly" proceedings, reading other people's letters and so forth: Poirot's self-justification is that, "Murder is monstrous", that is, that the end does justify his means.

But over time there was a shift in thinking on this---towards, if you like, agreement with Poirot; and we see this in the emergence of the gentleman police officer: Charles Parker in Dorothy Sayers' Peter Wimsey novels, and later Frank Abbott in Patricia Wentworth's Miss Silver mysteries. Such a thing would have been unthinkable a couple of decades before.

But here at the beginning it is not so much about the solving of a mystery but the right to do so; and what the consequences of one man's actions might be.

Edited: Apr 9, 2020, 7:33 pm

Chapter 11:

So the long-delayed dinner at Audley court finally happens, but without George Talboys.

Robert cannot help dwelling upon the strange departure of his friend; nor can he hide his fear that George's abrupt disappearance tokens something more serious than a desire for solitude.

His concern seems exaggerated to his companions, forcing Robert into self-justification:

    Uneasy about him! My lady was quite anxious to know why Robert was uneasy about his friend.
    “I'll tell you why, Lady Audley,” answered the young barrister. “George had a bitter blow a year ago in the death of his wife. He has never got over that trouble. He takes life pretty quietly - almost as quietly as I do - but he often talks very strangely, and I sometimes think that one day this grief will get the better of him, and he'll do something rash.”
    Mr Robert Audley spoke vaguely; but all three of his listeners knew that the something rash to which he alluded was that one deed for which there is no repentance.
    There was a brief pause, during which Lady Audley arranged her yellow ringlets by the aid of the glass over the console table opposite to her.
    “Dear me!” she said, “this is very strange. I did not think men were capable of these deep and lasting affections. I thought that one pretty face was as good as another pretty face to them, and that when number one with blue eyes and fair hair died, they had only to look out for number two with black eyes and hair, by way of variety.”
    “George Talboys is not one of those men. I firmly believe that his wife's death broke his heart.”
    “How sad!” murmured Lady Audley. “It seems almost cruel of Mrs Talboys to die, and grieve her poor husband so much.”
    “Alicia was right; she is childish,” thought Robert, as he looked at his aunt's pretty face...

Apr 9, 2020, 7:48 pm

Chapters 12 and 13 find Robert consciously taking on the mantle of the detective.

We should also note (in 1862 terms) the modernity of the action in Lady Audley's Secret: characters are always dashing about by train - quite fast trains in some instances - and the telegram, or telegraphic message, plays a very significant role in the narrative.

These touches reflect real life. There were several famous criminal cases at this time that turned upon rapid police movements and the use of the telegraph to head off criminals attempting to flee.

Of course, conversely, these tools were also at the disposal of the criminal...

Robert's journal not only reflects modern police methods, but shows him more capable of cool, logical thinking than anyone - including himself - might have imagined.

However, his written notes on the matter do more than collate the evidence and show the links between details: they confirm in his mind that something really is seriously wrong:

“It's as dark as midnight from first to last,” he said; “and the clue to the mystery must be found either at Southampton or in Essex. Be it how it may, my mind is made up. I shall first go to Audley Court, and look for George Talboys in a narrow radius.”

Apr 10, 2020, 6:40 pm

Chapter 14:

    ...Miss Alicia Audley treated her stepmother with such very palpable impertinence that Sir Michael felt himself called upon to remonstrate with his only daughter.
    “The poor little woman is very sensitive, you know, Alicia,” the baronet said gravely, “and she feels your conduct most acutely.”
    “I don't believe it a bit, papa,” answered Alicia stoutly. “You think her sensitive because she has soft little white hands, and big blue eyes with long lashes, and all manner of affected, fantastical ways, which you stupid men call fascinating..."


Edited: Apr 10, 2020, 6:51 pm

The next couple of chapters deal chiefly with the situation of Phoebe Marks, as - almost against her will - she is drawn into marriage with her cousin Luke.

The situation is described in unsettling terms, all the more so because Phoebe clearly knows what she is letting herself in for:

Chapter 14:

    Presently she said, rather as if she had been thinking aloud than answering Lucy's question---
    “I don't think I can love him. We have been together from children, and I promised, when I was little better than fifteen, that I'd be his wife. I daren't break that promise now. There have been times when I've made up the very sentence I meant to say to him, telling him that I couldn't keep my faith with him; but the words have died upon my lips, and I've sat looking at him, with a choking sensation in my throat that wouldn't let me speak. I daren't refuse to marry him. I've often watched and watched him, as he has sat slicing away at a hedge-stake with his great clasp-knife, till I have thought that it is just such men as he who have decoyed their sweethearts into lonely places, and murdered them for being false to their word. When he was a boy he was always violent and revengeful. I saw him once take up that very knife in a quarrel with his mother. I tell you, my lady, I must marry him.”

Lady Audley is very free with her advice to Phoebe until she has a confrontation herself with Luke Marks:

    “Tell my lady how thankful you are, Luke,” she said.
    “But I'm not so over and above thankful,” answered her lover savagely. “Fifty pound ain't much to start a public. You'll make it a hundred, my lady.”
    “I shall do nothing of the kind,” said Lady Audley, her clear blue eyes flashing with indignation, “and I wonder at your impertinence in asking it.”
    “Oh yes, you will though,” answered Luke, with quiet insolence, that had a hidden meaning. “You'll make it a hundred, my lady.”
    Lady Audley rose from her seat, looked the man steadfastly in the face till his determined gaze sunk under hers; then walking straight up to her maid, she said in a high, piercing voice, peculiar to her in moments of intense agitation, “Phoebe Marks, you have told this man!”

Of course the fascinating thing here is that we don't know what is is, exactly, that Phoebe has apparently "told". Even at this fairly early point in the narrative, it could be any one of three or four different things.

Apr 11, 2020, 9:25 am

I've finished the first volume and I'm really enjoying it. I've really been noticing the swift movement of the characters, as you pointed out. They easily take trains around and seem to cover a lot of ground quickly.

i'm also interested in the detective aspect. I have some pretty clear ideas how this will all play out, but it's fun to watch Robert Audley try to figure it out.

Edited: Apr 11, 2020, 7:42 pm

Chapter 15 finds Robert throwing down the gauntlet, and effectively declaring himself Lady Audley's enemy.

This is an important chapter in several respects, not least its delineation of Robert's character (or lack of character). Partly because of his own recent experiences, partly because of Alicia's angry denunciation of him, he is forced to confront his own shortcomings.

Braddon has particular reasons for foregrounding Robert's narrative (yet another thing we should discuss at the end!); but the consequence is that this novel is as much about Robert's reformation as anything else:

“Lady Audley,” answered the young man gravely, “I have never practiced as a barrister. I have enrolled myself in the ranks of a profession, the members of which hold solemn responsibilities, and have sacred duties to perform; and I have shrunk from those responsibilities and duties, as I have from all the fatigues of this troublesome life..."

This is a pivotal moment. It not only finds Robert recognising his faults, but it serves the secondary purpose of justifying his subsequent actions.

By elevating her protagonist's legal obligations to "sacred duties", Braddon alters the very nature of this sort of fiction, placing her story within the real-world context of crime investigation and the legal system---and, most importantly of all, privileging the abstract concept of justice.

Prior (and to an extent still subsequently) to this, private motives were allowed to dominate in this sort of story; and we see their influence still in Robert's agonising over his uncle's position. From here, private feelings were forced to give way to public interest.

And this touch leads directly into this famous and much-quoted speech:

“Circumstantial evidence,” continued the young man, as if he scarcely heard Lady Audley's interruption, “that wonderful fabric which is built out of straws collected at every point of the compass, and which is yet strong enough to hang a man. Upon what infinitesimal trifles may sometimes hang the whole secret of some wicked mystery, inexplicable heretofore to the wisest upon the earth! A scrap of paper; a shred of some torn garment; the button off a coat; a word dropped incautiously from the over-cautious lips of guilt; the fragment of a letter; the shutting or opening of a door; a shadow on a window-blind; the accuracy of a moment; a thousand circumstances so slight as to be forgotten by the criminal, but links of iron in the wonderful chain forged by the science of the detective officer; and lo! the gallows is built up; the solemn bell tolls through the dismal grey of the early morning; the drop creaks under the guilty feet; and the penalty of crime is paid.”

The importance of this passage in the development of modern detective stories is self-evident.

Apr 11, 2020, 7:51 pm

>64 japaul22:

Good to hear! :)

Apr 12, 2020, 2:40 pm

Did some marathon reading and I have finished.

>1 lyzard: Some of this description of Lady Audley reminds me of Laura in Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White.

Which made the following from Chapter XXXIX amusing to me: Robert Audley has returned to his chambers in London and is a bit rattled by all that has transpired: He pushed his hair away from his face with both his hands, and looked rather nervously around the snug little apartment. There were lurking shadows in the corners of the room that he scarcely liked. The door opening into his little dressing-room was ajar; he got up to shut it, and turned the key in the lock with a sharp click. "I haven't read Alexandre Dumas and Wilkie Collins for nothing," he muttered. "I'm up to their tricks, sneaking in at doors behind a fellow's back, and flattening their white faces against window panes, and making themselves all eyes in the twilight."

Apr 12, 2020, 5:43 pm

>67 kac522:

Well done!

(Good grief: I'd better get a move on here...!)

The point there being that Laura is a typical Victorian blonde. Braddon uses the same sorts of descriptors for her blonde, to a very different purpose.

Though we should remember that in The Woman In White, Collins is playing his own blonde / brunette games. :)

Wilkie Collins was Braddon's direct and main competition in the writing of English sensation fiction. Comments like that show that Braddon was a reader as well as a writer and perfectly awake to others writers' tricks of the trade.

Edited: Apr 12, 2020, 7:37 pm

Chapter 16 finds Lady Audley taking up the challenge issued by Robert, and showing that she will not be easily defeated: she finds a way not only of removing him from Audley Court, but of suggesting to Sir Michael that he shouldn't be invited back:

    “So the last of our visitors is gone, dear, and we're all alone,” she said. “Isn't that nice?”
    “Yes, darling,” he answered fondly, stroking her bright hair.
    “Except Mr Robert Audley. How long is that nephew of yours going to stay here?”
    “As long as he likes, my pet; he's always welcome,” said the baronet; and then, as if remembering himself, he added tenderly, “but not unless his visit is agreeable to you, darling; not if his lazy habits, or his smoking, or his dogs, or anything about him, is displeasing to you.”
    Lady Audley pursed up her rosy lips, and looked thoughtfully at the ground.
    “It isn't that,” she said hesitatingly. “Mr Audley is a very agreeable young man, and a very honorable young man; but you know, Sir Michael, I'm rather a young aunt for such a nephew, and---”
    “And what, Lucy?” asked the baronet, fiercely.
    “Poor Alicia is rather jealous of any attention Mr Audley pays me, and---and---I think it would be better for her happiness if your nephew were to bring his visit to a close.”
    “He shall go to-night, Lucy!” exclaimed Sir Michael. “I've a blind, neglectful fool not to have thought of this before. My lovely little darling, it was scarcely just to Bob to expose the poor lad to your fascinations. I know him to be as good and true-hearted a fellow as ever breathed, but---but---he shall go tonight.”

Robert understands this, of course; and he shows his own determination by removing only as far as a local inn: not the close, comfortable one where he and George previously stayed, but the distinctly uncomfortable one run by Phoebe and Luke Marks.

Phoebe is smart enough and loyal enough to give Robert nothing; but in Chapter 17 Robert discovers the weak link in Lady Audley's chain:

    “Then you don't particularly care to live at Mount Stanning?” said Robert, politely, as if anxious to change the conversation.
    “No, I don't,” answered Luke; “and I don't care who knows it; and, as I said before, if folks hadn't been so precious stingy, I might have had a public in a thrivin' market town, instead of this tumble-down old place, where a man has his hair blowed off his head on a windy day. What's fifty pound, or what's a hundred pound---?”
    “Luke! Luke!”
    “No, you're not agoin' to stop my mouth with all your ‘Luke, Lukes!’” answered Mr Marks, to his wife's remonstrance. “I say again, what's a hundred pound?”
    “No,” answered Robert Audley, speaking with wonderful distinctness, and addressing his words to Luke Marks, but fixing his eyes upon Phœbe's anxious face. “What, indeed, is a hundred pounds to a man possessed of the power which you hold, or rather which your wife holds, over the person in question?”

Apr 12, 2020, 7:15 pm

>68 lyzard: No need to rush on! I just got turning pages and couldn't stop. I've read very little in the past 6 weeks, so this was fun and felt like I was finally getting my reading mojo back.

Apr 13, 2020, 6:17 pm

>70 kac522:

Good to hear, Kathy! :)

Edited: Apr 13, 2020, 6:41 pm

In Chapter 18, Lady Audley throws down her own gauntlet: Phoebe left the room to usher in this unexpected visitor, he muttered between his teeth---
    “A false move, my lady, and one I never looked for from you.”

So he thinks. Robert is of course hampered in everything he does by his profound reluctance to do anything to hurt Sir Michael; Lady Audley not only understands this, it is one of the reasons she holds her ground so pertinaciously. Robert's great desire is that Lady Audley will leave Sir Michael of her own accord, and it is for this reason that he takes pains to spell out to her the results of his investigations, hoping she will see the trap closing and run.

How far the two of them understand one another is made very clear here:

    “But tell me,” said my lady, with an entire change of tone, “what could have induced you to come up to this dismal place?”
    “Yes; I felt an interest in that bull-necked man, with the dark red hair and wicked grey eyes. A dangerous man, my lady---a man in whose power I should not like to be.”
    A sudden change came over Lady Audley's face; the pretty roseate flush faded out from her cheeks, and left them waxen white, and angry flashes lightened in her blue eyes.
    “What have I done to you, Robert Audley,” she cried passionately---“what have I done to you, that you should hate me so?”
    He answered her very gravely,---
    “I had a friend, Lady Audley, whom I loved very dearly, and since I have lost him I fear that my feelings towards other people are strangely embittered.”

That's fascinating little exchange. Lady Audley's rather outrageous sense of being persecuted is actually balanced by Robert's underlying feeling through all this that he really has no right to do what he is doing.

But we learn during this encounter that Robert may be underestimating his opponent---perhaps because of her fair fragility?? He certainly says too much here, and pays the price:

    “Letters, too, from his wife.”
    My lady was silent for some few moments, looking thoughtfully at the fire.
    “Have you ever seen any of the letters written by the late Mrs Talboys?” she asked presently.
    “Never. Poor soul! her letters are not likely to throw much light upon my friend's fate. I dare say she wrote the usual womanly scrawl. There are very few who write so charming and uncommon a hand as yours, Lady Audley.”
    “Ah, you know my hand of course.”
    “Yes, I know it very well, indeed.”

He means this as yet another warning and is taken totally off-guard by Lady Audley's lightning response:

    About an hour and a half after this, as Robert stood at the door of the inn, smoking a cigar and page: 289 watching the snow falling in the whitened fields opposite, he saw the brougham drive back, empty this time, to the door of the inn.
    “Have you taken Lady Audley back to the Court?” he said to the coachman, who had stopped to call for a mug of hot spiced ale.
    “No, sir; I've just come from the Brentwood station. My lady started for London by the 12.40 train.”

This is one of the reasons I prefer reading "old" books to historical fiction: that immediacy of true detail. Note that in 1862, it was evidently acceptable for a "lady" to go travelling around by herself, to dash up to London and back if she felt like it; there is no reaction to Lady Audley's movements on that level.

We also get a sense of the increasing rapidity and efficiency of the train service: Lady Audley is back home only a few hours after she sets out on her London venture.

