Mary Elizabeth Braddon, the famous author of this book, made a practice of writing stories that were considered popular culture for the time. Lady Audley’s Secret is considered to be the most loved of all her works (some 75 of them!), and which I think is best described as ‘a murder mystery obsessed with manners’.
From the title itself, I don’t think it’s much of a giveaway to say that Lady Lucy Audley, the new, pretty young wife of Sir Michael Audley, is the woman under scrutiny. The book makes consistent reference to Lady Audley’s doll-like features, her halo of blonde curls and her sparkling blue eyes, and the way both women and men yearn to be near her. The only woman who appears to be unmoved by her charms is Alicia Audley, the fiery brunette daughter of Sir Michael, who chocks up her discontent to a mere difference of personalities: even she is unaware of Lady Audley’s disastrous (and potentially dangerous) secret. But when a good friend goes missing, Sir Michael’s nephew and lazy would-be barrister Robert Audley begins to suspect something murderous.
Lady Audley’s Secret is a comment on the conventions of Victorian society and the way they shape the Victorian stereotypes of gender and class. In particular, this book is a practice in turning and twisting the idea of female perfection on its head, which is sure to have both shocked the readers of the time, and also made it compulsively readable. What more could the people under Queen Victoria’s rule want, than whispers of a woman who is in reality dual in nature, a villainess posing as virtuous.
As far as the actual prose goes, I found Lady Audley’s Secret to be an easier read than Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. There were no laboured paragraphs, and the developing story is the perfect tug-of-war between suspense and knowledge.
In short, Lady Audley’s Secret was such an enjoyable, gratifying sort of escape – I can imagine many a young woman back in the day voraciously reading this on the train, and then hiding the book under her pillow at night (wouldn’t want to give hubby the wrong idea!). Far from seeking justice, by the end of the story see if you, too, fall for Lady Audley’s charms.
Year of Original Publication: 1862.
Year of This Publication: 2010.
Number of Pages: 512.
Book Challenges: Chunkster Challenge 2010; Victorian Literature Challenge 2011.