Romance and sexuality are not unfamiliar concepts to the typical Victorian sensational novel. Reversing and deconstructing these themes, however, marks a more sophisticated sensation novel and makes for a more enduring literary work. This technique is intriguing to a postmodern audience, but to a Victorian audience such an idea may have been seen as threatening and dangerous. In Lady Audley’s Secret, Mary Elizbaeth Braddon deftly criticizes the conventional views of marriage, heterosexuality, and gender roles, all while veiling the contradictions in seemingly traditional views. These contradictions primarily serve to demonstrate the power of women; their roles are hidden, but they are nonetheless active under the guise of normative society and gender restrictions. Braddon clearly sets up the predicament of women and their need to find alternative ways to exert control over their lives (and sometimes the lives of others). For example, Clara Talboys must listen to evidence about her brother’s death, all the while staying composed and emotionless lest she be reprimanded by her father, as she once was simply for dropping a reel of cotton. As she listens to Robert Audley’s story, she “never once lift[s] her face from her clasped hands…her attitude never change[s]” (Braddon 216). Robert perceives her as cruel and heartless, but she is really only highly restricted. Although Clara remains one of the most passive female characters, true to the stereotypical female role, it is noteworthy how frequently Robert comments on her physical similarities to her brother George, thereby effectively reversing the gender roles and blurring the relationship between gender and passivity. Lady Audley is positioned as the most powerful and compelling female presence in the novel, and it is not hard to draw comparisons between her treachery and her need to improve her situation. Lady Audley even warns Sir Michael when he proposes, crying, “you ask too much of me! Remember what my life has been; only remember that. From my very babyhood I have never seen anything but poverty….I have been selfish from my babyhood” (52). Lady Audley begins her search for power by using her beauty and charm to improve her status, but when her status is threatened she must result to desperate (and illegal) measures. Lady Audley complies with the original model of using acceptable feminine means to take control of her life, but her actions only become despicable when she addresses matters in a more aggressive, or masculine, way. Lady Audley’s banishment and subsequent death can therefore be seen as a punishment for pursuing power in an overt and transgressive (and masculine) way, instead of in a covert (and appropriately feminine) way. Robert Audley even plays a role in the empowerment of women in the novel, for he is quite often described as somewhat feminine. For example, he “pushe[s] his hands through the thick luxuriance of his straight brown hair, and uplift[s] the dark mass in despair.” (229). He also “stroll[s] into the Temple Gardens…with his shirt collar turned down and a blue silk handkerchief tied loosely about his neck” (71). He dislikes hunting “and[keeps] at a very respectful distance from the hard riders; his horse knowing quite well as he did, that nothing was further from his thoughts than any desire to be in at the death” (72). And although Robert appreciates his cousin, Alicia, for her beauty and her affection for him, “the idea of turning his cousin’s girlish liking for him to some good account never enter[s] his idle brain” (72). In fact, Alicia pursues Robert much in the way a man pursues a woman. In addition, Robert also displays what seems to be a sexual, homoerotic love for George. The two friends live together up until the point when George disappears. The rest of the novel centers on Robert’s obsession with George’s disappearance: it is clear that Robert “seem[s] to have lost all taste for companionship, all sympathy with the pleasures and occupations of his class, since the disappearance of George Talboys” (232). For instance, Robert says, “it’s comfortable, but it seems so d – d lonely to-night. 