Apr 13, 2020, 6:39 pm

I've mentioned telegrams before as well as the trains, as part of the very modern world of Lady Audley's Secret; and in Chapter 18 we also get this:

"If I were to go to-morrow into that common-place, plebeian, eight-roomed house in which Maria Manning and her husband murdered their guest, I should have no awful prescience of that bygone horror. Foul deeds have been done under the most hospitable roofs, terrible crimes have been committed amid the fairest scenes, and have left no trace upon the spot where they were done."

The Mannings were the guilty parties in a sensational Victorian murder-mystery---one whose historical importance is that in 1849, Maria Manning became the first fugitive caught by means of the police using telegraphic communication. It was crime investigation by the most modern methods.

These remarks of Robert's are also important for refuting a cherished Victorian belief (at least, one found repeatedly in novels): that evil deeds did always leave their mark upon a place; and that no-one could do evil without, in effect, it showing in their face.

Braddon's rejection of these tropes is one of the things that critics hated about her books.

Apr 13, 2020, 6:53 pm

And in Chapter 19, Robert learns the consequences of his careless talk:

    Robert Audley was looking at his uncle's wife with rather a puzzled expression of countenance.
    “What does it mean?” he thought. “She is altogether a different being to the wretched, helpless creature who dropped her mask for a moment, and looked at me with her own pitiful face, in the little room at Mount Stanning, four hours ago. What has happened to cause the change?”

She outsmarted you, Robert. :)

This marks the end of Volume I, with the honours about even between our two central characters.

Apr 13, 2020, 6:54 pm

I imagine I'm behind everyone at this point, but anyway---please check in a let me know how you're all going.

Apr 13, 2020, 8:05 pm

>73 lyzard: I was wondering about this reference to the Mannings, who I had never heard of. Thanks!

I'm on chapter 31 now.

Apr 14, 2020, 1:15 am

>75 lyzard: I have finished the book too.

Apr 14, 2020, 4:07 am

>52 lyzard: '(Ahem. Heather, anything you'd like to contribute here?? :D )'

Ha! No, despite appearances I know very little about the pre-Raphaelites....

>69 lyzard: I really disliked Robert's behaviour to Alice in Chapter 16:

"...if you'll only be patient and take life easily, and try and reform yourself of banging doors, bouncing in and out rooms, talking of the stables, and riding across country, I've no doubt the person you prefer will make you a very excellent husband."

>75 lyzard: I'm about to start Chapter 17 - I took a break from reading this over the weekend because I thought I was getting ahead of everyone else!

Apr 14, 2020, 6:10 pm

>76 japaul22:

It was a very famous case, generally known as "the Bermondsey Horror". Dickens later wrote an appalled account of the public execution that concluded it, and based Hortense, in Bleak House, upon Maria Manning.

It had all sorts of scandalous appeal to the public, although what really caught the imagination at the time was the telegraphing back and forth between the London and Edinburgh police that resulted in Maria's capture.

There is good (though rather lengthy) account of the case here.

Apr 14, 2020, 6:11 pm

>77 mrspenny:

Well done, Trish!

Edited: Apr 14, 2020, 6:15 pm

>78 souloftherose:

Just thought you might... :D

The thing about that quote is that when he says that, Robert is - in his lazy and rather selfish way - assuming that "the person she prefers", that is, himself, will get around to marrying her one of these days. At his own convenience, of course.

This is another aspect of his character that needs reformation, not to say a comeuppance---and may or may not get one...

Yes, I've been just cruising along too, in the absence of people checking in; I need to get on my bike!

Apr 14, 2020, 6:33 pm

In Volume II, Chapter I / Chapter 20, Robert learns for certain that Lady Audley has outwitted and outmanoeuvred him: the critical letters have disappeared from George's trunk.

Yet the loss of this evidence has two critical consequences. It prompts Robert to a much more thorough investigation of George's belongings than he has hitherto carried out; and he really confronts the task ahead of him, and what it means.

From this point in the novel Robert's actions are given an overt religious patina that occasionally becomes intrusive.

There are a couple of reasons for this. In the first place, writers of this sort of fiction tended to turn the tropes of Victorian literature back on themselves by framing the solving of a mystery in terms of "Providence", so that the detective-figure wasn't just some nosey-parker, he was literally the instrument of God's justice---and therefore justified.

It was a way of averting criticism, a defence against accusations that fiction of this sort was "immoral".

In this specific novel, Braddon obfusticates the ugly reality of her story in a variety of ways. One of them is foregrounding Robert's---not conversion, exactly, but awakening: he begins to think of his grim task in terms of duty and justice; he accepts responsibility; andhe looks to a higher power for assistance, rather than relying upon himself alone:

    He rested his elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands. The one purpose which had slowly grown up in his careless nature until it had become powerful enough to work a change in that very nature, made him what he had never been before---a Christian; conscious of his own weakness; anxious to keep to the strict line of duty; fearful to swerve from the conscientious discharge of the strange task that had been forced upon him; and reliant on a stronger hand than his own to point the way which he was to go. Perhaps he uttered his first earnest prayer that night, seated by his lonely fireside, thinking of George Talboys. When he raised his head from that long and silent reverie, his eyes had a bright, determined glance, and every feature in his face seemed to wear a new expression.
    “Justice to the dead first,” he said, “mercy to the living afterwards.”

Yet pragmatically, Braddon places this passage side-by-side with Robert's investigation of George's things, and his discovery of an irrefutable link between Lady Audley and Helen Talboys:

    The third paragraph was dated September, 1853, and was in the hand of Helen Maldon, who gave the annual to George Talboys; and it was at the sight of this third paragraph that Mr Robert Audley's face changed from its natural hue to a sickly, leaden pallor.
    “I thought it would be so,” said the young man, shutting the book with a weary sigh. “God knows I was prepared for the worst, and the worst has come...

Apr 14, 2020, 6:38 pm

Also in Volume II, Chapter 1 / Chapter 20, we get another reference to Robert's taste in reading:

He was in no humour even for his meerschaum consoler; the yellow papered fictions on the shelves above his head seemed stale and profitless---he opened a volume of Balzac, but his uncle's wife's golden curls danced and trembled in a glittering haze, alike upon the metaphysical diablerie of the Peau de Chagrin, and the hideous social horrors of Cousine Bette.

Robert here goes from the French version of sensation fiction - "the yellow papered fictions" - to the confronting social novels of Balzac. Both were equally disapproved in England; both went lengths beyond what any English writer was criticised for doing.

(As is made explicit elsewhere, the former books are those by Paul de Kock, who wrote scandalous and sexually frank stories of the Parisian demi-monde.)

Apr 14, 2020, 6:54 pm

I'm guessing you're already planning to say something about this but in Volume II, Chapter 3, Chapter 22 I was interested to read the section when Robert is interrogating Mr. Maldon and Mr. Maldon complains that he should have been read his Miranda rights, as we call them in the U.S. - meaning he felt he should have been alerted that he was being questioned and shouldn't say anything that could incriminate himself or others. Was this already a legal requirement in England at the time? Although it was in the U.S. constitution from the beginning, it's my understand that the requirement to be read these rights before questioning wasn't codified and enforced until the 1960s in the U.S.

Edited: Apr 14, 2020, 6:59 pm

From Volume II, Chapter 2 / Chapter 21 onwards, Robert gets down to the business of detection in earnest---weaving his cloth of circumstantial evidence, "that wonderful fabric which is built out of straws", about which he warned Lady Audley in Chapter 15

Again Braddon parallels this with Robert's increasing sense of responsibility, shown in his intervention in the affairs of the child, Georgey; we remember that in Chapter 6, George made Robert the boy's legal guardian and trustee. It is now evident to Robert that Captain Maldon is implicated in the plot, and therefore in his opinion is an unfit guardian.

But Robert's new determination is almost undermined at once, by his confrontation with the weeping, drunken old man, which brings back all of his revulsion against the necessary dirtiness of his proceedings:

Volume II, Chapter 3 / Chapter 22:

    The shabby room, the dirt, the confusion, the figure of the old man, with his grey head upon the soiled table-cloth, amid the muddled débris of a wretched dinner, grew blurred before the sight of Robert Audley as he thought of another man, as old as this one, but, ah, how widely different in every other quality! who might come by-and-by to feel the same, or even a worse anguish, and to shed, perhaps, yet bitterer tears. The moment in which the tears rose to his eyes and dimmed the piteous scene before him, was long enough to take him back to Essex and to show him the image of his uncle, stricken by agony and shame.
    “Why do I go on with this?” he thought; “how pitiless I am...”

The scene between Robert and Captain Maldon is indeed extremely painful; Robert is horribly aware of of the moral questionability of extracting information from the old man in his current state of physical and emotional turmoil. He is even more distressed by his discovery that he could, if he could stoop to it, get much of the story out of Georgey without too much effort. He shies away from both, in the end, even though this means complicating his own investigation.

Note, however, the specific terms in which he excuses this dereliction:

“Mr Maldon,” said Robert Audley, with a tone which was half-mournful, half-compassionate, “when I looked at my position last night, I did not believe that I could ever come to think it more painful than I thought it then. I can only say---God have mercy upon us all. I feel it my duty to take the child away; but I shall take him straight from your house to the best school in Southampton; and I give you my honour that I will extort nothing from his innocent simplicity which can in any manner---I mean,” he said, breaking off abruptly, “I mean this---I will not seek to come one step nearer the secret through him. I---I am not a detective officer, and I do not think that the most accomplished detective would like to get his information from a child.”

We see that there is still a moral gap between the professional and the amateur, a line that Robert will not cross.

Edited: Apr 14, 2020, 7:22 pm

>84 japaul22:

Yes, we certainly need to look more closely at that!

Although the Fifth Amendment was ratified as early as 1791, the rights of criminals and suspects in that respect were rarely respected in practice until the enforcement of the so-called "Miranda warning" in 1966.

In fact the opposite: the police often took advantage of things like intoxication or drug use to get suspects to talk; and in America (rarely if ever in England), the "third degree" was commonplace---long interrogations without sleep, or food and drink at best, actual physical beatings at worst.

It does not seem that things went to these extremes in England; and there was a much earlier acceptance of the need for legal procedure and guidelines in this area. There was sufficient government and public concern around the turn of the 20th century to institute inquiries, and the outcome was the adoption in 1912 of the "Judges' Rules", a set of guidelines for police around arrest and questioning of suspects, that pre-figured many of the Miranda clauses.

That was the legal formalising of things that had generally - though certainly not universally - been in practice before---and we see this in Captain Maldon's objections to Robert's conduct:

Volume II, Chapter 3 / Chapter 22:

“You have no right to come here and terrify a man who has been drinking; and who is not quite himself. You have no right to do it, Mr Audley. Even the---the officer, sir, who---who---” He did not stammer, but his lips trembled so violently that his words seemed to be shaken into pieces by their motion. “The officer, I repeat, sir, who arrests a---a thief, or a---” He stopped to wipe his lips, and to still them if he could by doing so, which he could not. “A thief---or a murderer---” His voice died suddenly away upon the last word, and it was only by the motion of those trembling lips that Robert knew what he meant. “Gives him warning, sir, fair warning, that he may say nothing which shall commit himself---or---or—other people. The---the---law, sir, has that amount of mercy for a---a---suspected criminal. But you, sir, you---you come to my house, and you come at a time when---when---contrary to my usual habits---which, as people will tell you, are sober---you come, and perceiving that I am not quite myself---you take---the---opportunity to---terrify me---and it is not right, sir---it is---”

These days we agree automatically with Captain Maldon's protest; but at the time, refraining from taking such an advantage was the ideal police procedure rather than what was legally required.

Through the second half of the 19th century, there was a lot of public concern in Britain over the conduct of the police and the courts - several high-profile cases with people convicted and executed very rapidly on flimsy evidence - and this led to pressure for reform, and ultimately to the adoption of the Judges' Rules.

BUT---there was always at least a sense of moral discomfort in this respect, even if certain procedures were technically legal; and we absolutely see this here in both Captain Maldon's protests and Robert's reaction. And of course the Captain is literally correct: Robert has no right in any respect, legal or moral, as he himself is only too acutely aware.

Apr 14, 2020, 10:51 pm

I'm running a little behind—I just finished Volume 1 last night.

Apr 15, 2020, 2:47 pm

>81 lyzard: 'The thing about that quote is that when he says that, Robert is - in his lazy and rather selfish way - assuming that "the person she prefers", that is, himself, will get around to marrying her one of these days. At his own convenience, of course.'

Yes, grrrr.

Apr 15, 2020, 3:04 pm

I finished Volume II today.

Volume II, Chapter XI / Chapter 20 In the Lime-Walk (spoiler tags for people who haven't got to this point)

"Your cousin, Robert Audley, is a very handsome young man, and I believe, a very good-hearted young man, but he must be watched, Alicia, for he is mad!"

"Mad!" cried Miss Audley, indignantly; "you are dreaming, my lady, or—or—you are trying to frighten me," added the young lady, with considerable alarm.

"I only wish to put you on your guard, Alicia," answered my lady. "Mr. Audley may be as you say, merely eccentric; but he has talked to me this evening in a manner that has filled me with absolute terror, and I believe that he is going mad. I shall speak very seriously to Sir Michael this very night."

I thought this was a very clever move on Lady Audley's part, and ironic in the novel given madness was far more likely to be an accusation levelled at troublesome women. I think Edward Bulwer Lytton (who Braddon dedicated this novel to) had his wife committed to an asylum because she made a public nuisance of herself and embarrassed him after their marriage had broken up ( I don't know what Braddon thought about all this given she dedicated the novel to him.

Apr 15, 2020, 3:07 pm

Volume II, Chapter XII / Chapter 21 Preparing the Ground

(underlining mine)

"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 throw herself at his feet in self-abandonment and remorse; torturing him with the sight of her agony; rending his heart with her sobs, lacerating his breast with her groans—multiplying her sufferings into a great anguish for him to bear! multiplying them by twenty-fold; multiplying them in a ratio of a brave man's capacity for endurance. Heaven forgive him, if maddened by that cruel agony, the balance wavers for a moment, and he is ready to forgive anything; ready to take this wretched one to the shelter of his breast, and to pardon that which the stern voice of manly honor urges must not be pardoned. Pity him, pity him! The wife's worst remorse when she stands without the threshold of the home she may never enter more is not equal to the agony of the husband who closes the portal on that familiar and entreating face. The anguish of the mother who may never look again upon her children is less than the torment of the father who has to say to those little ones, "My darlings, you are henceforth motherless."

Sigh. I'm trying to remind myself that given Lady A's probable actions it would be very, very hard for a novel of this period to leave the reader with any sympathy for the character but I keep finding myself wanting to throw the book down and yell 'But George abandoned her!'

Lady A marrying so well probably comes into play here but were there any social or legal conventions allowing a spouse whose partner had left for the colonies/disappeared to be declared dead after a certain period to allow family to move on/remarry?

Apr 15, 2020, 5:00 pm

>90 souloftherose: I know of a 16th century case where it took and act of parliament to deal with a husband who was missing for several years with witnesses saying he was dead.

Apr 15, 2020, 5:12 pm

>87 NinieB:

That's fine, Ninie!

Edited: Apr 15, 2020, 5:18 pm

>89 souloftherose:

Obviously I can't respond directly to that at this point but it is another of the things about this novel we have to "unpack" at the end.


This is a book which can only be properly discussed with hindsight, so I really hope those of you who have finished are holding your thoughts and will be back to contribute to that when the rest of us have joined you.

Apr 15, 2020, 5:19 pm

>90 souloftherose:

Oh, it is perfectly infuriating---BUT---I would ask you to consider the idea that what Braddon is doing quite a lot in this novel is foregrounding the conventional Victorian thinking and allowing what she really thinks to unfold behind it.

