Lady Audley's Secret  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Lady Audley's Secret is a sensation novel by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, written in 1862.

Plot

The novel opens with the marriage of Lucy Graham, a beautiful, doll-like blonde, to Sir Michael Audley. Around this same time, Sir Michael’s nephew, barrister Robert Audley, welcomes back to England an old friend of his, George Talboys, who has returned after three years of fortune-hunting in Australia. George is anxious to get news of his wife, Helen, whom he left three years ago when their financial situation became desperate, hoping to return to her with Australian gold. Unfortunately, he reads in the newspaper that she has died, and after visiting her home to confirm this, has a complete breakdown. Robert Audley cares for his friend, and, hoping to distract him, takes him to his wealthy uncle’s country manor.

While at Audley Court, the country manor, Lady Audley avoids meeting with George, but he and Robert are shown a portrait of her by Alicia Audley, Robert’s cousin. George appears greatly struck by the portrait, somewhat to Robert’s surprise, but he does not comment further on it. Shortly thereafter, George disappears, much to Robert’s consternation. Unwilling to believe that George has simply left him, Robert begins to look into the circumstances around the disappearance. In the course of his investigations, he visits George’s home, and is very taken with George’s sister Clara, who looks startlingly like George. Clara’s passion for finding her brother spurs Robert on, and he eventually discovers that Helen Talboys actually faked her death, assumed a false name, and is none other than his own new aunt, Lady Audley.

When he confronts Lady Audley with this information, she declares to him that she is mad and that she killed George by pushing him down a well in the garden, defending herself on the grounds that he abandoned her originally and she had no choice but to abandon her old life and child and find another, wealthier husband. Shortly thereafter, she attempts to kill Robert by burning down the inn where he is staying. Robert manages to escape, and with the help of his uncle, places Lady Audley in a French madhouse under the name of Madame Taylor, to avoid any shame on the family name.

Robert grieves for his friend George, but the proprietor of the inn, Luke Marks, who is critically injured in the fire, manages before dying to tell Robert that George in fact survived Lady Audley’s murderous attack, and with Luke’s help left again for Australia. Robert is overjoyed at the news of his friend, and proposes to Clara that they marry and go to Australia to find George. Clara accepts, but before they set out George fortunately returns. The narrative ends with Clara and Robert happily married and living in a country cottage with George. Lady Audley dies abroad.

Though the novel's content (crime, mostly bigamy and attempted murder) was considered fairly immoral at the time of publication, it was extremely successful. It has been in print ever since in the United Kingdom.

Analysis and Themes

Lady Audley's Secret plays on Victorian anxieties about the domestic sphere. The home was supposed to be a refuge from the dangers outside. However, in this narrative, the seemingly perfect domestic lady turns out to be a violent criminal who has not only tried to commit murder, but has also committed bigamy and abandoned her child. Lady Audley's crimes disrupt the domestic sphere and remove the safety of the home. This was unsettling to a Victorian readership because it made it clear that the ideas of "the perfect lady/mother" and "domestic bliss" were more idealistic than realistic. In addition, anxieties about the increasing urbanization of Britain are noticeable: Lady Audley is able to change her identity in a city, where she is effectively anonymous. The small town of Audley is no longer a refuge where everyone knows his/her neighbors. The residents of Audley must accept Lucy Graham's account of herself, since they have no other way of identifying her.

Films

  • Lady Audley's Secret 1912 (USA, black and white, silent)
  • Lady Audley's Secret (aka Secrets of Society) 1915 (USA, black and white, silent, directed by Marshall Farnum)
  • Lady Audley's Secret 1920 (UK, black and white, silent, directed by Jack Denton)
  • Lady Audley's Secret 2000 (UK, TV, directed by Betsan Morris Evans)




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Lady Audley's Secret" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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