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” (230). The feminization of Robert’s character, in addition to his hypothetical homoerotic love for George, creates an interesting dynamic between the feminine means for acquiring power and the aggressive, masculine ways he is entitled to pursue control by virtue of his gender. For example, Robert is allowed to aggressively investigate George’s death, but he often expresses a seemingly feminine desire for Lady Audley to simply flee the country so he can avoid the confrontation and hurt that will be associated with his aggressive and masculine pursuit. As it relates to the novel as a feminist statement, it is interesting to note that Braddon feminizes the main character before she allows him power. At times, the author barely disguises her message at all. The frequent interjections of rants describing women as “the stronger sex, the noisier, the more pervasive” (229) seem so out of character for Robert and so in tune with the author’s message that one may see the passages as narrative reflections on female power. For example, Robert says, “if they can’t make mountains of warfare and play at ball with hemispheres, they’ll make mountains of warfare and vexation of out of domestic molehills; and social storms in household teacups” (229). This statement perfectly describes the predicament of women: unable to find power overtly in the world, they must resort to the means and the environments they can control – the social and domestic spheres. In addition, it seems belittling to say that “a pretty woman never looks prettier than when making tea,” but “at the tea-table she reigns omnipotent, unapproachable. What do men know of the mysterious beverage?” (242-3). It can also be said that tea’s power, like a woman’s power, lies in its domesticity and inherent mystery to men.Interestingly, Braddon wholly discredits the institution of marriage and consequently empowers women. The purest example of love is seen in a homosexual (and therefore non-marital) context, while the main marriage in the novel – that of Lady and Sir Michael Audley – is the most flawed and deceitful relationship of all. Sir Michael even prophesizes his own dismal fate when he says, “nothing but misery can result from a marriage dictated by any motive but truth and love” (51). Even Robert laments, saying “Look at marriages! Who is to say which shall be the one judicious selection out of the nine hundred and ninety-nine mistakes? Who shall decide from the first aspect of the slimy creature, which is to be the one eel out of the colossal bag of snakes?” (225) The negatively charged diction – not to mention the pessimistic message itself – certainly reflects on the author’s view of marriage. One can even wonder if Clara only agreed to marry Robert in an effort to help the search for her brother, which would be an effective way of using her limited power for her own means.This argument, of course, is not without its contradictions. The conclusion of the novel is enough to raise serious doubts about the integrity of the theory, for all of the characters end up happily (and heterosexually) paired off. Is this merely to satisfy the traditional Victorian audience? Is it an attempt by Braddon to resolve the aforementioned issues, at least in her own conscience? The answer remains unclear. In addition, the role of Alicia Audley – a seemingly masculine and aggressively forward character – remains in conflict with the feminine power theory. Perhaps it is noteworthy that when Alicia acts in a manly and assertive way she gets nowhere – her father doesn’t listen to her, Robert refuses her, and she loses her chance with Sir Harry Towers. Yet she ends up assuming a feminine role in caring for her father, and then marries Sir Harry. Was it insulting of Braddon to only allow women to acquire power and manage their destinies by manipulating their social and domestic sphere? I think this choice can be more aptly described as “intelligent.” There are obvious difficulties inherent in the assumption that women should drastically shift the balance of power in society so as to procure alternate means for acquiring power, so it stands as a tribute to the skill and intelligence of women that they can find ways to empower themselves while still operating within the rigid confines of their feminine roles. WORKS CITEDBraddon, Mary Elizabeth. Lady Audley’s Secret. Ed. Natalie M. Houston. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2003.
Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s sensation novel Lady Audley’s Secret presents the astonishing and cynical notion that the “sort of surprise at the fictional company one is keeping, or at the view of the world… is central to a whole genre of fiction” (Introduction). In the story Braddon’s plot reflects this idea through mischievous action and mystery. She vividly expresses the conflict of deception among the characters involved in the dramatic events that occur. This deception exists in the core of every relationship in the novel, namely in the areas of love and family. It ranges from smaller fallacies to grand schemes that influence the lives of all who are associated with them. Relationships within this novel function as a primary means of housing the common quality of deceit. Regardless how well established or personal relationships appear to be, this attribute yet exists to a general or astounding degree. Also, despite the fact that relationships are sometimes tainted by deception, people continue their lives together. By presenting her characters with so many hidden desires and actions, Braddon attempts to reveal that deception embodies a controlling force in the protagonists’ and antagonists’ lives. She implies the idea that deception generally represents a characteristic feature of all relationships.Braddon presents Sir Michael and Lucy Audley’s relationship as a foundationally deceptive relationship that eventually leads to their separation. They choose early on to be deceitful and avoid revealing their intentions. From the beginning, Michael convinces himself to believe that having a young wife, who only loves him for his wealth, does not bother him. He desires to marry Lucy regardless of this fact, and “his hope was that as her life had been most likely one of toil… by a protecting care that should make him necessary to her, win her young heart, and obtain from her fresh and earliest love alone the promise of her hand” (7). This passage illustrates the first instance of deception present in their courtship before marriage. Here Braddon suggests that deception may somehow present itself in any relationship at any time and set the tone for the remainder of it. In this case, deception becomes an inherent dilemma from the beginning of their acquaintance. In “Taking the Measure of Human Relationships: An Interview with Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne,” Joan and Dennis West delve into the workings of a relationship. The authors believe the novel “follows complex characters as they grapple with difficult moral and ethical dilemmas” (14). They reviewed a story where the protagonist has a relationship with his father that is filled with evident deception, and he must choose between loyalty or what is best for himself. The trait of foundational deception links these two stories in that Michael and Lucy have to make the same choice in their relationship. Early on, Michael’s deceitful actions suggest that they will at some point have to come to terms with their problems that encircle the plot of the novel.In an article on “Acts of Madness: Lady Audley and The Meanings of Victorian Feminity,” the author looks at the issue of deception in the realm of private-life relationships in Lady Audley’s Secret. This article examines the idea that deception exists in Michael and Lucy’s relationship as a means for them to secure their own happiness. Lynn Voskuil writes, “a woman might be the compliant conduit of an idealized subjectivity or she might be the assertive protector of her family’s welfare and her own. More to the point, she is most likely playing both roles at once” (612). This idea holds true for Lucy who constantly tries to protect herself at all costs. These attempts lead her into deception as she accepts Michael’s forward proposal. He states, “‘I will not ask too much of you. I dare say I am a romantic old fool; but if you do not dislike me, and if you do not love anyone else, I see no reason why we should not be a very happy couple. Is it a bargain, Lucy?’ ‘Yes'” (11). Because her options as a poor woman are limited, she chooses to satisfy herself although he warns her that marrying someone you do not love has to be one of the greatest sins. Braddon writes, “‘No more dependence, no more drudgery, no more humiliations,’ she said; ‘every trace of the old life melted away – every clue to identity buried and forgotten…'” (12). This is Lucy’s self-convincing statement that appeases her mind concerning any guilt. She feels a sense of assurance in pretending to love Michael, disregarding his true feelings entirely. The notion that deception in the foundation of a relationship can permeate somewhat unnoticed is obvious with this couple. Deception takes a major role in this situation in spite of the magnitude of the honest and sincere commitment expected and necessary in any marriage.Deception follows as Michael and Lucy live their lives together. Over time, Lucy completely deceives her husband and denies even the closest people access to her past life and troubling experiences. Braddon states, “as she spoke he dropped into a chair close to the spot upon which she knelt, and with his hands clasped together, and