As for your last question, yes there were, and basically the same legal machinery that we use now was in existence; although the waiting period varied from place to place.

Apr 15, 2020, 5:40 pm

The next couple of chapters deal with Robert's meeting with George's peculiar father and his apparently indifferent sister.

The first mention of Mr Talboys comes a little earlier:

Volume II, Chapter 2 / Chapter 21:

    ...after the lapse of several weeks, he had received a formal epistle, in which Mr Harcourt Talboys expressly declared that he had washed his hands of all responsibility in his son George's affairs upon the young man's wedding-day; and that his absurd disappearance was only in character with his preposterous marriage. The writer of this fatherly letter added in a postscript that if Mr George Talboys had any low design of alarming his friends by this pretended disappearance, and thereby playing on their feelings with a view to pecuniary advantage, he was most egregiously deceived in the character of those persons with whom he had to deal.
    Robert Audley had answered this letter by a few indignant lines, informing Mr Talboys that his son was scarcely likely to hide himself for the furtherance of any deep-laid design on the pockets of his relatives, as he had left twenty thousand pounds in his bankers' hands at the time of his disappearance...


In meeting with Mr Talboys, Robert is trying to pass the buck---hoping desperately that someone who actually has some authority (moral rather than legal) will tell him to leave the ugly business alone.

We can see that as his reaction to his awful encounter with Captain Maldon, discussed above.

“I will run into Dorsetshire after I leave Southampton,” he said, “and see this man. If he is content to let his son's fate rest a dark and cruel mystery to all who knew him---if he is content to go down to his grave uncertain to the last of this poor fellow's end---why should I try to unravel the tangled skein, to fit the pieces of the terrible puzzle, and gather together the stray fragments which when collected may make such a hideous whole? I will go to him and lay my darkest doubts freely before him. It will be for him to say what I am to do.”

Robert's meeting with Mr Talboys finds him, in effect, spelling out the case for the prosecution. And he gets what he wants, but not at all in the way he wants it:

Volume II / Chapter 4 / Chapter 23:

    “Now, sir,” he said, when the story had been told, “I await your decision. You have heard my reasons for coming to this terrible conclusion. In what manner do those reasons influence you?”
    “They do not in any way turn me from my previous opinion,” answered Mr Harcourt Talboys, with the unreasoning pride of an obstinate man. “I still think, as I thought before, that my son is alive, and that his disappearance is a conspiracy against myself. I decline to become the victim of that conspiracy.”
    “And you tell me to stop?” asked Robert, solemnly.
    “I tell you only this:---If you go on, you go on for your own satisfaction, not for mine. I see nothing in what you have told me to alarm me for the safety of---your friend.”
    “So be it, then!” exclaimed Robert, suddenly; “from this moment I wash my hands of this business. From this moment the purpose of my life shall be to forget it.”

Meanwhile, as per my comment in >94 lyzard:, while Robert's meeting with Mr Talboys is foregrounded, behind it we get another glimpse of George's marriage.

I may say that for all Robert's passionate affection for his friend, we are given no reason to think very highly of George's intelligence or forethought:

    George had answered his wife thus when she and her father had urged him to ask assistance from Harcourt Talboys.
    “No, my darling,” he would say conclusively. “It is very hard, perhaps, to be poor, but we will bear it. We won't go with pitiful faces to the stern father, and ask him to give us food and shelter, only to be refused in long Johnsonian sentences, and made a classical example of for the benefit of the neighborhood. No, my pretty one; it is easy to starve, but it is difficult to stoop.”
    Perhaps poor Mrs George did not agree very heartily to the first of these two propositions...

For all the wryness of tone here, we remember that "the first of these two propositions" was increasingly Mrs George's reality.

Edited: Apr 15, 2020, 6:00 pm

But Robert isn't off the hook, as he hoped:

Volume II, Chapter 5 / Chapter 24:

    “You told my father that you would abandon all idea of discovering the truth---that you would rest satisfied to leave my brother's fate a horrible mystery never to be solved upon this earth; but you will not do so, Mr Audley---you will not be false to the memory of your friend. You will see vengeance done upon those who have destroyed him. You will do this, will you not?”
    A gloomy shadow spread itself like a dark veil over Robert Audley's handsome face.
    He remembered what he had said the day before at Southampton---
    “A hand that is stronger than my own is beckoning me onward upon the dark road.”
    A quarter of an hour before, he had believed that all was over, and that he was released from the dreadful duty of discovering the secret of George's death. Now this girl, this apparently passionless girl, had found a voice, and was urging him on towards his fate.
    “If you knew what misery to me may be involved in discovering the truth, Miss Talboys,” he said, “you would scarcely ask me to pursue this business any further.”
    “But I do ask you,” she answered, with suppressed passion---“I do ask you. I ask you to avenge my brother's untimely death. Will you do so? Yes or no?”

And of course this meeting does more than just force Robert to go on with his investigation:

Volume II, Chapter 6 / Chapter 25:

"That girl on the kerbstone yonder, waiting to cross the street when my chariot shall have passed, may be the one woman out of every female creature in this vast universe who could make me a happy man. Yet I pass her by---bespatter her with the mud from my wheels, in my helpless ignorance, in my blind submission to the awful hand of fatality. If that girl, Clara Talboys, had been five minutes later, I should have left Dorsetshire, thinking her cold, hard, and unwomanly, and should have gone to my grave with that mistake part and parcel of my mind. I took her for a stately and heartless automaton; I know her now to be a noble and beautiful woman. What an incalculable difference this may make in my life. When I left that house, I went out into the winter day with the determination of abandoning all further thought of the secret of George's death, I see her, and she forces me onward upon the loathsome path---the crooked byway of watchfulness and suspicion..."

Apart from Robert's immediate attraction to Clara, from this point we also get a reiteration of his conviction that he is "fated" to uncover the truth; that whether to go on or not is no longer a matter of his own volition.

This is the darker face of what was usually, in this sort of literature, insisted upon as "Providence". Robert is not just God's instrument, but God's weapon.

Apr 15, 2020, 6:00 pm

Again---Robert's intensely masculine and frankly self-absorbed musings are foregrounded in Volume II, Chapter 6 / Chapter 25; but I would suggest that the critical part of this chapter is this apparently throwaway observation, which quietly introduces a theme that becomes of increasing importance over the rest of the novel:

    Who has not felt, in the first madness of sorrow, an unreasoning rage against the mute propriety of chairs and tables, the stiff squareness of Turkey carpets, the unbending obstinacy of the outward apparatus of existence? We want to root up gigantic trees in a primeval forest, and to tear their huge branches asunder in our convulsive grasp; and the utmost that we can do for the relief of our passion is to knock over an easy chair, or smash a few shillings'-worth of Mr Copeland's manufacture.
    Madhouses are large and only too numerous; yet surely it is strange they are not larger, when we think of how many helpless wretches must beat their brains against this hopeless persistency of the orderly outward world, as compared with the storm and tempest, the riot and confusion within:---when we remember how many minds must tremble upon the narrow boundary between reason and unreason, mad to-day and sane to-morrow, mad yesterday and sane to-day...

("Mr Copeland", BTW, was William Taylor Copeland, head of a famous porcelain and glass manufacturing firm.)

Edited: Apr 16, 2020, 1:38 am

Volume II, Chapter 7 / Chapter 26 finds Robert back at Audley Court, due to Sir Michael's illness.

Robert at this time makes his intentions perfectly clear to Lady Audley. He still hopes that by showing her his hand, she will relieve him of the need for definite action by running away. She, however, has no intention of going anywhere, thanks to what she believes to be one point of unassailable ground; and she shows that she will be no easy adversary:

    “I have no doubt you have been anxious, Lady Audley,” Robert said, after a pause, fixing my lady's eyes as they wandered furtively to his face. “There is no one to whom my uncle's life can be of more value than to you. Your happiness, your prosperity, your safety depend alike upon his existence.”
    The whisper in which he uttered these words was too low to reach the other side of the room where Alicia sat.
    Lucy Audley's eyes met those of the speaker with some gleam of triumph in their light.
    “I know that,” she said. “Those who strike me must strike through him.”
    She pointed to the sleeper as she spoke, still looking at Robert Audley. She defied him with her blue eyes, their brightness intensified by the triumph in their glance. She defied him with her quiet smile---a smile of fatal beauty, full of lurking significance and mysterious meaning---the smile which the artist had exaggerated in his portrait of Sir Michael's wife...

But importantly at this point, the narrative also pulls back to remind us how the rest of the world sees Lady Audley, and what Robert is really up against.

Here is her former employer, Dr Dawson:

“I always respected the lady as Miss Graham, sir,” he said, “and I esteem her doubly as Lady Audley---not on account of her altered position, but because she is the wife of one of the noblest men in Christendom... I have always considered your uncle's wife one of the most amiable of women. I cannot bring myself to think her otherwise. It would be an uprooting of one of the strongest convictions of my life, were I compelled to think her otherwise.”

Edited: Apr 16, 2020, 6:04 pm

The next couple of chapters deal with Robert's step-by-step investigation. He succeeds in tracing the life of Lucy Graham backwards to her time as a junior teacher in London; but while he finds a damning clue at that point, he also loses track of her.

He therefore begins at the other end, and tries to trace Helen Maldon instead. This quest leads him to the northern seaside resort town of Wildernsea, very dismal in the winter.

Robert gets more information here; but conversely, there is (as there should be) an increasing emphasis upon the straitened circumstances of Helen Maldon---and of Mrs George Talboys:

Volume II, Chapter 9 / Chapter 28:

    "Captain Maldon was one of our best customers. He used to spend his evenings in this very room, though the walls were damp at that time, and we weren't able to paper the place for nearly a twelvemonth afterwards. His daughter married a young officer that came here with his regiment at Christmas time in fifty-two. They were married here, sir, and they travelled on the Continent for six months, and came back here again. But the gentleman ran away to Australia, and left the lady, a week or two after her baby was born. The business made quite a sensation in Wildernsea, sir, and Mrs---Mrs---I forget the name---”
    “Mrs Talboys,” suggested Robert.
    “To be sure, sir, Mrs Talboys. Mrs Talboys was very much pitied by the Wildernsea folks, sir, I was going to say, for she was very pretty, and had such nice winning ways, that she was a favourite with everybody who knew her.”


    Mrs Barkamb paused for a few moments before resuming.
    “You are aware that Mrs. Talboys left rather abruptly?” she asked.
    “I was not aware of that fact.”
    “Indeed! Yes, she left abruptly, poor little woman! She tried to support herself after her husband's desertion by giving music lessons; she was a very brilliant pianist, and succeeded pretty well, I believe. But I suppose her father took her money from her, and spent it in public-houses. However that might be, they had a very serious misunderstanding one night; and the next morning Mrs Talboys left Wildernsea, leaving her little boy, who was out at nurse in the neighbourhood.”

This is another point at which we must see past the deliberately intrusive masculine point-of-view and Robert's constant privileging of George.

We are again reminded here of Helen's reality: deserted by her husband, left with a baby, and with an irresponsible, selfish father capable of drinking up her slender earnings.

Edited: Apr 16, 2020, 6:33 pm

Volume II, Chapter 9 / Chapter 28 contains a particularly interesting passage, when Robert suffers a nightmare:

    He soon fell asleep, worn out with the fatigue of hurrying from place to place during the last two days; but his slumber was not a heavy one, and he heard the disconsolate moaning of the wind upon the sandy wastes, and the long waves rolling in monotonously upon the flat shore. Mingling with these dismal sounds, the melancholy thoughts engendered by his joyless journey repeated themselves in ever-varying succession in the chaos of his slumbering brain, and made themselves into visions of things that never had been and never could be upon this earth; but which had some vague relation to real events, remembered by the sleeper.
    In those troublesome dreams he saw Audley Court, rooted up from amidst the green pastures and the shady hedgerows of Essex, standing bare and unprotected upon that desolate northern shore, threatened by the rapid rising of a boisterous sea, whose waves seemed gathering upward to descend and crush the house he loved. As the hurrying waves rolled nearer and nearer to the stately mansion, the sleeper saw a pale, starry face looking out of the silvery foam, and knew that it was my lady, transformed into a mermaid, beckoning his uncle to destruction...

This is, I think, an allusion to one of the most famous passages in Vanity Fair, when Becky Sharp is also compared - though far more explicitly, and in far nastier terms - to a mermaid:

Those who like may peep down under waves that are pretty transparent and see it writhing and twirling, diabolically hideous and slimy, flapping amongst bones, or curling round corpses; but above the waterline, I ask, has not everything been proper, agreeable, and decorous, and has any the most squeamish immoralist in Vanity Fair a right to cry fie? When, however, the Siren disappears and dives below, down among the dead men, the water of course grows turbid over her, and it is labour lost to look into it ever so curiously. They look pretty enough when they sit upon a rock, twanging their harps and combing their hair, and sing, and beckon to you to come and hold the looking-glass; but when they sink into their native element, depend on it, those mermaids are about no good, and we had best not examine the fiendish marine cannibals, revelling and feasting on their wretched pickled victims...

Though the connection between the two isn't overt, Lady Audley's Secret is a book that always puts me very much in mind of Vanity Fair. both of them foreground masculine reaction to misbehaving females---yet both of them, inescapably, deal with what women have to do to survive in a world where men control the money.

And I would argue that the connection was entirely deliberate on Braddon's part: that Lady Audley is living proof of Becky's assertion that:

"I think I could be a good woman if I had five thousand a year."

Well, Lady Audley has five thousand a year: compare Becky's musings on what her life could be with Braddon's description of what Lady Audley's life is:

"It isn't difficult to be a country gentleman's wife," Rebecca thought. "I think I could be a good woman if I had five thousand a year. I could dawdle about in the nursery and count the apricots on the wall. I could water plants in a green-house and pick off dead leaves from the geraniums. I could ask old women about their rheumatisms and order half-a-crown's worth of soup for the poor. I shouldn't miss it much, out of five thousand a year. ..."


In the cottages of the poor her fair face shone like a sunbeam. She would sit for a quarter of an hour talking to some old woman, and apparently as pleased with the admiration of a toothless crone as if she had been listening to the compliments of a marquis...

You could reasonably sum up both books as---an examination of how much it costs to be "good".

And above all, we must not forget that when she was writing this book. Braddon was being, in her society's terms, a very bad woman: she was living with a man she wasn't married to, a man who was already married. She had been very poor---and now she was comfortable because she was living in sin...

Edited: Apr 16, 2020, 7:12 pm

When Robert returns to Audley Court, there is only one link still missing in his chain of circumstantial evidence; and he thinks he knows where to find it.

But he is still wrestling with the morality of what he is doing, all the more so as he approaches the end of his journey and knows what must happen next:

Volume II, Chapter 10 / Chapter 29:

“Shall I go down to Southampton,” he thought, “and endeavour to discover the history of the woman who died at Ventnor? Shall I work underground, bribing the paltry assistants in that foul conspiracy, until I find my way to the thrice guilty principal? No! not till I have tried other means of discovering the truth. Shall I go to that miserable old man, and charge him with his share in the shameful trick which I believe to have been played upon my poor friend? No; I will not torture that terror-stricken wretch as I tortured him a few weeks ago...

Volume II, Chapter 11 / Chapter 30:

“God help her, poor, wretched creature,” he thought. “She knows now that she is lost. I wonder if the judges of the land feel as I do now, when they put on the black cap, and pass sentence of death upon some poor, shivering wretch who has never done them any wrong. Do they feel a heroic fervour of virtuous indignation, or do they suffer this dull anguish which gnaws my vitals as I talk to this helpless woman?”

But he remains determined; and he confronts Lady Audley outright---still hoping that he can force her to abandon her position and prevent his having to be the one to expose her.

