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.