with his head bent to catch every syllable of those horrible words, he listened as if his whole being had been resolved” (347). Her deceitfulness becomes apparent as Michael learns the truth of her disastrous upbringing and seems reluctant to believe it after so much time has elapsed. Lucy has from the beginning created a rift of deception between them. In “Acts of Madness,” Voskuil lists several observations:Viewed in light of Lewes’s theatrical theories, Lucy Audley is suspect because she realizes not a shared, coherent human nature but a singular, idiosyncratic gendered self – a self that his theories acknowledged latently… psychiatrists account for idiosyncracies that distinguished insanity from normalcy. (615)This passage supports the idea that Lucy’s deception develops from her idiosyncratic desire for self-assurance, and it suggests that she does not reveal her past because she wants to avoid the pain of her own recollection by not disclosing it. Lucy is quite intentionally withholding information in her marriage that could cause her to lose everything she has. It is this act of deception that ultimately leads her into mania and out of this relationship. As Robert Audley finally confronts her, she is unable to cope with the reality that he knows all her secrets and, consequently, overtaken by insanity “I AM MAD!” (346), she proclaims.The relationship between Robert and Alicia Audley is presented as a kinship where elements of subtle deception are present, as in Audley Court. This deception exists between them because they fail to discuss their true feelings and emotions. Braddon writes, “The young man was a great favourite with his uncle, and by no means despised by his pretty, gipsy-faced, light-hearted, hoydenish cousin, Miss Alicia Audley” (33). Although Alicia and Robert are cousins, she loves him, but he never really informs her that he does not share the same feelings. This subtle deception exists as a grey area between them. In “The Greying of Lady Audley’s Secret,” Harriet Blodgett states, “The significant point to Braddon’s control… that greyness is emphasized lies in her denial that truth is a simply knowable distinction between black and white or discoverable in any merely factual account” (137). In actuality their relationship possesses some qualities of truth and deception, so this deception is not easily discoverable, though it is apparent to the readers. Alicia makes underlying reference to her love for Robert in her letters; however, she thinks the idea of his falling in love is ludicrous because he appears very reserved in matters of emotion. Braddon also presents scenes where Alicia scolds him about his mannerisms concerning love and the treatment of dearest friends. He states, “Alicia, my darling, what is it?… What does all this mean? How charmingly she sits her horse! What a pretty figure, too… but to fly at a fellow like that, without the least provocation” (116). Robert’s emotional reservation is a deceptive action even though this is a familial relationship. He remains steadfast and ponders Alicia’s emotional display, refusing to address her feelings and admit his are the opposite.The deception that exists subtly between Robert and Alicia may not be unusual, because people often tend to not mention truths they feel will cause someone emotional distress. Therefore, a person may possibly be unaware of deception. Braddon highlights this fact by revealing that even relatives co-exist with deception among them. Blodgett highlights a bold notion about Robert by stating, “fact finding only brings on an excess of guilt for himself; instead of the truth making him free, he carries” (138). This concept reveals itself with Robert and Alicia because the more they attempt to learn of each other’s thoughts, the more anguish they bring upon themselves. This explains how, when uninvestigated, deception is able to exist without any noticeable affect. This speaks to the way deception occurs in every relationship. In Acts of Madness, Voskuil explores the notion of “natural acting” as a theory explaining the readability of human behavior. “For Lewes, the idealized, transcendent “common [human] nature” enabled the links between interior and exterior selves… By mid-century, according to Roger Smith, most medical writers in Britain had “self-consciously adopted a physiological idiom” (615). Voskuil reviews this theory because it relates to Lady Audley’s Secret in the area of human interaction and relationships, revealing that true character is unknown. Throughout Braddon’s novel numerous relationships are at work, and she reveals the relevancy of deception in the sphere of “common human nature” in everyday life. Deception serves as a common quality simply because individuals choose mostly to keep the harsh reality of inner feelings or truths they have for others to themselves. The two in-laws in this work, Robert and Lucy, have a relationship with qualities of unknown deception between them. The mystery of deceitfulness surrounds their interactions. First, Lucy does her best to postpone and avoid Robert’s visit to Audley Court because she plans to avoid George Talboys who will accompany him. However Robert, being completely in the dark