Tag Archives: Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Lady Audley’s Secret Non-Spoilery Review, Not Final Readalong Post

In a way it’s absurd to write a review on a book that’s a 150 years old — it’s been around all that time, there must be something to it, no?  Lady Audley’s Secret is one of the best examples of what’s called Victorian Sensation Fiction, meaning it’s a potboiler, or considered one.  But I think this term is a bit condescending.   Look at any list of best sellers or the shelf of books in the grocery or at the airport – chock full of sensation fiction, some better, some worse, but all of it designed to keep us interested turning pages, gasping in horror, or in lust, or purely curious, help us forget our boring surroundings or our problems for a bit.   

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Lady Audley is, in my view (and not just mine), not as good as Dickens or Wilkie Collins, but is significant for being a good, page-turning read from a woman in Victorian times.  True, her characters haven’t got the depth or humor of those in Bleak House or The Moonstone, but she does something that I think few people did, she made the beautiful woman with blue eyes and golden ringlets a villain.   This is revealed pretty early on, so I don’t think knowing this will spoil it for anyone.   How great a villain she is remains a question until far into the book, but nonetheless, beauty not equalling virtue is fairly revolutionary.  

Also unusual is Braddon’s hero, Robert Audley, who until the beginning of this book has done as little in his life as possible, and since he’s well off, it’s possible to do very little.  Bob is blessed with the ability to lounge, read novels, and apparently never get antsy or feel called upon to accomplish a darned thing.  

Bob runs into his old pal George, just back from Australia, having made his fortune. Shortly after returning home George learns his wife has recently died.  He is utterly crushed.  Bob looks after him because there is no one else and they become the best of friends.   Bob’s easy friendship with George is rather surprising because it becomes clear Bob doesn’t have any other friends.   He’s on good terms with his Uncle and his cousin Alicia, he’s a cheerful, if indolent fellow, and yet he’s got no friends.  Alicia, too, though having no alarming flaws also has no friends.   I don’t think it’s significant, just odd.

Lady Audley herself would be completely irritating if she weren’t evil.  She’s annoyingly childlike, spoiled by her husband, condescending, generally uncaring about anybody except herself.   Her only interests appear to be clothes, jewels, charming everyone in the county and alienating her stepdaughter from her father.  Her feathery curls are mentioned rather too often though occasionally in amusing ways:

My lady, safely sheltered behind her step-daughter, shook her yellow curls at the angry animal, and defied him maliciously.

She alternates between being an impressively cool under pressure person to a typically hysterical Victorian character inclined to fainting and needing to lie on chaises longues with a bottle of smelling salts.

This is quite an enjoyable read.   It’s not terribly long, keeps moving and has fewer paid-by-the-word digressions than a lot of fiction of the time.   Though some of those are pretty absurd.   Braddon waxing poetic about how lovely women are as they pour tea is hard to figure out.   This is our highest calling?   Is she serious?   Hard to tell.   Her women characters are generally strong and smart.   She herself worked as an actress and wrote.   Should she have stuck to pouring tea?  Overall, though an entertaining and surprisingly thought-provoking novel and while maybe not as good as Bleak House, it’s miles and miles better than The Mysteries of Udolpho.

Searching for images of Lady Audley I stumbled across this one of Theda Bara in the movie in 1915.  Oh, how I wish I could see that!   

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Lady Audley’s Seekrit Readalong Pt. 4-5

So secret that last week there was no post!   I meant to finish early and post about both parts yesterday, but you see how that went.   Nonetheless, I post now, belatedly on chapters 16 – 33.  As you can see, this is a big chunk of the book.   And we can safely say that Braddon is no Dickens, though she was an entertaining writer and certainly loads better than Ann Radcliffe.   I compare her Sir Michael and Lady Hellucy’s marriage and it just isn’t at all real.   In Bleak House Dickens portrayed a number of marriages all of which were far more complex, humane and charming than this one.   Along with milady’s feathery ringlets (what the hell does a feathery ringlet look like anyway?) it’s just not a realistic relationship.   Lady A isn’t terribly real either, but at least she has a number of characteristics.  Robert and Alicia are the most lifelike.  