But the battle between them, which seems so uneven, takes an unexpected turn:

At the outset we get this:

    “Do you remember what Macbeth tells his physician, my lady?” asked Robert, gravely. “Mr Dawson may be very much more clever than the Scottish leech; but I doubt if even he can minister to the mind that is diseased.”
    “Who said that my mind was diseased?” exclaimed Lady Audley.
    “I say so, my lady,” answered Robert...

Of course, Robert is speaking metaphorically; but Lady Audley is not, when she abruptly turns the tables on him:

“Why do you torment me about this George Talboys, who happens to have taken it into his head to keep out of your way for a few months? Are you going mad, Mr Audley, and do you select me as the victim of your monomania?”


    “I would warn you that such fancies have sometimes conducted people, as apparently sane as yourself, to the life-long imprisonment of a private lunatic asylum.”
    Robert Audley started, and recoiled a few paces among the weeds and brushwood as my lady said this.
    “She would be capable of any new crime to shield her from the consequences of the old one,” he thought. “She would be capable of using her influence with my uncle to place me in a mad-house... My uncle would rather think me mad than believe her guilty.”

And in spite of the state of terror and misery in which he leaves her, Lady Audley has seen her advantage and immediately acts upon it:

    “Mr Audley may be as you say, merely eccentric; but he has talked to me this evening in a manner that has filled me with absolute terror, and I believe that he is going mad. I shall speak very seriously to Sir Michael this very night.”
    “Speak to papa!” exclaimed Alicia; “you surely won't distress papa by suggesting such a possibility!”
    “I shall only put him on his guard, my dear Alicia.”
    “But he'll never believe you,” said Miss Audley; “he will laugh at such an idea.”
    “No, Alicia; he will believe anything that I tell him,” answered my lady, with a quiet smile...

Apr 17, 2020, 12:43 am

I have another language question. Somewhere in these chapters (can't find the reference now), Robert is searching for a woman who appears to be difficult to find. On his way to finding her, one of his contacts asks if he's in the "tally business", before they'll reveal the whereabouts of the person he's seeking.

So what's the "tally business"?

Edited: Apr 17, 2020, 1:25 am

>102 kac522:

A question! Yay!! :D

Yes, its in Volume II, Chapter 8 / Chapter 27:

    “Eh, what?” he asked, vaguely. “Can I do anything for you, ma'am? Does Mrs Vincent owe you money, too?”
    “Yes, sir,” the woman answered, with a semi-genteel manner which corresponded with the shabby gentility of her dress; “Mrs Vincent is in my debt; but it isn't that, sir. I---I want to know, please, what your business may be with her---because---because---”
    “You can give me her address if you choose, ma'am? That's what you mean to say, isn't it?”
    The woman hesitated a little, looking rather suspiciously at Robert.
    “You're not connected with---with the tally business, are you, sir?” she asked, after considering Mr Audley's personal appearance for a few moments.
    “The what, ma'am?” cried the young barrister, staring aghast at his questioner.
    “I'm sure I beg your pardon, sir,” exclaimed the little woman, seeing that she had made some very awful mistake. “I thought you might have been, you know. Some of the gentlemen who collect for the tally-shops do dress so very handsome; and I know Mrs Vincent owes a good deal of money.”

A tally-shop was a business that sold other people's things, on a commission basis. It allowed people in financial need to sell their property without managing the business themselves, or having other people know that they were doing so.

Tally-shops also sold things on account, with customers paying off their purchases over time, rather like on a modern installment plan. Both parties kept a "tally book". And of course, any credit business might need a "collector" if customers fell behind on their payments; this is who Robert has been mistaken for.

The woman may be suspicious that Mrs Vincent has found a way of raising money without letting her creditors know, or (more likely) she doesn't want to give Mrs Vincent's whereabouts away to the dreaded "collector".

The rather vain young barrister is of course "aghast" at being mistaken for someone in this not very genteel line of business, but this small incident is simultaneously a reminder that appearances can be deceiving, and more evidence of the financial edge that so many people in this society were living on.

Edited: Apr 17, 2020, 2:56 am

>103 lyzard: Thanks! I figured it had something to do with collecting money, but I couldn't find any reference to it. So not exactly a pawn shop, right? I've seen resale shops that sell "on consignment"-- would that be closer?

Apr 17, 2020, 7:30 am

>104 kac522:

Yes. With a pawn shop the owner had the option of reclaiming the goods, but a tally-shop was purely goods for sale.

Apr 17, 2020, 9:23 am

>98 lyzard: Robert at this time makes his intentions perfectly clear to Lady Audley. He still hopes that by showing her his hand, she will relieve him of the need for definite action by running away.

>101 lyzard: I love how Lady Audley uses each of Robert's warnings to her own advantage.

Completely different type of book and genre but Robert's insistence on telling Lady A what he has discovered each time to give her the chance to act honourably is really reminding me of the path Ned Stark takes in the first book in A Game of Thrones (this approach doesn't work out well for Ned Stark)

>102 kac522:, >103 lyzard: Thanks for the question and explanation. I didn't know that but must have been so caught up in the plot that I missed that detail.

Apr 17, 2020, 3:17 pm

I've finished. I have some questions/comments once everyone is done.

I really enjoyed this. It was just the sort of reading I was looking for right now - familiar, entertaining, and readable.

Apr 17, 2020, 6:11 pm

>106 souloftherose:

Yes, for all the various dismissals of her in the text she is extremely shrewd and understands perfectly how to manipulate a situation.

Re: spoiler, it doesn't here either given the immediate consequences!

>107 japaul22:

Well done, Jennifer! Please do hold those thoughts: given the nature of Volume III, I'm planning on opening it up to general discussion without (completely) doing the stepwise thing.

That's great to hear. :)

Edited: Apr 17, 2020, 6:19 pm

Heather is right (>106 souloftherose:), and we immediately get another instance of Lady Audley turning the tables on Robert:

Volume II, Chapter 12 / Chapter 31:

    “You must think me very unkind, dear,” said my lady, “and I know I ought not to be annoyed by the poor fellow; but he really seems to have taken some absurd notion into his head about me.”
    “About you, Lucy!” cried Sir Michael.
    “Yes, dear. He seems to connect me in some vague manner---which I cannot quite understand---with the disappearance of this Mr Talboys.”
    “Impossible, Lucy. You must have misunderstood him.”
    “I don't think so.”
    “Then he must be mad,” said the baronet---“he must be mad...”

What I love about this is she manipulates Sir Michael basically by telling him the truth. :D

    My lady tripped out of the room to give her orders about the message which was to be carried to the house at which she was to have dined. She paused for a moment as she closed the library door---she paused, and laid her hand upon her breast to check the rapid throbbing of her heart.
    “I have been afraid of you, Mr Robert Audley,” she thought, “but perhaps the time may come in which you will have cause to be afraid of me.”

Edited: Apr 17, 2020, 7:10 pm

Volume II, Chapter 13 / Chapter 32 allows us further inside Lady Audley's consciousness than we have previously been able to penetrate. It doesn't entirely strip away the veil between her her and us, but it does bring her more into focus than has been the case up until now.

First, however, it insists again upon her externals, returning to the suggestion of Lady Audley as the perfect pre-Raphaelite model:

If Mr Holman Hunt could have peeped into the pretty boudoir, I think the picture would have been photographed upon his brain to be reproduced by and bye upon a bishop's half-length for the glorification of the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. My lady in that half-recumbent attitude, with her elbow resting on one knee, and her perfect chin supported by her hand, the rich folds of drapery falling away in long undulating lines from the exquisite outline of her figure, and the luminous rose-coloured fire-light enveloping her in a soft haze, only broken by the golden glitter of her yellow hair. Beautiful in herself, but made bewilderingly beautiful by the gorgeous surroundings which adorn the shrine of her loveliness...

This is offered in painful contrast to the internal situation of Lady Audley, who in spite of her so-far successful holding of her position, is feeling more-and-more the desperate nature of the situation.

This chapter covers a lot of ground---and we can find in it many of the things that so upset the critics of this novel---which, it should be stressed, was accused again and again of immorality.

For instance, Braddon dutifully invokes the money-can't buy happiness dogma...and then rejects it, calling it a "stale sermon", and observing wryly that, I can see no occasion for seizing upon the fact of her misery as an argument in favour of poverty and discomfort as opposed to opulence.

But in the overall scheme of things, what I find most important here is that this chapter amounts to a wholesale rejection of one of Victorian society's most cherished beliefs: that you could tell what someone was by looking at them; and that doing wrong, doing evil, must leave a visible mark. Even when wrong-doers in novels are beautiful, there is always "something" - a look in the eye, lines on the face - to give them away.

Braddon basically dismisses this, allowing only the tiny detail of the uncomfortable smile in Lady Audley's portrait - something an artist's eye might catch, but which regular people would never see. More importantly (and perhaps more personally), she also takes issue with the pernicious rider to this sort of thinking, the suggestion that beautiful people are good and ugly people are bad---arguing instead that physical beauty - one kind of beauty in particular - allows people to, ahem, get away with murder:

Perhaps in that retrospective reverie she recalled the early time in which she had first looked in the glass and discovered that she was beautiful: that fatal early time in which she had first begun to look upon her loveliness as a right divine, a boundless possession which was to be a set-off against all girlish short-comings, a counter-balance of every youthful sin. Did she remember the day in which that fairy dower of beauty had first taught her to be selfish and cruel, indifferent to the joys and sorrows of others, cold-hearted and capricious, greedy of admiration, exacting and tyrannical, with that petty woman's tyranny which is the worst of despotisms?... What small vanities, what petty cruelties! A triumph over a schoolfellow, a flirtation with the lover of a friend, an assertion of the right divine invested in blue eyes and shimmering golden-tinted hair...

This amounts to a calculated attack upon the Victorian ideal, and the critics responded accordingly... :D

Edited: Apr 19, 2020, 6:32 pm

Lady Audley has so far held off the attacks from Robert Audley; but also in Volume II, Chapter 13 / Chapter 32, she is suddenly blindsided by an attack on what we have already identified as her weak flank.

With the focus on Robert's movements it has been some time since we - and perhaps Lady Audley - have thought much about Luke Marks; but with a visit from Phoebe the threat he poses is suddenly front-and-centre. What's more, that threat has joined forces with the other:

    “I think I know whom you mean, my lady,” said the innkeeper's wife after a pause; “I think I know who it is who is so cruel to you.”
    “Oh, of course,” answered my lady, bitterly; “my secrets are everybody's secrets. You know all about it, no doubt.”
    “The person is a gentleman, is he not, my lady?”
    “A gentleman who came to the Castle Inn two months ago, when I warned you---”
    “Yes, yes,” answered my lady impatiently.
    “I thought so. The same gentleman is at our place to-night, my lady.”
    Lady Audley started up from her chair---started up as if she would have done something desperate in her despairing fury; but she sank back again with a weary, querulous sigh. What warfare could such a feeble creature wage against her fate? What could she do but wind like a hunted hare till she found her way back to the starting-point of the cruel chase, to be there trampled down by her pursuers?
    “At the Castle Inn?” she cried. “I might have known as much. He has gone there to wring my secrets from your husband. Fool!” she exclaimed, suddenly turning upon Phoebe Marks in a transport of anger, “do you want to destroy me that you have left those two men together?”

And indeed, this chapter - and Volume II - concludes with one more threat from Robert, the intimation that he knows where to find the final link in his damning chain of circumstantial evidence---and with Lady Audley's reaction:

    My lady crushed the letter fiercely in her hand, and flung it from her into the flames.
    “If he stood before me now, and I could kill him,” she muttered in a strange inward whisper, “I would do it---I would do it!”

Apr 19, 2020, 9:47 am

Why is he telegraphing (I know, sorry) his every move? Is he that slow on the uptake? If an approach repeatedly works against one, against one, shouldn’t that approach be abandoned?

I’ve just finished Volume II. I must say this is a fast, easy, fun read.

Apr 19, 2020, 1:47 pm


Just finished.

Apr 19, 2020, 6:26 pm

>112 Matke:

Because he doesn't want to have to tell Sir Michael the truth. He thinks if he shows her what he knows, she will cut and run; and while that will be devastating, it won't be as bad as a full revelation.

Of course, even now he's underestimating what she's capable of. "The little woman", you know... :)

>113 Matke:

Like I said!! :D

Apr 19, 2020, 6:31 pm


I'm not going to do Volume III step-wise (Yayyy!!, they said), because of the escalating rush of events. I think we have very definitely reached the point where we need to stop and start reading through Braddon's lines!

That said, there are just a few moments that I do want to highlight first...

Edited: Apr 19, 2020, 6:46 pm

First of all, the extraordinary emotional extremes of Volume III, Chapter 1 / Chapter 33, as Lady Audley hesitates between two courses of action---knowing exactly what is at stake with either choice:

    “He will do it,” she said, between her set teeth; “he will do it, unless I get him into a lunatic asylum first; or unless---”
    She did not finish the thought in words. She did not even think out the sentence; but some new and unnatural impulse in her heart seemed to beat out each syllable against her breast.
    The thought was this: “He will do it, unless some strange calamity befalls him and silences him for ever.” The red blood flashed up into my lady's face with as sudden and transient a blaze as the flickering flame of a fire, and died as suddenly away, leaving her more pale than winter snow. Her hands, which had before been locked convulsively together, fell apart and dropped heavily at her sides. She stopped in her rapid pacing to and fro---stopped as Lot's wife may have stopped, after that fatal backward glance at the perishing city, with every pulse slackening, with every drop of blood congealing in her veins, in the terrible process that was to transform her from a woman into a statue.
    Lady Audley stood still for about five minutes in that strangely statuesque attitude, her head erect, her eyes staring straight before her---staring far beyond the narrow boundary of her chamber wall, into dark distances of peril and horror...


    “I feel as if I was running away,” she thought. “I feel as if I was running away secretly in the dead of the night, to lose myself and be forgotten. Perhaps it would be wiser in me to run away, to take this man's warning, and escape out of his power forever. If I were to run away and disappear---as George Talboys disappeared. 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. I should have to go back and wear myself out in that long struggle, and die---as my mother died, perhaps.”
    My lady stood still for a moment on the smooth lawn between the quadrangle and the archway, with her head drooping upon her breast and her hands locked together, debating this question in the unnatural activity of her mind. Her attitude reflected the state of that mind---it expressed irresolution and perplexity. But presently a sudden change came over her; she lifted her head---lifted it with an action of defiance and determination.
    “No, Mr Robert Audley,” she said aloud, in a low, clear voice; “I will not go back---I will not go back. If the struggle between us is to be a duel to the death, you shall not find me drop my weapon.”


    Lady Audley had driven to Mount Stanning to inspect the house, when she had bought the business for her servant's bridegroom, and she knew her way about the dilapidated old place; she knew where to find Phoebe's bedroom; but she stopped before the door of that other chamber which had been prepared for Mr Robert Audley.
    She stopped and looked at the number on the door. The key was in the lock, and her hand dropped upon it as if unconsciously. Then she suddenly began to tremble again, as she had trembled a few minutes before at the striking of the clock. She stood for a few moments trembling thus, with her hand still upon the key; then a horrible expression came over her face, and she turned the key in the lock; She turned it twice, double locking the door.
    There was no sound from within; the occupant of the chamber made no sign of having heard that ominous creaking of the rusty key in the rusty lock.
    Lady Audley hurried into the next room. She set the candle on the dressing-table, flung off her bonnet and slung it loosely across her arm; she went to the wash-hand-stand and filled the basin with water. She plunged her golden hair into this water, and then stood for a few moments in the centre of the room looking about her, with a white earnest face, and an eager gaze that seemed to take in every object in the poorly-furnished chamber. Phoebe's bedroom was certainly very shabbily furnished; she had been compelled to select all the most decent things for those best bedrooms which were set apart for any chance traveller who might stop for a night's lodging at the Castle Inn. But Mrs Marks had done her best to atone for the lack of substantial furniture in her apartment by a superabundance of drapery. Crisp curtains of cheap chintz hung from the tent-bedstead; festooned drapery of the same material shrouded the narrow window, shutting out the light of day, and affording a pleasant harbour for tribes of flies and predatory bands of spiders. Even the looking-glass, a miserably cheap construction which distorted every face whose owner had the hardihood to look into it, stood upon a draperied altar of starched muslin and pink glazed calico, and was adorned with frills of lace and knitted work.
    My lady smiled as she looked at the festoons and furbelows which met her eye upon every side...