about this matter and her deception, does not think twice about it until later. Braddon writes, “When Robert, therefore, was about to re-enter the inn, it needed but the faintest elevation of Lucy’s eyebrows… to make her husband aware that she did not want to be bored with an introduction…” (55). With these two, Braddon develops the different deceptions that may take place in a seemingly simple relationship, even if the people are not emotionally involved and one party is unaware of the deception. In the article “Relationships in King Lear,” Paul Alpers examines the concept of bonding, familial relationships. He presents the idea that “relationships, in all their messy and palpable complexity, precede and define recognition” and “can become a form of bondage and oppression” (47). Braddon’s novel reflects this concept with Robert and Lucy Audley because the deception present later defines the true nature of their relationship as the complete opposite of what is at first expected. In one instance, Robert innocently inquires about George Talboy, stating, “God forbid! But I cannot help feeling uneasy about him” (87), as Lucy gives a “nervous shudder” and denies any knowledge of the matter. Thus, she makes herself suspect of knowing something. Their relationship exemplifies how deception can be present and influential whether at first known or unknown.In “Edith Wharton’s A Dialectic of Deception: The Age of Innocence,” Jean Witherow explores the concept of deception. “Wharton explores the subtleties of language as language deceives and, inadvertently, mirrors… inner lives… Language as a tool for deception is often noted in critical discourse” (11). This idea of deceiving language is prevalent at Robert’s expense. Lucy attempts to persuade her husband to avoid Robert because he is trying to investigate into her past knowledge of George. Braddon notes:He shall go to-night, Lucy! exclaimed Sir Michael. I’ve been 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 to-night. (128)According to Witherow’s theory, Lucy is using discourse with her husband to deceive him. Her deceit in turn mirrors her own life, which is filled with guilt and sorrow. She further uses subtle language to deceive Robert about his removal itself, in an attempt to blame what has happened on her husband. Braddon states, “Lucy Audley spoke with that peculiar childish vivacity which seemed so natural to her… animated face” (138). Robert endures this deceitful action because he realizes Lucy is desperately trying to alleviate herself from all suspicion. Wharton considers this “The dialect of deception” (12), where her past secrets are made manifest by her deception, which alerts the suspicions of those around her.Braddon clearly presents deception as a controlling force in the protagonists’ relationships within this novel. She affirms that deception is a basic characteristic in any form of relationship. Throughout the novel she vividly explores the main characters’ experiences with deceit and how it affects them personally. Braddon examines the idea that the true nature of people can never really be known. Sir Michael and Lucy Audley’s relationship characterizes foundational deception because of their duplicitous actions and portrays how some relationships are built on deceit. The implication here is that in their courtship the two of them continually seek to protect themselves from certain feelings and, consequently, have to conceal things. The complexity of a relationship of this magnitude is that people are faced with the ethical dilemma of ensuring their own happiness through whatever means of deception (Joan and Dennis West). Robert Audley and Alicia Audley’s relationship as cousins portrays subtle deception in the most simplistic way. In argument, they both hide their feelings concerning each other for various reasons. Harriet Blodgett writes about the grey area of deception that exists between Robert and Alicia because of the fact that deception as well as truth may not be evident in a relationship. Lastly, Braddon presents Robert and Lucy’s relationship as in-laws in a situation where the deception exudes unknown to both parties. In relationships, language and the lack of discourse can serve as a way to deceive individuals, as revealed in the text. Overall, Braddon brilliantly portrays deception as an inclusive aspect of every relationship. Moreover, it is evident with every relationship explored, whether personal or impersonal, that deception tends to present itself on a general basis and in some form or another.Works CitedAlpers, Paul. “Relationships in King Lear.” Relationships 83.1 (2003): 46-60.Blodgett, Harriet. “The Greying of Lucy Audley’s Secret.” Papers on Language and Literature 37.2 (2001): 132-147.Braddon, Mary Elizabeth. Lucy Audley’s Secret. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.Voskuil, Lynn M. “Acts of Madness: Lucy Audley and the meanings of Victorian Feminity.” Feminist Studies 27.3 (2001): 611-640.West, Joan M., and Dennis. “Taking the Measure of Human Relationships: An interview with Jean-Pierre Derdenne and Luc Dardenne.” Cineaste 28.3 (2003): 14-21.Whitherow, Jean. “A Dialectic of Deception: The Age of Innocence.” Mosaic 36 (2003): 11-21.
