Lady Audley’s Secret is set up to be a novel with a gothic undertone, twists and turns and secrets waiting to be revealed. This supposedly scandalous novel is perhaps not so filled with surprises, but is an entertaining read nevertheless.
The book is sort of split into two paralell narratives, which eventually come together and start making sense to the reader (if you haven’t guessed it before the reveals). The one story features the family of Audrey: Alicia, her father Sir Michael, and his newly wed young and beautiful wife, Lady Audley. We are painted a picture of their palace, their gardens, the environment both within their house and outside – creating a setting for things to come. We’re shown a beautiful, perhaps slightly stupid and childish, young woman – only a few years older than the daughter of the father of the house.
On the other hand we have George Talboys returning from Australia, in the hopes of returning to England as a rich man for his wife waiting at home with their child. He returns only to find out that his wife has passed away. During his grieving he is being taken care of by an old friend, Robert Audley, whom he has met by accident just after his arrival. Robert Audley – you guessed it – is related to the family first mentioned – he is Alicia’s uncle and Sir Michael’s nephew. The two set of characters share more than one bound, as the story shows further down the road.
As I said before, it’s not the most unexpected of stories – rather it is obvious from the beginning that Lady Audley is more than she seems, that she has done something – something wrong, something bad, which will eventually be discovered and will unmask her true self. Lady Audley’s secrets are none of them surprising; her other self, her past and heritage, or even the consequences of her actions, as they are. Even so I found it to be a pleasant read because of how it is told, especially the atmosphere and description of time and place, how the events unfold, and Lady Audley is an interesting character for the time this was published in.
This is a very slow paced story, and it is further slowed down by the side-tracked rantings on women’s place in society, women’s roles, gendered stereotype musings of Robert Audley. It was not only irritatingly misognysitc (no surprise there, it might’ve been on purpose though), but also incredibly dull and longwinded. These “musings” really lessened my enjoyment as well as my reading pace, and even if they were purposeful (not sure of that) it could certainly have been done far smoother than it was. It is my opinion that a great fiction work can ask these questions of a reader (questions to do with moral, philosophy, politics, etc.) without having to be so blatant about it, without having the author’s voice shouting at you.
It’s an interesting reading experience for me especially now, since I am also currently reading Mad, Bad, Sad – Women and Mind Doctors by Lisa Appignanesi, discussing mental illness (“madness”) and the science of the mind, history of mind doctors, asylyms, and the like. For example one thing that really reflects the time in which Mary E. Braddon was writing was the mention of monomania – a state in which a person is unhealthily focused on one thing or set of ideas, a sort of mania, as a type of mental illness. This term/diagnosis was only “in fashion” (or mainly in used) from the beginning of the 19th century until mid to late-19th century I believe. Lady Audley’s Secret was published in 1862 and is therefor right in the midst of this term’s popularity. There are other hints to the context of the time and the discourse on madness – the way Lady Audley is perceived and how she is handled, especially the ending, is from the historical perspective very interesting. I do personally have a great interest in the topic of madness and in particular how women have been perceived as mad – the creation of the “mad woman”, so from that interest alone this book was worthwhile.
If you’re in the mood for some atmospheric, gothic and entertaining reading but don’t mind the predictability or the slow paced nature of the book – by all means, give Lady Audley’s Secret a try.
Until next time, happy reading!