But still stuff keeps happening.   Mostly Bob filling Lady A in on every step of his investigation so that she can more effectively attempt to thwart him.   He never learns.   He darned near becomes a crispy critter because he keeps trying to warn her off, but she doesn’t see herself enjoying a life of penury and frankly, I don’t either.   She didn’t like being poor before, she’d only hate it more now.   Bob has fallen in love with his best friend’s sister who is dramatic and beautiful.   I hope she’s more fun when vengeance has been exacted.   

I looked up gunpowder tea.   Apparently some poor sap in China gets to roll up each tiny individual leaf of green tea.  Why that would make it taste different I don’t know.   I strongly suspect it doesn’t.

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I’m not sure if I’m understanding Hellucy’s note correctly.   It makes it sound to me like there was a secret before she ran away, changed her name and became a bigamist.   But that doesn’t seem to fit in with anything going on.   Robert’s found out all he needs to know, tying the two of them together.   But at least he’s not going to marry his cousin.   I recently saw a new adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac in which there’s a layer of anti-cousin-marrying incorporated which I suspect is not in the original.   Also off-topic, I didn’t know Cyrano was a real guy.  But back to Lady A.

Why didn’t Phoebe know what a horrible person her cousin was?  She grew up with him.   Surely, she should have cottoned on to the fact that he’s an unmitigated boor?   Damn fool thing to go and marry that bastard.  

In another coincidence I saw an episode of Psych in which Shawn keeps making up portmanteaux to describe an arsonist/murderer.  My favorite was arsassin.   So Lady A is now an arsassin, although if she managed to kill Luke, I’d lighten her sentence.   Maybe 20 years instead of life.   Definitely wouldn’t hang her.   

I suspect I’m forgetting something vital.   I’ll come back after I’ve read the other comments.

Lady Audley’s Seekrit Readalong Pt 3 and Bout of Books Pt Weds.

So, last week I was so grippéd by George’s disappearance I kept reading.   Poor George.  What an unnatural child.  Must take after his mother.   After all that time — a year is a long time to a kid — to still call him the big gentleman is very sad.   Though to be fair Robert seems a more natural father than George.   Georgey and Grandpa seem hard up, which shouldn’t really be if they’re being supported by George and Lady A.   Then again they might both be lousy about sending regular funds.   But then the old man drinks and probably gambles.   He cheated the young couple out of almost their last funds when they moved in with him.  Who says Lady A gave the watch?   Just the sort of thing she would do and not make sure they had, oh, say, food and clothing.

When you commit some sort of fraud, make sure to thoroughly burn all telegraphic messages with instructions for same.   Do not leave them lying around for inquisitive people to find.

Robert’s dreams are far more accurate than mine ever are.   Oh, right.   Fiction.

Who knocked at his door?   

I am very glad he is taking this seriously in his casual way.   He will, I’m sure, eventually uncover what happened to George.   

So, why doesn’t Lady A teach Phoebe how to get rid of unwanted husbands?    She seems an apt pupil, eager to learn.

Lady A hates the dog.   And October.   How the hell did Phoebe learn enough French to read novels?

But ooh, Phoebe told Lunkhead, Lady A’s seekrit.   I did not expect him to see the light of another day, but apparently Lady A is getting feeble in her old age (23?) and just pays off the blackmailer.   

Poor Alicia.   Find someone else.   I like Robert, but really, he’s not the one for you.  And definitely Lady A is losing her touch.   The woman who when almost faced with her ex-husband wriggles out of it and coolly sends herself a telegram calling her away, faints at the mere description of the gallows.    Toughen up, Lady A, you’ve got another 200 pages to survive.  

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Bout of Books Wednesday

Not impressive.   20 pages Lady Audley.  20 pages of Sense and Sensibility

Total 138 pages

But at least I am enjoying Sense and Sensibility which I didn’t for the first 28 chapters.   Not sure why exactly.   The characters I guess seemed a bit like an exercise in the Feeling Woman vs. the Thinking Woman, but now they’ve both had boyfriend trouble, it’s a lot more interesting.   A pity they can’t seem to find anyone worth knowing aside from Col Brandon.   Whether they’re nice or terse, they keep spending time with shallow, uninteresting folks.   It’s a bit odd.    But then it’s hard to meet people in the country especially if you don’t have a coach.