She walked away in the darkness, leaving Phoebe Marks still kneeling upon the hard road, where she had cast herself in that agony of supplication. Sir Michael's wife walked towards the house in which her husband slept, with the red blaze lighting up the skies behind her, and with nothing but the blackness of the night before...

Apr 19, 2020, 6:59 pm

"Sir Michael's wife"... :D

The rhythm of that chapter with its escalating drama is wonderful.

I do find it fascinating that never at any point does Lady Audley consider sacrificing Phoebe---and in fact she goes out of her way to keep Phoebe safe, in spite of the subsequent threat she must pose. A strangely persisting bit of loyalty in the middle of what is otherwise absolute ruthlessness.

Apr 19, 2020, 7:25 pm

I just finished volume 2. With regard to Lady Audley's protection of Phoebe: Phoebe is repeatedly described as different from but similar to Lady Audley. Lady Audley herself sees Phoebe as "like herself inwardly as well as outwardly." Phoebe's lot, though, is nowhere near as nice as Lucy's: she has a cruel, abusive husband. Could Lucy be seeing protection of Phoebe as trying to fend off Phoebe's fate, which Lucy could so easily suffer? Since, of course, they are so similar.

Apr 19, 2020, 7:33 pm

And the rhythm of Chapter 1 is replicated in Volume III, Chapter 2 / Chapter 34, as Lady Audley must pass an entire day in an agony of suspense, pretending ignorance of anything untoward while secretly waiting for the news of the Castle Inn fire to reach Audley Court.

Braddon tortures the reader almost as much as she does Lady Audley here, finding all sorts of ways to delay her revelation---including some hashing over of Robert's failings by Alicia that in context is simultaneously hilarious and painful:

“Yes,” rejoined Miss Audley, “my lady thinks that Bob is going mad; but I know better than that. He's not at all the sort of person to go mad. How should such a sluggish ditchpond of an intellect as his ever work itself into a tempest? He may moon about for the rest of his life, perhaps, in a tranquil state of semi-idiotcy, imperfectly comprehending who he is, and where he's going, and what he's doing; but he'll never go mad.”

The day drags on - and on - until at last we find Lady Audley, dressed for battle as it were---

She dressed herself in her most gorgeous silk; a voluminous robe of silvery, shimmering blue, that made her look as if she had been arrayed in moonbeams. She shook out her hair into feathery showers of glittering gold; and with a cloak of white cashmere about her shoulders, went down-stairs into the vestibule...

---waiting alone in the courtyard, certain that a messenger must arrive.

And he does---

    It was nearly dark. The blue mists of evening had slowly risen from the ground. The flat meadows were filled with a grey vapour, and a stranger might have fancied Audley Court a castle on the margin of a sea. Under the archway the shadows of fast-coming night lurked darkly; like traitors waiting for an opportunity to glide stealthily into the quadrangle. Through the archway a patch of cold blue sky glimmered faintly, streaked by one line of lurid crimson, and lighted by the dim glitter of one wintry-looking star. Not a creature was stirring in the quadrangle but the restless woman, who paced up and down the straight pathways, listening for a footstep, whose coming was to strike terror to her soul. She heard it at last!---a footstep in the avenue upon the other side of the archway. But was it the footstep? Her sense of hearing, made unnaturally acute by excitement, told her that it was a man's footstep---told even more, that it was the tread of a gentleman; no slouching, lumbering pedestrian in hobnailed boots; but a gentleman who walked firmly and well.
    Every sound fell like a lump of ice upon my lady's heart. She could not wait, she could not contain herself; she lost all self-control, all power of endurance, all capability of self-restraint; and she rushed towards the archway.
    She paused beneath its shadow, for the stranger was close upon her. She saw him: O God! she saw him, in that dim evening light. Her brain reeled; her heart stopped beating. She uttered no cry of surprise, no exclamation of terror, but staggered backwards and clung for support to the ivied buttress of the archway. With her slender figure crouched into the angle formed by the buttress and the wall which it supported, she stood staring at the new-comer.
    As he approached her more closely her knees sank under her, and she dropped to the ground; not fainting, or in any manner unconscious; but sinking into a crouching attitude, and still crushed into the angle of the wall; as if she would have made a tomb for herself in the shadow of that sheltering brickwork.
    “My lady!”
    The speaker was Robert Audley...

Apr 20, 2020, 6:59 pm

>118 NinieB:

All of that is true, but I find it interesting that even at Lady Audley's most desperate, and knowing that Phoebe knows all her secrets, she never lashes out in that direction. Her sense of loyalty there overrides her (otherwise extremely healthy!) sense of self-preservation.

You could argue that as a state of mind more under control than it otherwise might appear... :)

Apr 20, 2020, 7:10 pm

Volume III, Chapter 3 / Chapter 35:

"My path lies very straight before me. I have sworn to bring the murderer of George Talboys to justice: and I will keep my oath. I say that it was by your agency my friend met with his death. If I have wondered sometimes, as it was only natural I should, whether I was not the victim of some horrible hallucination; whether such an alternative was not more probable than that a young and lovely woman should be capable of so foul and treacherous a murder, all wonder is past. After last night's deed of horror, there is no crime you could commit, however vast and unnatural, which could make me wonder..."


    “Lady Audley has a confession to make to you, sir---a confession which I know will be a most cruel surprise, a most bitter grief. But it is necessary for your present honour, and for your future peace, that you should hear it. She has deceived you, I regret to say, most basely; but it is only right that you should hear from her own lips any excuses which she may have to offer for her wickedness. May God soften this blow for you,” sobbed the young man, suddenly breaking down; “I cannot!”
    Sir Michael lifted his hand as if he would command his nephew to be silent; but that imperious hand dropped feeble and impotent at his side. He stood in the centre of the fire-lit room, rigid and immovable.
    “Lucy!” he cried, in a voice whose anguish struck like a blow upon the jarred nerves of those who heard it, as the cry of a wounded animal pains the listener---“Lucy! tell me that this man is a madman! tell me so, my love, or I shall kill him!”
    There was a sudden fury in his voice as he turned upon Robert, as if he could indeed have felled his wife's accuser to the earth with the strength of his uplifted arm.
    But my lady fell upon her knees at his feet; interposing herself between the baronet and his nephew, who stood leaning upon the back of an easy chair, with his face hidden by his hand.
    “He has told you the truth,” said my lady, “and he is not mad...”

Apr 20, 2020, 7:12 pm


That's as far as I want to take it before opening the thread up for general discussion.

However, before we start that I'd like a check of where everyone is up to.

Can those who are still reading please note here where they are up to?

Edited: Apr 21, 2020, 8:37 am

I've finished now. >93 lyzard: I see why you wanted to wait to discuss that point!

Apr 21, 2020, 8:46 am

I haven't finished yet but it's a re-read for me so no need to worry about spoilers!

Apr 21, 2020, 10:25 am

I am rereading as well. No worries about general discussion.

Apr 22, 2020, 6:22 pm

Sorry, people! - yesterday ended up going a bit pear-shaped, let's try this again---

Edited: Apr 22, 2020, 7:49 pm

But first---



Some general remarks to start with.

I think there are a few different ways in which Lady Audley's Secret can / should be tackled; but what I want to say at the outset is that the word that keeps going through my head with respect to this book is 'smokescreen'.

There are two distinct narratives here; and I would argue that what Braddon foregrounds is not at all what she wants us to take away from it---that the book isn't about the mystery of what happened to George Talboys, but rather about what happened to his wife; and that it isn't about Robert Audley solving a mystery and growing up as a consequence, it's a story of desperate survival.

This split-vision operates all the way through---even to one of the most critical aspects of the narrative, its treatment, or apparent treatment, of "insanity".

Looked at this way, Lady Audley herself becomes a metaphor for her own story---the beautiful surface and the terrifying underneath.

To an extent this is true of all sensation fiction, and accounts for much of the hostile way it was received by the critics.

We need to keep in mind that the word repeatedly applied to this sort of fiction in general, and to this book specifically, was immoral. Fiction - English fiction - was supposed to carry a moral message; you were supposed to be better for reading it.

(The constant joking references to French novels and to "young men falling in love with their aunts" was of course Braddon's tongue-in-cheek way of measuring the distance between the frankness of European literature and what was considered permissible - or not - in England.)

But the main "message" of sensation fiction was that practically anyone was capable of practically anything. The supposedly inbred moral superiority of the English middle- and upper-classes was treated as a sham. Individuals might be moral, but classes were not; and "nice" people might turn out to be the worst of all, because they had so much to lose.

The fact that in spite if the critics, the reading public of the time ate these stories up - and this book in particular - suggests that people were getting a kick out of their ruthless dismantling of the more hypocritical aspects of the Victorian social code.

And this to me is one of the most interesting and valuable aspects of sensation fiction as, if you like, an aspect of the public record: their exposure of social injustice. This was sometimes overt, and sometimes smothered, but it was invariably there.

However, the best examples hid their attack in a narrative meant chiefly to entertain...though again, the public were ahead of the critics in finding entertainment in stories of crime and mystery.

Lady Audley's Secret is a critical work in the development of the modern detective story. Robert Audley's investigation of his friend's disappearance is an exemplary piece of step-wise detective work. The use of such a thread as the backbone of an entire novel is something that at this time had rarely if ever been seen before.

Yet I would still argue that this isn't what the book is actually about: that it is, rather, the grim life-history of Helen Maldon, and that is what we need to focus on.

Apr 23, 2020, 6:48 am

One of the observations I have is that, even though I'm not much of a visualizer when I read, I had a hard time connecting Lady Audley to all the different people she presented herself as. What I mean is that I thought of Helen Maldon, Helen Talboys, Helen Humphreys, and Lady Audley all as different people. Even though their physical descriptions matched, I had a hard time connecting my vision of Helen Maldon to Lady Audley. I was wondering if anyone else felt this way? Was it intentional on Braddon's part to confuse the reader?

I also was very sure at the beginning of the book that Lady Audley was going to try to do some sort of body swap with Phoebe. There were so many comments about how similar they looked. And there were a few comments about dogs that didn't like Lady Audley that I thought would be used as a clue towards her trying to hide her identity later. Did anyone else think that was the way it was heading and end up surprised that the idea wasn't used?

SEtting that aside, in the end I found that the contrast between Phoebe and Lady Audley was one of the most interesting themes in the book. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, Liz.

Apr 23, 2020, 5:39 pm

>128 japaul22:

That to me is the difference between seeing her from the outside, through the other characters' eyes, and doing a close reading to extract the real story of Helen Maldon from within the narrative.

She is so often presented to us via her externals because that is what other people see, and until Robert comes along, all anyone sees. Do we think George ever made any attempt to understand her mind or character? Do we think Sir Michael did? Alicia's spite gets her nearer the mark but it isn't evident she really means what she says.

Again, a split-vision---I would say yes. it's entirely part of the game Braddon is playing with her beautiful blue-eyed blonde, her wax doll. I think there's a deeper comment here about how women were expected to adapt themselves to other people's expectations, and not "be themselves".

As to your other points, as a general observation we should remember that with serialised stories written over time, sometimes the plot would end up going slightly differently from initially planned; so we should be careful about interpreting every detail as individually significant.

With regard to Phoebe, I can imagine that at one point Braddon planned to have Lady Audley escape by faking her own death. Then probably she realised that she was going to be in enough trouble over this book without letting her get away with it. :)

So as it stands, Phoebe functions more as a reminder of what Lady Audley's life could have been if she hadn't taken matters into her own hands. And even that might have been making too much of an excuse for her for some people's liking.

With the dog, however---animals are traditionally supposed to "always know", so the dog not liking her / being afraid of her would have been the first hint to readers that something was up. But whether the dog is supposed to know that there's something wrong in general, or specifically that she is a madwoman, is impossible to determine.

Apr 23, 2020, 6:08 pm

I can remember when I first read Lady Audley's Secret, I was disappointed with it: the madness business felt like a cop-out; though I had read enough Victorian literature and literary criticism to understand why Braddon might have gone down that road.

It took a second, closer reading before I understood what Braddon was actually doing in this book---and that Lady Audley's real secret is that she is perfectly sane.

One thing that we need to grasp here is that Lady Audley dropping her husband down the well is one of THE dominant images in all Victorian literature. The revelation of George Talboys' fate, the explanation for his disappearance, the idea of this beautiful, frail little woman disposing of her inconvenient first husband in that manner was like an earthquake to the Victorian reading public: a landmark moment after which anything was possible.

In fact, that image is still so very powerful, it is entirely possible - and I know it is, because I've done it myself - to forget between readings that George Talboys gets out of the well again. That's because it isn't important that he does: that first gesture, that instinctive reaction from a woman who sees her life of luxury and security threatened, is what matters.

And the other thing that is easy to overlook here is that while Lady Audley is not in fact guilty of the murder of George Talboys, she is absolutely guilty of the cold-blooded, premeditated murder of Luke Marks, even if it wasn't him - or not him first and foremost - she meant to kill.

Lady Audley disposing of her first husband is the impulse of the moment; but it is a three-mile walk from Audley Court to the Castle Inn, during which time she never wavers.

For a woman to that, she's have to be insane, right?

Of course not... :D

Edited: Apr 23, 2020, 8:45 pm

Maybe I was misunderstanding something, but it seems to me that when we hear about Helen Maldon/Helen Talboys, it's usually other people's recollections and remembrances, not Helen herself. What I remember is that she was described as unhappy, discontented with husband George, often crying, etc. I assumed that when little George talks about the 2 "ladies" who come to visit him--one crying lady that he does not like and one beautiful lady that he likes--that they are in fact both his mother. (But maybe I got that wrong?--was the first lady someone else??)

When we are told the story of "Lucy Graham" and when we encounter her as Lady Audley, she is happy, light, calm, doting on her husband. The two personalities seem so different. Although I suspected they were the same person very early on in the book from all the hints, their personalities as described seem so different. It seemed inconsistent.

Apr 24, 2020, 3:37 am

>127 lyzard: One of the things that struck me about Robert Audley's detective work is that all the evidence he collects is never really used. It's more there to make himself (and the reader?) feel better about confronting Lady Audley but in the end she confesses (this is the bit I found less realistic) and I'm not convinced it was his detective work as opposed to his persistence that got that confession. Deep down I still think she could have denied it all and Sir Michael would have believed her.

>128 japaul22: Now you mention it I do remember wondering about the physical similarities with Phoebe but forgot about that towards the end of the book

>130 lyzard: I wanted to bring up the madness question :-) I was definitely with the doctor (can't remember his name) who concluded she wasn't mad. I wasn't sure whether Braddon intended her reader's to think she was mad or not and your points have clarified that.

The other point I was musing on is whether Lady A thinks she's mad (maybe that's a bit of a meta-question)? I could see how she might think that, given what she's been told of her mother and what must have been a very strong emotional reaction to her confrontation with George at the well (fear, anger). If you're told women aren't supposed to feel those emotions and your actions take you so far outside societal norms I can see why you might conclude you must be mad. But I don't think she was.

