Lady Audley’s Secret (1862)

Lady Audley’s Secret is brisk, vivacious reading. The book was a “sensation” in its heyday (hence the advent of the sensation novel), but without a doubt, it continues to have an impact in the modern day marketplace. Anything and everything, with regard to opinions and critical commentary, has been doled out in volumes, and it’s a fine pleasure to observe how the trend doesn’t seem to be letting up.

What pulled me in was the title. I mean, who doesn’t hope to discover the details of some juicy, deliciously-demonic secret? Yet as I let the novel soak into the pores of my literary mindset, I found myself drawn to the connection which forms between a despairing origin story, and the events which seem naturally to follow. Of course I was strung along by the narrative, whizzing through pages as I tore with my itchy fingers, but because I could relate to the origin story, I was intrigued by the unfolding behavior.

What we find when reading Lady Audley’s Secret are the effects of the psychology of poverty, when they evolve into the extremes. A girl is born into the throes of a money-less life and as can be imagined, the situation is to be deplored. Can anyone blame a person when the engines of sociopathy ignite under such circumstances? In a world where the privileged go flitting by, flaunting their lovely clothes and dazzling the eye with their lovely products and their polished jewels, is it a wonder that people are sometimes floored, wondering how it is that a person can be in dire need of even the most basic necessities, only to notice someone else who apparently has no worries, whatsoever?

Tent Camps of Northern California

The problems of poverty and class discrepancy don’t seem much different now, from that which is suggested in Braddon’s novel, as well as many other Victorian novels. Can it be imagined, the number of those to develop sociopathic tendencies in these areas?

Lady Audley’s Secret embodies the notion of social frustration, the phenomenon which underscores certain levels of sociopathic behavior. Some people will do whatever it takes to climb up out of the muck, creating that modus operandi in which morality is forced to take a back seat. Life is too difficult, too depressing, too painful, and so to form a wall against the horrid ugliness seems a survival tactic. We sense the pain in the novel, the emotions springing from abandonment and dejection, which form the traumatic origins often associated with the sociopath. And then we watch as the essence of danger comes to loom in the air. “‘I do not believe she [Lady Audley] is mad,’ states Dr. Mosgrave. ‘…She has the cunning of madness, with the prudence of intelligence. I will tell you what she is…She is dangerous!'” (Braddon 321-323).

Though we know how the story goes, the end doesn’t leave us with a sense of justice. It becomes another phenomenon in and of itself, that tendency to look down upon the plight of those who’ve been born into less-than-desirable circumstances, and we say to ourselves, “Thank God that isn’t me.” Do we really know what we would do, how we would act, should the same happen to us?

As a masterpiece of the literary canon, Mrs. Braddon creates her narrative as a master painter approaches the canvas. The modern reader takes issue, the Victorian use of description as it is called, but the novel would not be what it is without it. Braddon leaves no stone unturned, and if her skills of describing the scenery are exquisite, her skill in coloring human emotion is none-the-less. The feelings of each character filters into our hearts as though we are a part of the story, and this is how we come to understand the Lady herself. She is perpetually superficial to the point of suspicion, so that when we experience her pulse-pounding anxiety, we understand the complexity of the human condition. Lady Audley is not superficial, she is protective, because she finally has what she has never had, and will go to any length to keep it.

Among all the commentaries and opinions, it is also because of the placement of the Lady’s behavior, as it is viewed under the microscope of elaborate language, combined with a view into how her behavior affects her emotionally, that we cannot wonder how Lady Audley’s Secret came to be the astonishing and long lasting success that it has come to be.

Braddon, Mary Elizabeth. Lady Audley’s Secret. 1862. Oxford University Press; Reissue edition, January 13, 2012.

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Fourteen Tales (2017)

Fourteen Tales is a debut collection of short fiction that encompasses the realm of the paranormal and the psychological. Readers will find more than a gripping ghost story, but will encounter tales which draw forth the darker shades of human nature. A young man contends with an overbearing elderly woman, but encounters a dilemma much more ominous; a lone renter falls for a neighbor, but learns a story that seems impossible to believe, until the truth is revealed; a single mother caught in a power outage realizes the facts about her departed husband; a little boy spends an evening with the most unimaginable couple of kids; an old man discovers in the worst way, and with a little help, a pathway to immortality. This material is presented as a means to view introspectively the ways in which the supernatural collides with the tangible world, and the reactions and behaviors sure to ensue. Not without its moments of levity, the collection is a reader friendly text that applies skilled use of language to create simple worlds, but leads to the kind of reading certain to make one ponder before turning the lights out at night.

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For Love of the Paranormal

In spite of the demise of spiritualism, followed by a gradual increase in society’s atheism, interest and studies in the paranormal in the modern age are as brisk and as fresh as ever. With every passing year a new television show or radio program will spring into the mix with new perspectives on what may or may not wait for us on the other side. What it does for the validity of the subject, it seems, is largely irrelevant. The cry of the masses declares, “We love our world of the paranormal!

As far as the fact pertains to literature, even “great” literature, it’s tempting to suggest that the consensus is a mixed bag. For example, it’s written that the great Shakespeare critic Harold Bloom once labeled Stephen King as nothing more than a “writer of penny dreadfuls.” In a seeming elaboration of Bloom’s opinion, David Stuart Davies tells us, “In general, the literati tend to look down their noses at the ghost story, regarding it as a lower form of Literature and those writers who contribute to the genre as wordsmiths of the second rank. As this Wordsworth series of Mystery & Supernatural fiction has demonstrated time and time again, this is a grave misconception.”

The series he refers to is none other than The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton, and he is on the mark.

Edith Wharton’s stories are like gold kept in a box, whereupon opening the view grows filled with all manner of delight. Dripping with atmosphere that comes through in a mastery of the English language, her stories do more than make us wonder about what may be waiting for us just around the corner, they engender us with a sense of satisfaction. Realism abounds so that we are allowed to think vastly about our own beliefs, because we are immersed in worlds that appear non-fictional.

And this may be the element that keeps me coming back to the ghost story, as a reader and a writer. Of course, I enjoy the wonderment and the chills, the process of enlisting the imagination, and the interest involved with learning why certain people become ghosts. But I also like the idea that as the pages of a supernatural work unfolds, I feel a connection to a universe that is so much immensely larger than I; and in this, I tend to search my feelings as they pertain to the power in my life that is greater than myself.

We can’t get around the well-known issue that has haunted paranormal literature throughout the ages, from tawdry plots bound by shoddy writing, to unnecessary descriptions of gore and the like. Yet I strive to believe that it’s Pulitzer Prize winners like Edith Wharton who redeem the genre. In this fashion, we can love our Shakespearean critics like Mr. Bloom for edifying our understanding of great literary works, all the while keeping genre writers on their toes, but it doesn’t mean we have to agree with him.