In Lady Audley’s Secret, Braddon portrays the character of Lady Audley as a truly complex one. She is shown to be intelligent and manipulative when she supposedly kills her husband George while also manipulating her new one, Michael, for his wealth. However, despite such cruelty, she is also depicted as a vulnerable character who is constantly in fear of discovery for her misdeeds that were born from necessity. These two aspects of Lucy Audley add to her intricate personality. Her sensitivity doesn’t redeem her from her sins but creates sympathy within the eyes of the reader and allows her to become a more likeable female role.
Lucy Audley has done many horrible things within the novel. From the beginning, we begin to learn that she is not truly in love with Michael when we see her response to the proposal. She says, “Love you! Why there are women a hundred times my superior in beauty and in goodness who might love you dearly; but you ask too much of me. You ask too much of me!” (Braddon 15). She clearly shows little love for Michael and thinks that he wants something she does not want to provide. She only agrees to the marriage when Michael puts in in terms of a “bargain” which is exactly what it is to Lucy. “No more dependence, no more drudgery, no more humiliations” (Braddon 16). She knows that marrying Michael will relieve her of her struggles due to poverty and will be free of “dependence” and other hardships she had. Having this newfound wealth and to not be concerned about money are her motivations. Lucy’s lack of wealth seems to be the one sympathetic quality of Lucy within this scene. “I have never seen anything but poverty. My father was a gentlemen; clever, accomplished, generous, handsome – but poor… 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… I cannot be blind to the advantages of such an alliance” (Braddon 15). Lucy talks of her difficulty living in poverty and that it is difficult for her to refuse the offer, despite not loving him, because of the obvious advantages of gaining such wealth from him. She even states before how there were “superior” women to her which is commenting on her own impoverished state. She feels almost unworthy of these riches and position that Michael wants to give her and it is clear that she feels almost pushed into this situation by her need of money and Michael’s unshared love. This shows that her intentions were not malicious when she accepted his proposal but were out of desperation due to poverty.
However, years later, she does seem to manipulate Michael even more by using his unwavering affection and devotion to her advantage. When Robert Audley announces that he is to be staying at Audley Court, Lucy gets him to leave early by persuading Michael. “It isn’t that Mr. Audley is a very agreeable young man, and a very honourable young man; but you know, Sir Michael, I’m rather a young aunt for such a nephew… Poor is Alicia is rather jealous of any attention Mr. Audley pays me” (Braddon 114). She insinuates that Robert is attracted to her and is giving her more attention than Alicia which causes Michael to become defensive and ask him to leave. When he returns later and starts to accuse Lucy, she goes back to Michael and convinces him that Robert is mad. “A little out of his mind… But madness is sometimes hereditary… People may generally keep these things a secret. There may have been madness in your sister-in-law’s family” (Braddon 243-244). Michael believes whatever she tells him and Lucy even comments that “I can put black before him, and if I say it is white, he will believe me” (Braddon 240). Lucy knows how easily convinced Michael is when it comes to herself because of how blinded by love he is. She constantly uses this to her advantage, without remorse, and pushes Robert away through Michael whenever he is about to uncover her secrets.
Despite this callous influence of Lady Audley, they are also done out of necessity. Robert Audley is constantly threatening Lucy that she will become exposed. Lucy is under much pressure when Robert is trying to pull the truth from her and his suspicions makes Lady Audley nervous. When he discusses the “circumstantial evidence” with Lucy at the end of Chapter 15, Lucy becomes distraught. She exclaims, “How can you ask a poor little woman about such horrid things?”, and then shortly after, “Lady Audley had fainted away” (Braddon 107). She faints after hearing his suspicions of her and that makes it clear that she is under a lot of anxiety with Robert pushing her. “Will he stop now that he has once gone so far? Will he stop for fear of me?… Will anything stop him – but death?” (Braddon 253). Lady Audley knows that Robert is overzealous in his investigation of Georges disappearance and will stop at nothing to uncover the truth. That is why she goes through such lengths to persuade Michael because it is the only way she can keep him from her with his constant tormenting of her and threats of uncovering her secret. She later even questions why he hates her so much which shows that Robert is displaying very negative feelings towards her.