I was really struck by the revelations about her mother - suddenly thinking she probably experienced what we would call post-partum depression or post-partum psychosis and they locked her up for the rest of her life? How many other women in the 19th century got locked up because of PPD?

>131 kac522: I think I just took that to be Lady A's changed feelings about her situation (poverty and what I would guess may probably now be diagnosed as post-partum depression post her son's birth) and the fact that I think she was happy as Lucy Graham and then Lady Audley. I don't think you were supposed to let external circumstances affect you to that degree (God had placed you in your situation so it was where you were meant to be and you were supposed to be grateful) so I wonder if Braddon exaggerated the difference a little to underline her point?

Edited: Apr 24, 2020, 7:11 pm

>131 kac522:

I think we might do a Robert Audley and try to trace Helen's life; we can see then whether we think it hangs together or not.

In that context, you're quite right to question the "two ladies"! I think we can infer that they were indeed both Helen: two of her many different faces. The "crying lady" is her as she was before she went away, the "mamma" that Georgey didn't like and who didn't like him: the Helen Talboys deserted by her husband, poor, unhappy and desperate. The "pretty lady" is Lucy Audley, rich, comfortable and content with her life---and not acknowledging George as her child. Given the boy's age, it isn't unrealistic that he doesn't recognise them as the same person.

It is interesting that Helen / Lucy doesn't just abandon her father and son, doesn't just send money from a distance.

In fact the narrative never really blames her for walking out, even though via her letter shown in Volume II, Chapter 9 / Chapter 28 her first thought is for herself: I am weary of my life here, and wish, if I can, to find a new one. I go out into the world, dissevered from every link which binds me to the hateful past...

And it's noticeable that nothing much is made of her leaving her child, which you would expect a Victorian novel to go over the top about, given the era's very sentimental view of motherhood. (Perhaps because it's a woman's book, not a man's??)

But to speak to your final point---as I said above, it's simply the difference between a desperately unhappy woman living in poverty, and a perfectly happy woman living in luxury. As Heather touches on in >132 souloftherose:, she is the kind of person shaped by her external circumstances, not her internal character.

Edited: Apr 24, 2020, 7:29 pm

>132 souloftherose:

Robert's detective work reflects how early in the detective-fiction cycle Lady Audley's Secret appeared. In sensation fiction there was rarely any solving of a mystery in the legal sense---that is, with the idea of an arrest, a trial, a conviction. On the contrary, because these books nearly always dealt with the upper classes, there was always a hushing up of disgraceful secrets, so the "nice people" wouldn't be tainted by scandal. The people involved learned the truth, but no-one on the outside.

The shift from private to public in this respect - to the idea that crime could not be hushed up, that such exposure was in "the public good", that the public good outweighed the rights of the individual or the family - is one of the things that marks the emergence of the detective story from the sensation novel.

So even though Robert carries out a pretty brilliant piece of detective work, he is never going to go public with it (Clara Talboys' cry for "vengeance" notwithstanding). He's not even going to tell Sir Michael the entire truth, if he can avoid it---and he doesn't. His gathering of evidence is purely a matter of building a sufficient threat against Lady Audley. It is her refusal to take a hint and be driven out that results in him putting together such a comprehensive case. So you get this escalation - him showing her his hand, her arguing against it - denying the similarity in the handwritings of Lucy Audley and Helen Talboys, for instance - and that keeps pushing him to take another step.

But if she had continued to deny it all, finally he could and would have exposed her to Sir Michael. She recognises this at last and capitulates. At that point, either she's going to say it or he is. (It is on Sir Michael that she only confesses up to the point of her bigamy.)

But all that said---the reason this is such a landmark work is that though this is Robert's chief motivation, at the same time he is driven by the mystery itself---the mystery of George Talboys' disappearance. This is one of the earliest works to feature someone solving a mystery just because he has to know.

We take that for granted now in mysteries, so that anyone who stumbles into anything thinks they have a right to pursue it---but it was absolutely not the situation at the outset of this branch of fiction.

Apr 24, 2020, 8:29 pm

Now---obviously the whole question of Lady Audley's "madness" needs to be dissected out, but given that a couple of you have brought up this point, I think first we might trace what we can of her life and see if we can in fact see Helen Maldon / Helen Talboys / Lucy Graham / Lady Audley / Helen Humphreys as the same person.

So, what do we know?

We know she lost her mother when she was a baby, and was brought up by her unreliable (to say the least) father; so not much moral guidance there. We know she was told the circumstances of her mother's death (why?), and that this has hung over her her entire life.

We know she had the usual accomplish-focused female education; she's a brilliant musician. However, the main lessons she takes away from this period of her life are that (i) she's very beautiful, and (ii) she ought to be able to barter her beauty for a "good" marriage. A marriage that will lift her out of the hand-to-mouth existence that is all her father can afford.

She thinks she's making one when she marries the well-connected George Talboys; but after six months of the kind of life she has always aspired to, she is then plunged without warning into a worse form of poverty than was the case during her early life.

This to me is the most infuriating part of this novel---and all the more so for the way in which it is presented, through the (here's that word!) smokescreen of George Talboys' perspective and the sentimentalised George / Robert friendship.

Because George Talboys had no right to marry Helen Maldon---knowing that she had nothing, and knowing - he must have known - how his father would react. Reading between the lines of George's "great passion", he has bought sexual access to a beautiful girl and ruined her life in doing it. Ignoring all the self-serving excuses he makes, he then deserts her---leaving her with forty pounds on which she, their new baby and her drunken father are expected to survive.

What does Helen do? She finds work giving piano lessons, but it's not enough to live on. Rightly or wrongly, she reaches her breaking point and walks out---and even if her motive is selfish, it does mean that there's one less mouth living off Captain Maldon's tiny pension.

Her first stop is Mrs Vincent's school, where - as "Lucy Graham" - she is taken on as a junior teacher in exchange for no salary: that was the reality of women's work.

From there she moves into the household of Dr Dawson as governess, and for the first time finds a real refuge. She has room and board and a salary. She is comfortable. She is treated well. She is admired. And she blossoms. It is this phase at which we first really hear of her, the district's "ray of sunshine". The "crying lady" that Georgey remembers is gone.

BUT - and we need to be very clear on this point - governessing was a life with no future. Because room and board were included, wages were small and nearly impossible to save from; and no matter how much a family liked you, you were out the door as soon as you stopped being of use.

So Helen is secure for the moment, perhaps for years to come; but what then?

What then is that she is presented with the overwhelming temptation of Sir Michael's proposal of marriage.

Which she refuses, on first asking.

And really, she was unlucky, wasn't she? George might well have been dead, for all she knew: not a word from him in years (more self-serving excuses: he didn't want to contact her until he was a "success"). Many people went off to Australia and never came back, be they dead or alive.

So choosing to believe that her silent husband is dead, she marries Sir Michael Audley. She then has everything she ever dreamed of. She is petted and cared for, smothered in rich clothing and jewellery, surrounded by luxurious furnishings and objets d'art. She is "the beautiful Lady Audley".

And then George Talboys shows up.

We can be pretty sure, I think, that there was no recognition of his own culpability on George's part---just reproaches for Helen's perceived betrayal. What might he have threatened her with? Probably not a criminal charge; her bigamy would have been publicly hushed up, if possible; but absolutely with the end of her life as "the beautiful Lady Audley" and, beyond that, probably a life somewhere in disgraced isolation. Because from George's perspective, what Helen is guilty of is not bigamy, but adultery; and we know how adulterous wives were treated at this time.

So when Helen sees a chance to prevent this - to hold what she has - she takes it.

From this point, of course, we have to reconcile the Helen we know with her escalating criminal career. What's fascinating to me is the real intelligence exposed by her subsequent actions: her ability to think on her feet, to calculate cause-and-effect, to plan ahead. Remember---she would have gotten away with disposing of George if only her father had been a more careful co-conspirator, if he had properly destroyed her telegram instructing him what to tell Robert. Whatever his bewilderment over George, without that he would never have suspected the truth.

Dropping George down the well was an unpremeditated act, a spur-of-the-moment lashing-out; but from that point, everything Helen does is deliberate---up to and including her murder of Luke Marks and her attempted murder of Robert Audley.

The question is---are these acts of cold-blooded calculation...or acts of madness?

Apr 24, 2020, 10:04 pm

It's been a while since I read Lady Audley's Secret, but I just wanted to check in to say how much I've been enjoying the discussion here everyday. Obviously, there's a whole month just to focus on and appreciate this one book, but the discussions here are soo much more detailed and multi-faceted than it was in the Victorian lit course I took, as fascinating as I already found it at the time!

Apr 24, 2020, 11:32 pm

Am I misunderstanding something about how much money her father had when she was growing up? I wouldn't think she would be able to have the necessary training to be able to play some quite difficult piano pieces.

Apr 25, 2020, 6:21 am

>137 NinieB: I wondered that too. I thought she was trying to escape poverty by marrying George but I didn’t think any education or especially training in the arts was part of an impoverished upbringing.

Edited: Apr 25, 2020, 5:58 pm

>136 Majel-Susan:

Thank you for that, Janet!

As you can probably tell, I think a close reading of this novel is essential. :)

>137 NinieB:, >138 japaul22:

At that time, whatever female education education did or did not consist of, the one thing a girl was guaranteed was a music education. Also drawing and painting. These weren't "the arts": they were accomplishments. Of course some women did make art their career but for most it was about making an impression in the drawing-room...or the school-room.

There wouldn't have been a governess for Helen: she would have attended school, either a local day-school or a small boarding-school. There were countless of the latter, usually founded by ex-governesses trying to compile a nest-egg. If she had an aptitude and lucked out on a good music teacher, she would have been able to acquire a level of musical proficiency that, in turn, made her employable. In fact we gather that she is far above average in this respect, a genuinely talented pianist.

But though we hear in Chapter 1 about her "brilliant and numerous" accomplishments, the key word is accomplishments: she wasn't hired to teach maths and science, or history and economics, or Greek and Latin; music and singing, drawing and painting, fancy sewing, deportment, dancing - and French, the other thing girls were always taught - are a more likely syllabus:

...she taught the girls to play sonatas by Beethoven, and to paint from Nature after Creswick, and walked through the dull, out-of-the-way village to the humble little church three times on Sunday, as contentedly as if she had no higher aspiration in the world than to do so all the rest of her life...

(Thomas Creswick was one of the most celebrated landscape artists of the day.)

Edited: Apr 25, 2020, 6:45 pm

In >132 souloftherose:, Heather raises some vital points that need to be considered in our understanding of Lady Audley's "madness".

However---the first thing that I think we need to think about is how contemporary readers would have understood "madness".

It's like "brain fever"---what did 19th century readers think about the brain fever that was always afflicting characters in novels?

Of course there are medical conditions like meningitis and encephalitis, in which there actually is a fever which affects the nervous system. But we know this is not what was meant when, in a novel, someone came down with brain fever---which was invariably a response to emotional shock with or without exhaustion, and usually resulted in a long period of delirium.

Did readers think brain fever was a real thing, or did they understand it as a literary trope?

Likewise---did readers distinguish between the sort of melodramatic insanity found in novels and real-life mental health issues, or did they consider them two manifestations on the same spectrum?

What we *do* know about 19th century attitudes to mental health, particularly amongst the upper classes, is that there was a fairly narrow range of acceptable behaviour, and it didn't take much for someone to be viewed as straying outside those boundaries.

Of course this viewpoint was influenced by who you were, how much money you had---and what sex you were.

The dark side of this is that it was terrifyingly easy during the 19th century to get someone confined. There was next to no government regulation of mental-healthcare. Most institutions, or sanatoriums, were privately owned and operated. It only took two doctors' signatures to someone committed, and once that happened there was no way for that individual to get themselves out again on their own.

Certainly there were good quality, conscientiously run hospitals; but there were also those willing to take anyone for a fee, under any conditions.

For a variety of reasons, women were particularly susceptible to confinement against their will. There was a lack of legal rights for women generally. There was the prevailing condition of most women being under the authority of a man: at this time, if a woman was ill, the doctor would consult with her parents or her husband about her treatment, rarely with her directly. And the concept of acceptable female behaviour was extremely narrow and rigid.

It is a fact that during the 19th century, a man could rid himself of an inconvenient woman by having her locked up. Heather mentioned the case of Rosina Bulwer Lytton, the wife of Edward Bulwer Lytton: she was certainly eccentric, and made his life extremely difficult - although not as difficult as he made hers - and he retaliated by trying to get her confined. He actually failed - and was publicly condemned for the attempt - but that was a rare, high-profile case, where the woman had enough individual power to fight back. In most cases, the woman would just quietly disappear.

That was one aspect of the situation. Another was that any behaviour other than what the Victorians considered "proper" might be interpreted as a sign of mental illness. Promiscuity, for example, was thought to mean a woman must be mad...because women didn't enjoy sex, so why would any woman do that?

But the most frequent, and most horrifying, cause of female confinement during the 19th century was post-natal depression.

Which finally brings us back to Lady Audley's Secret... :)

(Show of hands, please: who here has read Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper?)

Edited: Apr 25, 2020, 6:49 pm

>140 lyzard: raises hand, very slowly...but it was decades ago...time for a re-read.

All this madness talk brings Jane Eyre to mind, of course. Seems I should go back for a close reading of the sections about Bertha Mason.

Edited: Apr 25, 2020, 7:07 pm

But first---more background:

There was a terrible tendency during the 19th century to view post-natal depression as a form of mental illness.

This was a situation that almost became a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the depression was rarely treated as it needed to be, which exacerbated it.

And women who suffered particularly severe or particularly protracted bouts of post-natal depression were often institutionalised. And some of them never came out again. An example of this was the case of Isabella Thackeray, the wife of William Makepeace Thackeray. Her depression, left untreated, became so severe she attempted suicide, and was in care for the rest of her life.

(Her condition was left untreated because Thackeray basically abandoned her---she was interfering with his work. He went away for several months, and by the time the servants convinced him he needed to come home, it was too late. Isabella lived to be 78; she spent some 54 years in mental hospitals of one description or another.)

Once you are alert to this, you see it all over the place in discussions of Victorian society: that so-and-so's wife "went mad" after the birth of a child.

And while we've touched upon brain fever and madness as literary tropes, it is clear that this *was* viewed as a form of mental illness...though even there, we can imagine that there were a range of opinions on the subject, and that the female view of it may well have been entirely different from the male view.

Apr 25, 2020, 7:07 pm

Edited: Apr 25, 2020, 7:09 pm

>141 kac522:, >142 lyzard:

I think it would make a very interesting follow-up to Lady Audley's Secret.

Just saying. :D

>141 kac522:

ANY Victorian text dealing with female madness needs to be looked at suspiciously.

Bertha Mason's "madness" manifested as promiscuity, didn't it, or am I misremembering?

Edited: Apr 25, 2020, 8:10 pm

So - after all that - what are we actually told about Lady Audley's madness? Or rather, what does she believe about her own mental condition?

Volume III, Chapter 3 / Chapter 35:

    The woman rose suddenly and stood before him erect and resolute; with her hair dashed away from her face and her eyes glittering.
    “Bring Sir Michael!” she cried; “bring him here, and I will confess anything—everything! What do I care? God knows I have struggled hard enough against you, and fought the battle patiently enough; but you have conquered, Mr Robert Audley. It is a great triumph, is it not? a wonderful victory! You have used your cool, calculating, frigid, luminous intellect to a noble purpose. You have conquered---a MADWOMAN!”
    “A madwoman!” cried Mr Audley.
    “Yes, a madwoman. When you say that I killed George Talboys, you say the truth. When you say that I murdered him treacherously and foully, you lie. I killed him because I AM MAD! because my intellect is a little way upon the wrong side of that narrow boundary-line between sanity and insanity; because when George Talboys goaded me, as you have goaded me; and reproached me, and threatened me; my mind, never properly balanced, utterly lost its balance; and I was mad!


