Lady Audley’s Secret By Braddon Lady Audleys Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, is a novel of many elements. It has been placed in many different style or genre categories since its publication. I feel that it best fits under the melodrama or sensational genre, and under the subgenre of mystery. It contains significant elements of both types of writing, so I feel it is best to recognize both, keeping in mind that melodrama is its main device and mystery is a type of Victorian melodrama. In order to understand how the story fits into these categories, it is necessary to explore the Victorian characteristics of each, and apply them to the text.
In addition to establishing the genres, it is important to explain why and how these genres fit into Victorian culture. The term melodrama has come to be applied to any play with romantic plot in which an author manipulates events to act on the emotions of the audience without regard for character development or logic (Microsoft Encarta). In order to classify as a Victorian melodrama, several key techniques must be used, including proximity and familiarity to the audience, deceit rather than vindictive malice, lack of character development and especially the role of social status. The sensational novel is usually a tale of our own times. Proximity is indeed one great element of sensation.
A tale which aims to electrify the nerves of the reader is never thoroughly effective unless the scene be laid out in our own days and among the people we are in the habit of meeting. In keeping with mid-Victorian themes, Lady Audleys Secret is closely connected to the street literature and newspaper accounts of real crimes. The crimes in Braddons novel are concealed and secret. Like the crimes committed by respected doctors and trusted ladies, the crimes in Lady Audleys Secret shock because of their unexpectedness. Crime in the melodrama of the fifties and sixties is chilling, because of the implication that dishonesty and violence surround innocent people.
A veneer of virtue coats ambitious conniving at respectability. Lady Audleys Secret concludes with a triumph of good over evil, but at the same time suggests unsettlingly that this victory occurs so satisfyingly only in melodramas (Kalikoff, 96). Everything that Lady Audley does seems calculated. Unlike violent stories of the past in which a criminal kills for the sake of killing, Lady Audley is brilliant in her bigamy, her arson, and her “murder”. The nature of her crimes reflect a general fear of intimate and buried violence, suggesting a growing anxiety about being threatened from within. Her moves are calculated and planned. Murders and robberies spring from a specific social context, not from psychosis or vindictive malice (Kalikoff, 81).
Murders in Victorian melodramas are often the result of elaborate plans to conceal identity, right a wrong or improve social status. A reader of Lady Audleys Secret might notice upon concluding the novel that he/she knows very little about the characters at hand. Instead of being fully developed into people who are easy to relate to, the characters in this novel are used more as symbols or pawns that are moved in order to bring attention to social or moral problems. This can best be seen in the character of Lady Audley. Lady Audley is not much of a person, rather she is nothing more than a representation of the threatening woman figure trying to make changes in a patriarchal world. Lady Audley evokes a fear of womens independence and sexuality.
As a popular Victorian genre that trades on the power of the secret and frequently sexualized sins of its heroines, sensation fiction provides a resourceful perspective on the contradiction that frame these villainous victims who are simultaneously diseased, depraved, and socially and economically oppressed (Bernstein, 73). Lady Audleys ability to control the men in her life makes her a devilish figure. When she attempts to convince Sir Michael that Robert is insane with no proof and just her innocent looks, she is portraying the fears of many people in Victorian society: a woman with power is dangerous. In Lady Audleys Secret, crimes logically emerge from an environment in which social status is valued above everything. Crimes committed to improving social status usually focus around a man or woman with a past.
Married to a man three times her age, Lady Audley would raise anyones eyebrows, yet she successfully ensnares Sir Michael and very nearly achieves her ambitions. Who is safe when the most ruthless conniver insinuates herself into the aristocracy? (Kalikoff, 84). In Lady Audleys Secret, aristocrats are not dangerous, those who intrude into higher social classes are. Because she committed a social crime by marrying Sir Michael, Lady Audley is suspect from the start. Of particular offences in Victorian melodramas, the most popular tends to be bigamy.
Many novels of the Victorian time hung their narrative on bigamy in act, bigamy in intention, or on the supposed existence of two wives to the same husband, or two husbands to the same wife. Indeed, so popular has this crime become, as to give rise to an entire sub-class of this branch of literature, which may be distinguished as that of Bigamy Novels (Manse, 6). Lady Audleys cunning bigamy and eventual murder represent the mid-Victorian fear of a wicked woman whose manipulative sexuality allows her to pursue dreams of wealth, social status, and power (Kalikoff, 84). With the aspects of melodrama in mind, it is now possible to explore the books role as a mystery. Like their predecessors in the thirties and forties, mid-Victorian melodramas on crime found large and devoted followers.
It has been remarked that the Victorian style of murder mystery originated in a book called The Woman In White, by Wilkie Collins. Collins tale is about a daughter who is bound to marry a man her father has chosen for her on his death bed, and the investigation by her half sister and a man named Walter Hartright into her mysterious death (Peterson, 41). Braddons novel mimics several of the key devices and themes used in Collins tale, like making the hero the sleuth who solves the underlying mystery, rather than using a professional detective and including the idea of madness and/or its connection to insane asylums. Another more famous author that preceded Braddon in writing mysteries was Charles Dickens. In his novel Bleak House, Dickens uses a mansion, a baronet doing on a wife of unknown antecedents, the wifes exhaustion when anything reminded her of that earlier history, and the grave warning she received from the lawyer who had investigated it to contrive a suspenseful plot (Horsman, 217). These concepts are mirrored in Braddons tale as Audley Court, Sir Michaels uncertainty when he first proposed to Lucy about her past, Lady Audleys attempts to avoid any talk of her past, and of course, Roberts grave warning to Lady Audley that he was on to her scheme. In Lady Audleys Secret, Mary Braddon took to the new form like a duck to water. Using these two works as example, Braddon evolved the mystery and created what is her best selling work ever, Lady Audleys Secret.
Mary Braddon first produced Lady Audleys Secret with the sole intention of helping John Maxwell launch a new magazine. Since this failed after only twelve issues, she sent it to another journal to be published a few months later (Peterson, 159). Noticing the recognition that Collins was getting for h …