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Thread: Anyone read Lady Audley's Secret?

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Anyone read Lady Audley's Secret?

    I read it as part of this year's Victober (google it). Mary Elizabeth Braddon is not one of the listed authors on here, so I am posting this on this subforum. M.E. Braddon said she wanted to serve God and Mammon, so she wrote popular books, which is maybe why she is not on here. Lady Audley's Secret was one of the most commercially successful novels of the 19th Century, along with The Woman and White and East Lynne, which were all written within several years of each other. I was reading my copy's introduction by Esther Saxey yesterday, which explained a lot was going on under the surface. I thought some of the hero's actions were odd, almost to the point of rum, possibly even questionable. Some of the undercurrents look deliberate, but others I am not sure are not plot holes.

    SPOILERS:

    I had quite a lot of sympathy with Lady Audley. Alright, she had disguised her origins and had married bigamously, but if her husband left her for three years and did not write, she can be forgiven for thinking she had been deserted. What was she supposed to do? She could not divorce. For all she knew, her husband may have died or remarried bigamously himself. Then he returns, threatening to mess up the good thing she had sorted out for herself.

    The hero, Robert Audley, is Lady Audley's nephew by marriage. He was trained as a barrister, but is so rich he never has to take on any briefs. He decides to investigate Lady Audley's past, because he is convinced she is behind the sudden disappearance of his friend, who had disappeared without trace (again). He is reluctant to do this as he knows it would break his uncle's heart. Nevertheless, he does have a stake in exposing her. His uncle has a grown up daughter, but no son. It is not made explicit, but it looks like the Bob is the heir to the estate. What happens if his new aunt bears his uncle a baby boy?

    Towards the end when Bob confronts Lady Audley, the day after she had tried to kill him, she says she has inherited a strain of madness from her mother. She is clearly not mad. The specialist that examines her briefly says as much, but he says she's dangerous. He then gives our hero the address of an amenity on the continent that accommodates mentally disturbed women. What? Our hero suspects her of murder and attempted murder, but takes her to a form of luxury madhouse in Belgium, rather than embarrass his uncle. I suppose, also, he may not want to see her hang, but he is a lawyer. He is supposed to uphold the law.

    Lady Audley is not mad, but I suppose today she may be diagnosed with some sort of clinical condition. A psychologist or a psychiatrist might say she is a psychopath or a sociopath. I gather, psychopaths do not feel natural sympathy for others, but they do not necessarily harm others unless it is in their interests. I doubt these terms had been coined by the mid 19th Century, but it seems like Lady Audley is one of those. She says at one point that she could have lived a good life if only she had been left alone. I wondered about that. She plays the part very well, but it must be a difficult act to keep up.

    The hero, Robert Audley, misses his friend, George Tallboys, an awful lot after he goes missing. Another character comments how close they seemed. When he was introduced, Bob Audley reminded me of Bertie Wooster from the Wodehouse stories, only it turns out he was a bit brighter than Bertie Wooster. He is not interested in his cousin, Alicia, who loves him. He appears not to be interested in women at all, until he meets Clara Tallboys, George's sister. Clara has a strong family resemblance to her brother.

    Luke Marks, a working class villain, suffers some burns when Lady Audley burns down his inn. He had been blackmailing her. Robert Audley was staying at the inn and she was hoping to get rid of them both. Bob Audley saved the man from the burning building and was surprised to hear the man was dying, because the burns were quite light. Luke Marks is a heavy drinker, and Bob concludes he is dying from alcohol related problems. That is a bit strange because Luke is still quite young. Usually you have to drink heavily for quite a long time before your liver packs up. Having said that, I once had a landlord who was twenty-eight. He had been told to pack up drinking by his doctor because he had damaged his pancreas. He cut down his drinking to no more than four pints on a week day, but he still let rip on the weekends. If Luke Marks did die from his alcoholism instead of his burns then Lady Audley did not murder him, but it seems a bit of a coincidence he would die just then. It reminded me of an incident on the news about ten years ago, when a riot policeman hit the leg of a man who was trying to pass by. The man fell over, got up and continued on his way, but only got around the corner of the block before he collapsed with a ruptured liver and died. He was an alcoholic with Cirrhosis of the liver. The policeman was tried but found not guilty. I thought it was odd the way Luke Marks died. For a dying man who had no hope, he had a lot of energy. He was still being abusive to his mother and his wife, and he was able to speak clearly his confession to Bob Audley for about twenty minutes. His mind seems clear enough, yet he dies the next day. It did not seem very plausible to me, but I am not a doctor.

    When George Tallboys goes missing, Bob Audley goes to Liverpool to check if his friend had sailed for Australia again. I can't remember clearly, but I think one of the port officials remembered someone getting on and getting off again, but it did not seem like George, but it was. It turned out George sailed to New York instead. Maybe Bob Audley is not that clever after all. Australia was not the only place you could sail to, and I am pretty sure Liverpool is not the only port you could sail from.

    About midway through the book, Bob confronts his aunt about George's disappearance. George was not seen after he and Lady Audley had been observed together in the Lime Walk. Bob also noticed some bruising on his aunt's wrists the evening after George went missing. Bob tells his aunt he will have all the gardens dug up. Did Bob Audley really suspect that his aunt had killed his friend and buried him in the garden? George Tallboys was a big man and an ex dragoon in the army. Lady Audley was a small woman who played up her femininity. It turned out she pushed him down the well when he was off balance, but it is still quite an imaginative leap to think she had murdered him then and there. If Bob really suspected George was lying under one of the flower beds then he would have suspected Lady Audley of having accomplices, because she was hardly going to drag George Tallboys into the bushes herself and get a spade to bury him in the middle of the night. So why didn't Bob start questioning the servants?

    Anyway, it was still a good book. I wondered whether it would be a good book to teach in schools rather than put school children off Dickens for life.
    Last edited by kev67; 10-24-2020 at 04:13 PM.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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