    “I must tell you the story of my life,” repeated my lady, “but you need not fear that I shall dwell long upon it. It has not been so pleasant to me that I should wish to remember it. When I was a very little child I remember asking a question which it was natural enough that I should ask, God help me! I asked where my mother was. I had a faint remembrance of a face, like what my own is now, looking at me when I was very little better than a baby; but I had missed the face suddenly, and had never seen it since. They told me that my mother was away. I was not happy, for the woman who had charge of me was a disagreeable woman, and the place in which we lived was a lonely place, a village upon the Hampshire coast, about seven miles from Portsmouth. My father, who was in the navy, only came now and then to see me; and I was left almost entirely to the charge of this woman, who was irregularly paid; and who vented her rage upon me when my father was behindhand in remitting her money. So you see that at a very early age I found out what it was to be poor.
    “Perhaps it was more from being discontented with my dreary life than from any wonderful impulse of affection, that I asked very often the same question about my mother. I always received the same answer---she was away. When I asked where, I was told that that was a secret. When I grew old enough to understand the meaning of the word death, I asked if my mother was dead, and I was told---‘No, she was not dead; she was ill, and she was away.’ I asked how long she had been ill, and I was told that she had been so some years; ever since I was a baby.
    “At last the secret came out. I worried my foster-mother with the old question one day when the remittances had fallen very much in arrear, and her temper had been unusually tried. She flew into a passion; and told me that my mother was a madwoman; and that she was in a madhouse forty miles away. She had scarcely said this when she repented, and told me that it was not the truth, and that I was not to believe it, or to say that she had told me such a thing. I discovered afterwards that my father had made her promise most solemnly never to tell me the secret of my mother's fate.
    “I brooded horribly upon the thought of my mother's madness. It haunted me by day and night. I was always picturing to myself this mad woman pacing up and down some prison cell, in a hideous garment that bound her tortured limbs. I had exaggerated ideas of the horror of her situation. I had no knowledge of the different degrees of madness; and the image that haunted me was that of a distraught and violent creature, who would fall upon me and kill me if I came within her reach. This idea grew upon me until I used to awake in the dead of the night, screaming aloud in an agony of terror, from a dream in which I had felt my mother's icy grasp upon my throat, and heard her ravings in my ear...”

This is fascinating stuff, when you dissect it out.

The first lesson, though, is not about madness, it's about poverty: all this lies behind Lady Audley's desperate determination to hold her position as "Lady Audley".

But look at all the warning points in this account of Mrs Maldon's madness:

"I asked how long she had been ill, and I was told that she had been so some years; ever since I was a baby."

I think we can reasonably interpret that as institutionalisation following post-natal depression.

And how does Helen finally learn about her mother's whereabouts?

"I worried my foster-mother with the old question one day when the remittances had fallen very much in arrear, and her temper had been unusually tried. She flew into a passion; and told me that my mother was a madwoman; and that she was in a madhouse forty miles away."

So she has learned of it in the worst possible way. The shock has a reasonable consequence:

I brooded horribly upon the thought of my mother's madness. It haunted me by day and night. I was always picturing to myself this mad woman pacing up and down some prison cell, in a hideous garment that bound her tortured limbs. I had exaggerated ideas of the horror of her situation. I had no knowledge of the different degrees of madness; and the image that haunted me was that of a distraught and violent creature, who would fall upon me and kill me if I came within her reach.”

She has, in other words, the literary idea of madness; the Jane Eyre version, if you like.

But what do we now take away from this discussion? That Mrs Maldon probably wasn't mad at all, but depressed; and that there was nothing for her daughter to inherit from her.

What then do we make of Helen's insistence that she is a madwoman?

Probably that, in some perverse way, she likes to think of herself as mad. It's an "out". It's an excuse for every point where she feels herself to be different from how she knows - what her society says - she "ought" to be.

But is she mad? Is she legally mad? Was she even temporarily mad?

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this book is that the answer, finally, is 'no'.

Robert and Dr Mosgrove know that Lady Audley is not mad...but they conspire to lock her up anyway.

Volume III, Chapter 5 / Chapter 37:

    Ten minutes afterwards he returned to the library in which Robert sat waiting for him.
    “I have talked to the lady,” he said quietly, “and we understand each other very well. There is latent insanity! Insanity which might never appear; or which might appear only once or twice in a life-time. It would be a dementia in its worst phase perhaps: acute mania; but its duration would be very brief, and it would only arise under extreme mental pressure. The lady is not mad; but she has the hereditary taint in her blood. She has the cunning of madness, with the prudence of intelligence. I will tell you what she is, Mr Audley. She is dangerous!”

Dr Mosgrave says outright that if he believed her guilty of murder - or rather, if he thought it could be proved - he would hand her over to the criminal justice system as legally sane; but since he considers that there is reasonable doubt - that is, that she would be acquitted if tried - and beautiful women were usually acquitted despite very strong evidence - he helps Robert bury her instead...

Volume III, Chapter 6 / Chapter 38:

    My lady walked with a rapid footstep to the door between the bedchamber and the saloon; closed it, and with the handle of the door still in her hand, turned and looked at Robert Audley.
    “You have brought me to my grave, Mr Audley,” she cried; “you have used your power basely and cruelly, and have brought me to a living grave.”

Apr 26, 2020, 7:46 am


I really do apologise.

But I saw this today and couldn't resist:

Apr 26, 2020, 8:07 am

Apr 26, 2020, 8:29 am

>145 lyzard: While reading, my take on this was that, though I didn't feel Lady Audley was mad, Robert was trying to "save her" and certainly save face for his uncle by locking her up in a mental hospital rather than having her convicted of murder and attempted murder. I thought he looked at it as a charitable action towards her rather than having her hanged. But I supposed he was conditioned by his times to feel that many women "went mad" and it wasn't as shameful - certainly not as bad as murder! I wonder how they explained to friends and neighbors that Lady Audley had gone mad. I suppose it didn't matter as women had no rights anyway.

I was troubled that Luke Marks's life was not deemed worthy of trying her for murder. If George had turned up dead instead of just an attempted murder, I gather Robert's conscience wouldn't have allowed him to simply put her in a mad house. There would have needed to be a trial? Nobody seems to care that there was a death directly from her action of setting the fire. Does Luke understand what happened? I'm not clear about that.

If I'd read this on my own, I would have just accepted these things and enjoyed the novel without too much thought, but you are raising some topics that are now making me reassess!

Apr 26, 2020, 12:03 pm

Coming late to this as I had found a copy of The Mirror and the Light and had to read it before anything else.
Just finished my reread of Lady Audley's Secret this morning and enjoyed it every bit as much as the first time through. A couple of brief comments first:
- I had not noticed the first time around when I was reading madly to "discover" the plot, that there was humour too in the novel; humour in Braddon's sly comments on the world around her

- agreeing with >130 lyzard: in forgetting that George makes his way out of the well. As I had misremembered it, his body was found mouldering in the well, (or perhaps that was some other Victorian novel!)


One thing that interested me was that Braddon avoided the obvious Victorian trope of having George marry Alicia.

Instead, Robert gets to live happily ever after with both George and Clara, Clara being a conveniently female doppelganger of George. When Robert first starts thinking of Clara, he thinks of her eyes and their resemblance to those of George. Then, as the introduction by Natalie Houston in my Broadview edition quotes from the novel, Robert muses "If poor George were sitting opposite to me, or - or even George's sister - she's very like him - existence might be a little more endurable." Vol II, Chapter VI

Or 'even George's sister' (emphasis mine) - this is the woman he will marry!

Apr 26, 2020, 12:10 pm

Houston in her introduction also reminds us that when the novel was first published, like so many others, it was first available in serial form. This would have given readers time to speculate on what was coming next, to build up theories, and to discuss with others all that they had just read (much like the wonderful thread above). Was Lucy mad? Would Robert tell Sir Michael? Even the more minor characters like Alicia, and Phoebe, and even poor Sir Harry would have had time to develop in the readers' minds.

It kind of made me think about what is now called "appointment TV" versus the ability to binge watch.

Edited: Apr 26, 2020, 5:40 pm

There was one other point I meant to make on the subject of having people put away as mad---

Volume II, Chapter 11 / Chapter 30:

    “I tell you that you are mad! If you please to say that Helen Talboys is not dead, and that I am Helen Talboys, you may do so. If you choose to go wandering about in the places in which I have lived, and to the places in which this Mrs Talboys has lived, you must follow the bent of your own inclination; but I would warn you that such fancies have sometimes conducted people, as apparently sane as yourself, to the life-long imprisonment of a private lunatic asylum.”
    Robert Audley started, and recoiled a few paces among the weeds and brushwood as my lady said this.
    “She would be capable of any new crime to shield her from the consequences of the old one,” he thought. “She would be capable of using her influence with my uncle to place me in a mad-house.”
    I do not say that Robert Audley was a coward, but I will admit that a shiver of horror, something akin to fear, chilled him to the heart...


    “I have shown her my cards,” he thought, “but she has kept hers hidden from me. The mask that she wears is not to be plucked away. My uncle would rather think me mad than believe her guilty.”
    The pale face of Clara Talboys---that grave and earnest face, so different in its character to my lady's fragile beauty---arose before him.
    “What a coward I am to think of myself or my own danger,” he thought...

We get a measure here of how terribly vulnerable many women must have been to this sort of incarceration---whether for real, or "real", medical reasons, or just because they became inconvenient. That a well-connected, independent young man like Robert Audley can be frightened by this sort of threat - can perceive it as a real danger - is a measure of how easily such a thing could happen, if your enemy had sufficient power (and money).

Note Lady Audley's reference to a private lunatic asylum: the threat is genuine, and do-able, and Robert knows it.

Edited: Apr 26, 2020, 6:23 pm

>148 japaul22:

I don't think he has any interest in saving her; to his (small) credit, it isn't about "the Audley name" as such, either: it is all about sparing Sir Michael as far as he can.

These events were never going to be made public---and if they had been, there was (as Dr Mosgrave pointed out) a good chance they'd have ended up with all the scandal but without a guilty verdict.

So Robert takes his own steps to impose a life-sentence upon her---ironically enough, for the one crime she is *not* guilty of, the murder of George Talboys.

I suppose in what he does he follows Sir Michael's instructions---

Volume III, Chapter 3 / Chapter 35:

“Will you take upon yourself the duty of providing for the safety and comfort of this lady, whom I have thought my wife? I need not ask you to remember in all you do, that I have loved her very dearly and truly...”

---but this is the bottom line:

Chapter 4 / Chapter 36:

    “WHAT is this place, Robert Audley?” she cried fiercely. “Do you think I am a baby, that you may juggle with and deceive me---what is it? It is what I said just now, is it not?”
    “It is a maison de santé, my lady,” the young man answered gravely. “I have no wish to juggle with or to deceive you.”
    My lady paused for a few moments, looking reflectively at Robert.
    “A maison de santé,” she repeated. "Yes, they manage these things better in France. In England we should call it a mad-house...”

And I do have to say that I was bothered by the thought of the alternative, her going to trial for George's murder. With the frightening swiftness of the legal system at the time, if she had been charged with George's murder and found guilty, she would certainly have been executed before anyone found out the crime hadn't actually been committed...

With regard to Luke Marks--- We must remember that at this time, he's still alive. Technically, too, he eventually dies of the effects of shock and alcoholism, rather than his injuries. So it's all a bit muddy. Still, I would agree that there is a definite sense that his life is considered of less worth than George's.

Luke himself doesn't know how the fire started:

Chapter 7 / Chapter 39:

    “Oh, sir, I wanted to speak to you so badly,” Phoebe whispered eagerly; “you know what I told you when I found you safe and well upon the night of the fire?”
    “Yes, yes.”
    “I told you what I suspected; what I think still.”
    “Yes, I remember.”
    “But I never breathed a word of it to anybody but you, sir; and I think that Luke has forgotten all about that night; I think that what went before the fire has gone clean out of his head altogether. He was tipsy you know when my la---when she came to the Castle; and I think he was so dazed and scared like by the fire that it all went out of his memory. He doesn't suspect what I suspect at any rate, or he'd have spoken of it to anybody and everybody; but he's dreadful spiteful against my lady, for he says if she'd have let him have a place at Brentwood or Chelmsford, this wouldn't have happened. So what I wanted to beg of you, sir, is not to let a word drop before Luke.”

If George had been dead, and found dead, the matter would have been taken out of Robert's hands. Note his agonies when he's trying to decide whether to not he is morally obliged to look for a body:

Chapter 7 / Chapter 39:

    What had he to do next? A crowd of horrible thoughts rushed into his mind as he remembered the story that he had heard from the white lips of Helen Talboys. His friend---his murdered friend---lay hidden amongst the mouldering ruins of the old well at Audley Court. He had lain there for six long months, unburied, unknown; hidden in the darkness of the old convent well. What was to be done?
    To institute a search for the remains of the murdered man was to inevitably bring about a coroner's inquest. Should such an inquest be held, it was next to impossible that the history of my lady's crime could fail to be brought to light. To prove that George Talboys met with his death at Audley Court was to prove almost as surely that my lady had been the instrument of that mysterious death; for the young man had been known to follow her into the lime-walk upon the day of his disappearance.
    “My God!” Robert exclaimed, as the full horror of this position became evident to him, “is my friend to rest in this unhallowed burial-place because I have condoned the offenses of the woman who murdered him?”

Edited: Apr 26, 2020, 6:45 pm

>149 SassyLassy:

Well done! It is a book that really requires - and rewards - re-reading. :)

There is, though this is by far the most serious-toned of Braddon's novels to this point in her career. Her books are never "funny" but they generally do include quite a lot of black humour and irony, and she usually allows herself to "enjoy" her villains' villainy more.

There were certainly lots of mouldering bodies in Victorian sensation fiction, although as I say in this case I think it's because the image of George being dropped down the well in the first place dominates everything else.

(And we can be sure that Braddon enjoyed that, anyway!)

Though I have treated his personal plot mostly as smokescreen and misdirection, and Lady Audley's story as the "real" plot of the novel, this book is also about the waking up of Robert Audley---the events that force him to use his intelligence and talents and stop just drifting through life, as his situation and society allow him to do if he chooses.

There is an irony for you: that but for the disappearance of George Talboys, there would never have been this determined, energetic version of Robert. As well as drifting in general, he would probably have drifted into marriage with Alicia; and they both would have been very unhappy...

Alicia is an odd character---less a real, well-developed character than a mouthpiece for Braddon's own opinions. This too is more evident on re-reading, when you know how the subplots work out, and you can see the humour in much of what Alicia says and thinks.

Clara is another part of Robert's waking up: if not for her insistence and her passion, he would probably have shrunk from following through on his investigation. (We can debate whether that would have been a good thing or a bad thing!)

Edited: Apr 26, 2020, 6:49 pm

>150 SassyLassy:

All that is very true---though as I said at the beginning, interest in Lady Audley's Secret was so extreme, Braddon's publisher took the unprecedented step of putting it out in book form before the finish of its serial run---and made a very healthy profit from the people who couldn't wait. :)

Edited: Apr 27, 2020, 3:46 am

>140 lyzard: I haven't read The Yellow Wallpaper but I've heard of it. Happy for it to be discussed.

>144 lyzard: Bertha Mason's "madness" manifested as promiscuity, didn't it, or am I misremembering?

Yes, I think that's right (although it's been a few years since I last read the book).

>146 lyzard: Ha!

Apr 27, 2020, 2:53 pm

As a lurker, thank you very much, especially lyzard, for this wonderful thread. Some fascinating food for thought on Victorian literature and the plight of women in those times!

