The novel by Mary Elizabeth Braddon Lady Audley’s Secret is a brilliant picture of life of Victorian England. There are some outstanding images of women in it. The author describes the life and destiny of Lady Audley, who is the main female character of this novel. The narration begins with investigation of Robert Audley, who tries to find out what happened to his friend George Talboys. The reader follows his actions and step by step there appears the image of this woman. It is possible to see her life, but the reader feels that something is hidden in the life of lady Audley. From the very beginning the author describes her as a beautiful woman with blond hair and blue eyes. These features remind the doll, this woman looks like an angel. But why Robert Audley tries to investigate her past. That is the question. The reader knows that she left her child to her father and disappeared from her home when her husband escaped from her, and it is natural that the reader begins to feel pity for her, but not for her husband’s nephew, Robert Audley.
The tension of narration arises when Robert reads the letter from her cousin Alicia. He thinks, “So, my lady is anxious about my movements… poor unhappy little golden-haired sinner…” (Braddon 38). Robert hesitates about her actions against Lady Audley. He thinks, “Heaven knows I was never born to be the avenger of guilt or the persecutor of the guilty. I only wish to do my duty” (Braddon 38). He is not sure if he is right about what he is doing. At the same time, he is afraid of what can be discovered during his investigation. But why he worries about it? Maybe, because he cannot believe that such a pretty and innocent woman, like his uncle’s wife, can do something bad. No, he worries because of her actions, if they are criminal, if she can do any harm to the reputation of his family, as it belongs to English high society.
Before Lady Audley appears at the pages of the novel, the reader makes acquaintance with one more woman, Clara Talboys, the sister of Robert’s friend. The reader meets her when she plays a church organ. Clara’s image associates with “the tones of the instrument, now swelling to their fullest power, now sinking to a low, whispering softness… had a soothing influence; that seem to comfort him in his trouble” (Braddon 42). The image of wonderful, tender, and sweet woman appears in the novel. Robert waits for Lady Audley for very unpleasant conversation and sounds of organ make him calmer and more confident about what he is going to do. Under his thoughts there stands Clara. Her voice “had the same melodious sadness as the notes of old organ under her touch” (Braddon 46). In dissonance with her image, there is the description of lady Audley, who is “very, very, very pretty. Rather a childish beauty though, with large, clear blue eyes and pale golden ringlets, that fall a feathery shower over her throat and her shoulders” (Braddon 50). So, it is seen that these two women, who play big role in the life of main male character of the novel, are antipodal, deep, tender, and full of sad emotions and charm Clara, and doll like prettiness of lady Audley. Throughout the novel the author has never called the heroine by her name, only “my lady” and she always stresses her childish appearance. The reason why there is no her name in the novel is appeared in the end, as this lady hides it. She plays the role of doll in this novel; not very smart, selfish doll, who wants to become rich. She suffered from poverty in the childhood and she does not want to stay poor any more. Nevertheless, she lives in Victorian Age, and in accordance with its moral, the only way to become wealthy for her is to marry a rich man. She devoted all her life to achieving this aim. One may condemn her for her deception, for her strong desire to stay Michael Audley’s wife, for the ways she tries to achieve it, but at the same time, it is her tragedy as well. It is a tragedy of any Victorian Woman, who wanted to become successful and to have good life. At the same time, not all Victorian Women act in the same way. If we recall Jane Eyre, the main character of Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Jane also was poor, and she also went through many abasements, she had cruel aunt who hated her and she was a pupil of school for orphans, where nobody loved her and took care of her, as well as many other girls. Maybe, there is only one point, which makes these women different. Lady Audley is beautiful, and her beauty is the most important weapon for her, while Jane was not pretty at all. When Robert makes her say the truth to her husband, she says, “As I grew older I was told that I was pretty-beautiful-lovely- bewitching… I concluded that if I was indeed prettier than my school followers, I ought to marry better than any of them” ( Braddon 175). Comparing these two girls, who belong to the same social position, it is evident that one woman decided to win the world with the help of her beauty, but the other one did not want to win anything at all. She was deeper, more intelligent, better educated, very beautiful inside, and she lived with her soul, while lady Audley did not have anything inside, she was pretty only outside. Jane achieved her happiness in the end of the novel – she married a man she loved. At the same time, she became happy only after she got inheritance, which gave her freedom. According to Victorian morals, she became respected woman only when she received money. Without it she could stay a woman of second sort.
When lady Audley appeared in the isolated house for mentally sick people, she is in shock not because she has done something ugly, not because she made her first husband unhappy and suffer a lot, but because her beauty did not bring her what she dreamt about. She cries, “I cannot! Has my beauty brought me to this? Have I plotted and schemed to shield myself, and laid awake in the long deadly nights trembling to think of my danger, for this?” (Braddon 234).
The word ‘secret’ in the title of the novel means a lot. First of all, it is the secret of lady Audley’s life, illness of her mother. She had problems with her mind. As for Victorian society, it is disgrace. Such people are out of the life. It was the issue that lady Audley hides from all. There is another secret, the circumstances of disappearance of George Talboys, which Robert Audley investigates. One more secret can be seen in this novel. It is opened only in last chapters of this novel. This secret is two letters, which were not delivered to the addressees. The irony of the whole story is that if these papers were read by two people, they have been written to, neither the secret of lady Audley nor the secret of disappearance of George Talboys would be opened.
The novel by Mary Elizabeth Braddon describes the time in the history of England, which has its peculiar features, so called Victorian Age. John Stuart Mill wrote in his book The subjection of women “that the principle, which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes-the legal subordination of one sex to another-is wrong as itself” (Mill 1). He said that it is one more way of slavery. This slavery means for women of Victorian Age that the only thing that they can do in their life is to marry and to give birth to kids, to please their husbands and do only what they liked them to do. Women cannot make any career. If they have money, when they marry, this money belongs to their husbands. Braddon, describing images of her women, shows lady Audley as a victim of Victorian Age. She condemns her for what she has done. At the same time, lady Audley cannot achieve her goal by another method, but to find a wealthy husband.
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The novel has happy end. The so called positive heroes of it become happy, those who are negative get their punishment. Lady Audley dies in her mad house; Robert marries Clara Talboys, and his cousin Alicia is also happy in her marriage. George Talboys appeared alive, he miraculously escaped death. It should be mentioned that nearly all Victorian novels have the same happy ends. The reason of it also can be explained by Victorian morals. All good people should be happy going through trials, but bad people should be reprimanded. Life is more complicated thing and the novel shows that being negative character of it, lady Audley can be pitied as well. She did not have wealth like Clara Talboys, and sometimes it is easy to be noble and positive having money, which gives certain respect from society of Victorian Age.