Lady Audley’s Secret

September 7, 2009

lady-audleys-secret Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon begins with the introduction of Lady Lucy Audley, the new 22-year-old wife of Sir Michael Audley, one of the wealthiest men in the county. Lady Audley was formerly Miss Lucy Graham, a governess at the local doctor’s house, whose background was a bit of a mystery to those in the area. But Sir Michael, a longtime widower in his mid-fifties, fell instantly in love with the beautiful Lucy and didn’t bother asking too many questions before marrying her.

Soon, Sir Michael’s nephew Robert Audley hears of the wedding and decides to visit Audley Court to meet his new aunt. He brings along his friend George Talboys, who has just returned from a three-year stint in Australia where he had gone to make his fortune. Talboys is out of sorts because when he arrived back in England, he learned that his wife, whom he more or less abandoned in the middle of the night, had recently died. Robert thinks that a trip to the country will pick up George’s spirits.

Once the two men arrive at Audley Court, however, they’re surprised to learn that Lady Audley and Sir Michael rushed away to London. Shortly after hearing word of Robert and George’s impending visit, Lady Audley received a telegram notifying her that her old teacher in London was very ill and on her deathbed. Lady Audley insisted on going to see the woman, donned some equestrian apparel for the long journey, and took off. Sir Michael accompanied her. Robert, impatient to see at least a portrait of his beautiful aunt, whom he has heard so much about, breaks into her chambers to get a glimpse. George does likewise — and has a very strange reaction to the painting.

When Lady Audley and Sir Michael return, Lady Audley feigns some illness in order to get out of meeting Robert and his guest. She goes up to her room almost immediately, leaving Robert to speculate that she doesn’t want to meet him for some reason. He doesn’t have time to dwell on this problem, however, because the very next day George Talboys goes missing. Robert at first thinks that George simply decided to go back to Australia due to extreme grief about his wife’s death, but the more he investigates, the more that seems unlikely.

Instead, Robert comes to the conclusion that George Talboys is almost certainly dead. What’s more, Robert believes that Lady Audley is the killer. He just needs to figure out a motive, so he starts digging into her past to see what he can come up with. Sure enough, Robert eventually uncovers her secret.

Liked:

  • The book started off very strongly. I became almost immediately invested in the characters, and wanted to find out what deep, dark secret Lady Audley was hiding.
  • The pacing in the novel was decent. Though this was a fairly long work as far as mysteries go, it did progress pretty quickly, without too many diversions from the main plot.

Disliked:

  • The “secret” was far too easy to figure out. I kept thinking there would be a last-minute misdirection to put me off the trail, but that never happened. What I guessed about Lady Audley — that she was really George Talboys’ wife — turned out to be accurate. It didn’t help that I was able to guess near the beginning of the book, after George first saw the portrait.
  • I didn’t like the fact that Lady Audley’s actions were attributed to “madness” nor the fact that Robert took justice into his own hands and had her committed to a mental institution. He should have let the law take its course.
  • I thought it was kind of dumb to have George Talboys still be alive at the end. That made Lady Audley’s sentence seem even more heavy-handed.
  • Ah, the typical happy ending. Even though Mary Elizabeth Braddon tried to justify it by essentially saying, “Why not?”, I thought it was too pat.

Rating:

I guess some leeway should be allowed to these pioneers in the mystery genre, but even giving Mary Elizabeth Braddon the benefit of the doubt leaves me feeling that Lady Audley’s Secret was an average book at best. There were no other qualities (good writing, compelling characters, interesting motives) to overcome the predictable plot, so I give the book 3 stars out of 5.

3 Responses to “Lady Audley’s Secret”

  1. I found your take on Lady Audley’s Secret interesting, but feel that you may have appreciated the book more if you learned about the Vicotrian era, or simply looked deeper into the book itself. Saying there are no qualities that overcome the predicatable plot is fairly harsh, and is not a rounded view of the work. This book works in layers of meaning and writing style. You may do well to read some acedemic work about the book before judging it too harshly.

  2. I would also add that your plot summary is one of the best I have found online. It is well-written and done in a clear fashion. Still, your judgement of the book sounds uninformed.

  3. Hi J,

    Thanks for your comment. Obviously, EVERY book I read could be appreciated more if I learned about its history, conception, place in its genre, etc. and studied published dissertations on it but I simply don’t have the time to do that.

    My opinions are just that: opinions based on a single reading of the book as a nonacademic modern reader. My rating is not meant to be taken as the final word on a title’s literary merit, particularly since I have no professional training in analysis or criticism.

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