Not only does Robert treat her so harshly, but Luke does so too. Phoebe, her handmaid, must marry him but doesn’t want to and Lucy tries to bribe him so he’d agree to it. The tables are then turned around on her when she finds out Luke knows her secret. In response to her bribe, Luke says, “Fifty pound ain’t much to start a public. You’ll make it a hundred, my lady” (Braddon 98). He knows a secret about Lady Audley, which is later found out to be the truth about George’s death, and instead of being like Robert and turning her in, he decides to take money from her. “He’s not fit for his present business, though. He’s scarcely ever sober after dark, and when he’s drunk he gets almost wild, and doesn’t seem to know what he does” (Braddon 258). Luke is constantly drunk and is a terrible businessman in constant threat of losing his inn. Lady Audley has to give him money so he can keep his business afloat or else he will reveal her secret. This constant mistreatment from Luke makes Lucy a more sympathetic character because it gives her this feeling of helplessness that audiences can’t help but feel compassion towards.
Yet this mistreatment also leads her to commit even more terrible acts. Reacting to Luke’s demands for more money, Lucy says, “It would have been a good thing for me if that precious creature, your husband, had been burnt in his bed before to-night” (Braddon 259). She later goes on to burn down his inn which leaves Luke fatally wounded. Her decision to kill Luke is a drastic one and is done with little grief upon his death. She also decides to set fire to the inn as a way of getting rid of Robert. “She stopped and looked at the number on the door… Then a horrible expression came over her face, and she turned the key in the lock; she turned it twice, double locking the door” (Braddon 275). She see’s Robert’s room and decides to lock him in before setting fire to the inn. She attempts to get rid of two birds with one stone and does so without any shadow of a doubt. After seeing the inn on fire in the distance, she is not surprised. The next day, she has anxious feeling, but they are only because she wants to know if Robert is truly dead. Upon finding out that he isn’t, she is shocked. Her only feelings are ones of surprise but there is no guilt in her actions which highlights her dangerous cunning.
After all her deeds are done, she eventually does confess them to Robert. While it may just have been because she had no other option, Lucy does admit to her crimes. She says, “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!” (Braddon 294). Lady Audley finally admits to killing George but claims that the reason she did it was because she was “mad”. This furthers the idea of her vulnerability because it is making it seem as if she cannot help who she is and has almost no control over her actions. She is then taken to an institution learned to have later died in isolation. Her loneliness garners her a lot of compassion from the reader because she seems to not have much control over her life. Upon confessing her crimes, she tells her life story. “My mother was away… at a very early age I found out what it was to be poor… my mother was a madwoman” (Braddon 296). Finding out how much she struggled as a child and learning of her mother’s hereditary madness makes some of her deeds more understandable. While not excusing her crimes, the audience begins to see that desperation was what drove Lucy to do the things she had done and not hatred or malice.
Lady Audley is a character with dual personalities. She shows cleverness and treacherous intelligence. Lucy constantly manipulates those around her and has no fear of murdering others to keep her secret. However, she is a troubled character who is exposed to many hardships. She cannot help her past for is seems to continue to follow her until the very end. The attempted murder of George Talboys, her previous life as Helen, and even her mother’s hereditary madness that she inherited are things that she cannot escape from and affect all her decisions. The horrible acts that she committed are not to be condoned at all. There are many instances of betrayal and manipulation that Lucy had done for many years. Yet they are not out of wicked intentions. What redeems her character from the point of view of the reader is her fear. She is afraid of her past coming out and of her poor condition. That is what drives her to carry out many of her actions. As creatures of understanding, one cannot help but sympathize with Lucy’s situation and begin to feel some empathy to her character. That is exactly what Braddon had intended when crafting this character and employing the duality within her persona so that she could become a more enjoyable and sympathetic role.
Braddon, Mary Elizabeth. Lady Audley’s Secret. Edited by Lyn Pickett, Oxford World Classics, 2012.