Apr 27, 2020, 6:06 pm

>156 kaggsy:

It's great to know that you're finding this valuable, Karen! :)

Apr 30, 2020, 1:29 am

>157 lyzard: we are finally back on line..hurrah.
Liz thank you for your postings and thanks to everyone whose postings I have enjoyed while I have been unable to post.
This will definitely be a reread in the near future with the benefit of the postings. I finished the book but have missed so much f the substance of it.
I was disappointed that Lady Audley folded so quickly when confronted by Robert about the fire. She had demonstrated great “grit” and strength to escape from her previous impoverished domestic circumstances. I had an amount of sympathy for her as she was exploited by her father, wooed by George Tallboys and then deserted and left with the responsibility of a child. No sympathy for George and his grief over his belief that his wife had died was very exaggerated.
Robert was an infuriating character for me as he really appeared to be a lazy, indolent person who didn’t contribute any useful thing to society.
I thought Braddon tied the novel up very nicely with the last chapter as a “happy ever after” for the main characters with the exception of Lady Audley.

I have also read The Yellow Wallpaper which I found a very powerful book.

Apr 30, 2020, 1:44 pm

Thanks so much for leading us once again. The choice of excerpts was superb.

I think this particular read came at the right time; we could all escape to Audley for a while.

Just wanted to add that I too have a copy of The Yellow Wallpaper on my TBR, should it develop into any kind of group read.

Apr 30, 2020, 6:19 pm

>158 mrspenny:

Hurrah, indeed!

I don't think she folded quickly: she understood that Robert's case against her was complete - which is why she set the fire in the first place - and she may also have realised that while Phoebe had kept quiet up to that point, she was unlikely to do so in the event of police involvement.

Your other points are directly connected: I'm sure we're supposed to see the contrast between Robert's lazy existence and Helen Maldon's fight for survival, and also see past the sentimentalised nonsense of George's "great love". Selfishness is the key (or initial key) to both young men: they have a hard lesson coming, and get it! :)

>159 SassyLassy:

Thank you for joining in. :)

Apr 30, 2020, 6:48 pm

Well! - I think we're done; though if there are any other final thoughts, please do add them!

As a final thought, I just wanted to briefly consider what it was about this particular book that was so triggering for the critics of the time.

There would have been the standard objection to sensation fiction, that it wallowed in sin and transgression and encouraged people to find entertainment in "immoral" doings---plus in this case, a woman writing about those things. And while they may not have expressed in in these terms, there was always outrage at the suggestion that "nice people" were quite as capable of criminal conduct as the working-classes.

Beyond that, I would say that the very fact that they reacted so violently meant they saw through Braddon's smokescreen and understood very well what she was doing in this book, and how far she was thumbing her nose at the established social and literary dogma.

Lady Audley is a repudiation of some of the era's most cherished beliefs---from the privileging of fragile blue-eyed blondes as "the ideal woman", to its rigid ideas about proper female behaviour and all the associated nonsense of "the angel in the house", right through to the insistence that anyone committing a serious crime must necessarily be wracked with guilt and remorse.

The fact that Helen / Lucy drops her husband down the well and then just goes back to being "the beautiful Lady Audley" without missing a beat would have driven them crazy---although as anyone who watches true-crime shows, particularly cold-case shows, would know, such behaviour is very often the case.

But what is really interesting is the extent to which the reading public ignored the critics altogether and ate this book up---showing, among other things, that the grip of the circulating libraries and the censoring of general literature was finally being challenged.

And of course, this was one of the books that paved the way for the development of the modern detective story---though amazingly, there was another twenty-five years to go before the breakthrough creation of Sherlock Holmes. The French got going well before the English in this respect, with Emile Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq first appearing in 1866...which is to say, four years after the publication of Lady Audley's Secret.

May 1, 2020, 3:58 am

Thanks for this, Liz. I read this as a 'ripping yarn' the first time - way back in 1987 - but your added insights and information have really added to my re-reading this time.

May 1, 2020, 7:01 pm

Thank you, Kerry! :)

May 1, 2020, 7:04 pm

And one last last thing---

We can organise a quick group read of The Yellow Wallpaper if there is sufficient interest? I am tied up in July with Anthony Trollope's Castle Richmond (hopefully a few of you are too!) but we could slot it into either June or August.

Since it is only a short work, I am envisaging this purely as post-read discussion rather than a full group read.

May 1, 2020, 8:30 pm

I’d love to discuss The Yellow Wallpaper. I’ve already read it but would probably do a quick reread to refresh my memory.

May 2, 2020, 2:40 am

I’d like a reread - maybe August for All Virago/All August?

May 2, 2020, 8:46 am

Hello! I just finished last night but wanted to thank you very sincerely for this thread. This novel was new to me, and I both enjoyed reading it and learned so much from your tutelage. (I also joined your Aphra Behn tutored read a few years ago :) )

My biggest questions upon finishing were about contemporaneous views on postnatal depression, which you answered fully. I have perhaps a meta question:

This novel did some very innovative things as you identified, including solving a mystery for the sake of solving it. It's also clear that lots of people read it to be scandalized since the scandal just made it more popular! So generally speaking, did Braddon and other women influence the direction that British fiction went? Or would you say the French literature was more influential? I guess I'm trying to understand how serious her influence was compared to the public outcry as immoral.

(I'm very interested in this question of whether women writers had outsized influence that was erased, or whether it's true that they were ignored, following some of Joanna Russ's criticism on this topic.)

Also, I haven't read The Yellow Wallpaper in years but I own it and would love to join the reread! It's such a powerful book.

May 2, 2020, 9:15 am

Thanks, Liz, for an enjoyable and enlightening reading experience!

I found the repeated descriptions of Lady Audley as childish a little bit off-putting. I mean, here’s a pretty cold-blooded killer (however driven to dire actions), an accomplished liar, a woman driven by her desire to survive as her own person: why did she act in that way as Lady Audley? Perhaps because in that position she was free from all responsibility for herself, and so could (almost) relax and enjoy the childhood she never had?

I do think the novel had a heavy influence on the future of the genre that might be called Romantic Suspense.

And speaking personally as a brunette, it was gratifying to see the blonde beauty cast as a Very Bad Person.

Oh! I’m in for both The Yellow Wallpaper and Castle Richmond.

Edited: May 2, 2020, 10:13 am

I haven't read The Yellow Wallpaper, so yes, I would be interested in joining a group read on it!

May 2, 2020, 2:38 pm

Would love to read along with The Yellow Wallpaper and then discuss.

May 3, 2020, 7:49 pm

After finishing this novel, I spent the weekend rereading Mrs. Dalloway. Also a very satisfying read and they fit well together, if anyone else is interested.

Edited: May 3, 2020, 8:49 pm

>166 kaggsy:

I had actually forgotten that The Yellow Wallpaper is a Virago! In that case I think an August group read, or rather discussion, is an excellent idea.

Those of you who have indicated interest, please let us know if August would be suitable.

May 3, 2020, 9:38 pm

>167 sparemethecensor:

Thank you for joining us; I'm very glad you found this useful. :)

Your questions about the novel's place speak to the significant changes in reading and publishing that occurred across the 19th century. It's a big topic, but we need to be aware of a few key points:

That literacy levels lifted significantly thanks to the establishment of general schools for the public and much more encouragement for the lower classes - and girls as well as boys - to get at least a basic education.

One of the consequences of this was that there ceased to be a single reading public, middle-class and up, but a much broader reading audience with different tastes.

Publishing changed in response, and there was the birth of "genre" writing - mysteries, horror stories, adventure stories; what we might now consider "comfort reading". Books didn't have to - or pretend to - carry a serious message any more. They could just entertain.

(The social critics weren't happy about this, but it happened anyway.)

In addition, the grip of the circulating libraries was broken, chiefly to the development of modern advertising. Publishers cut out the middle-man, advertising their books directly to the public. This spelled the death of the three- (or more) volume novel, which the libraries had insisted upon for profit purposes. Authors stopped having to pad their novels out with extraneous subplots, and could write trimmer, more focused fiction. And conversely, they could deal with more serious or more controversial topics, since the tacit censorship of the libraries was lifted.

All this began mid-19th century and played out until the end of it. By the beginning of the 20th century we had more or less publishing and writing as we now understand it (at least until the birth of the ebook!), with mainstream, general fiction still dominant but a rising market for specialised forms of fiction---in Britain, particularly the mystery novel, the popularity of which exploded.

As I've mentioned before, we can trace the modern detective story all the way back to the Gothic novel of the late 18th century, which was part of the Romantic pushback against "the Age of Enlightenment", which was all about the intellect and despised emotion and sentiment. These books depended upon a mystery element, and always built up to a climax in which "all was explained".

In the 19th century such stories began to be set in England, and were more realistic---but tended to deal with the lower, or outright criminal, classes: the so-called "Newgate Novels", which often had highwaymen as their heroes.

As we said at the outset here, the breakthrough novel was Jane Eyre, which placed all this sort of stuff amongst the English middle- and landed classes. (It did a lot of other things too, of course!).

The French were very influential---partly in the freedom of their writing (very shocking and disapproved by the English critics), but also for the way they built mystery and crime into their works. Here we're talking about books like The Count Of Monte Cristo. However, the most critical work was probably Eugène Sue's The Mysteries Of Paris, which was the first of a new subset of incredibly long, incredibly convoluted, mystery-focused serial-stories. This was enormously popular all over the world---and imitated likewise. In England, this was in the penny-dreadfuls written by people like George Reynolds, whose own version of The Mysteries Of London ended up running from 1844 to 1856! These were chiefly aimed at the working-classes, but in fact read by a wide audience.

And these in turn were hugely influential upon the next generation of English writers---Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon most of all. But what they did was turn lower-class "scandal writing" into upper-class "scandal writing", setting their books amongst the middle- and upper-classes and pitching at that audience.

From this point, French and English crime writing evolved in parallel; the French tended to focus more on the criminal than the detective.

Collins and Braddon were the best of the authors working in this area, but there were huge numbers of books that started to dabble in crime and deal with controversial topics. Plus - and this makes it hard to trace the influence / success of any one writer - much more of this sort of writing began to appear in magazines, and as a consequence has not necessarily survived. For example, Elizabeth Thomasina Meade, who wrote this sort of fiction as "L. T. Meade", was hugely popular at the time but a lot of her work is impossible to get hold of now.

Furthermore, as far as the development of detective fiction goes - and the contribution of female writers - we also need to look to America. There, E. D. E. N. Southworth was *the* most popular and successful writer of sensation fiction; while the evolution into the detective novel was almost entirely the work of three other women, Metta Fuller Victor, Anna Katharine Green and Mary Roberts Rinehart.

So, while you would probably have to say that it was Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes who made this sort of writing "respectable", there was a huge female influence from its very early days.

Sorry! - that's probably a lot more than you wanted.

But just in case it isn' might want to access this page from the site "At The Circulating Library", which lists over 1200 books published between 1854 and 1890, which in their opinion are "sensation novels" or have sensation / crime elements:

At The Circulating Library

May 3, 2020, 9:42 pm

Random thought:

I keep flashing on that Star Trek: TNG: episode where Jean-Luc Picard has to try and explain to an alien race that human beings just can't resist solving a mystery...! :D

May 3, 2020, 9:59 pm

>168 Matke:

Thanks, Gail!

I think the insistence upon "childish", as we touched on in >47 lyzard:, is a part of Braddon's cynical exercise in giving the critics what they wanted.

There was still a prevailing insistence at this time upon female innocence / ignorance, and social pressure to keep women in the home and unexposed to the realities of life, a kind of permanent infantilisation. It was nonsense, and it was even dangerous given that women often did have to fend for themselves---as Braddon did, and as Helen Maldon did.

So if we look at Lady Audley from the outside, we see exactly what women were supposed to be: a beautiful, fragile, blue-eyed blonde, who didn't trouble her head over anything deeper or more serious than her clothes and her jewels.

She just happens to also be a cold-blooded killer. :D

Helen is intelligent in her way; certainly shrewd, and capable of quick-thinking; but she lacks any depth of character. Her society didn't want a woman to have depth of character. And really---I think "childish" is less a criticism of her, than of the society that produced her, and of the men who supposedly love her - George Talboys and Sir Michael Audley - neither of whom, obviously, looked any further than her externals. Did they bother to find out what kind of woman they were really marrying? Did they think about what kind of long-tern companion she might be, once the externals started to fade? Of course not. They wanted a pretty doll, and - had either marriage gone to plan - that's all they would have had.

And speaking personally as a brunette, it was gratifying to see the blonde beauty cast as a Very Bad Person.

I'm imagining you and Braddon high-fiving each other! :D

I do think the novel had a heavy influence on the future of the genre that might be called Romantic Suspense.

Yes; though it faded away with the coming of the "pure" detective novel, which was so plot-focused, such fiction came roaring back in the 1950s onwards.

Oh! I’m in for both The Yellow Wallpaper and Castle Richmond.


May 3, 2020, 11:11 pm

>172 lyzard: August is good with me!

May 4, 2020, 6:21 am

I’ll be there for both The Yellow Wallpaper in August and Castle Richmond in July.

This group read really enhanced my understanding of this book!

May 4, 2020, 9:32 am

>172 lyzard: Fab! I’ll be there!!

May 4, 2020, 12:16 pm

August is fine with me too.

May 4, 2020, 2:08 pm

>173 lyzard: Thank you! This was fascinating! Onward to read the page you linked.

May 4, 2020, 2:11 pm

I'm also happy to sign up for July and August! (I hope the library will be open by then so I'm not relegated to Project Gutenberg roulette...)

>175 lyzard: I had a very similar reaction to the use of the word "childish" which is I read it as an indictment of her husbands -- and of society at large -- much the same as the reuse of the "wax doll" term. Men wanted this. Neither of her husbands was interested in an intellectual, adult woman.

May 4, 2020, 4:12 pm

Belatedly adding my thanks to Liz for leading the group read and all the information you shared.

And I'm in for The Yellow Wallpaper and Castle Richmond too (and thanks for the reminder re the latter - I've ordered a second-hand copy now in case the post gets delayed).

May 4, 2020, 4:24 pm

>173 lyzard: That Circulating Library list was so interesting. Who would have thought that George Eliot would have a novel (Felix Holt) considered a "sensation novel." That's one of hers I haven't read, so now I'm intrigued. Also several novels by Trollope (and so many by his brother!) it the mystery/detective element that makes them in this category? I can understand The Eustace Diamonds. But Phineas Redux? He knew He was Right? What puts them in this category?

Edited: May 4, 2020, 5:59 pm

Excellent! - we will consider both July and August locked in.

Thank you all for participating in this: these group reads are so much more enjoyable when we get a good conversation going. :)

May 4, 2020, 6:02 pm

>181 sparemethecensor:

"Wax doll", as I say, is a term that Braddon tends to put in her characters' mouths regarding other of her characters. But we should note the deeper significance of it: little Victorian girls were obviously being offered their own version of Barbie as their ideal.

May 4, 2020, 6:08 pm

>183 kac522:

It's a list that covers any book they consider, not a sensation novel per se, but using plot elements associated with that sort of fiction.

In the examples you cite, there is the murder subplot in Phineas Redux, and the question of sanity or insanity in He Knew He Was Right.

Felix Holt has a sort-of mystery subplot, but that's more of a stretch.

So while sensation novels were criticised for their focus upon these darker subjects, the point of this list is to highlight that mainstream (critic-approved) novels also relied upon that sort of material.

I haven't actually read Thomas Trollope, though I am reading the works of Frances Trollope---who, I should mention, was one of the progenitor writers in this area: from the 1830s onwards she often included crime subplots in her novels, and wrote an important crime novel (almost a sensation novel, except it has too much of a sense of humour about itself) called Hargrave.