Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Of Identity and New Beginnings in Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret

“No more dependence, no more drudgery, no more humiliations,” she said; “every trace of the old life melted away – every clew to identity buried and forgotten – except these, except these.”

In this passage, taken from the first chapter of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s publication called Lady Audley’s Secret, the reader is introduced to the inner thought processes of one of the novel’s protagonists by the name of Lucy Graham. Only moments before, Sir Audley had asked the young woman to marry him and she had accepted his proposal.

On a formal level, the critical reader may notice several linguistic features standing out in this passage. For one, the initial repetition of the letter ‘d’ in “dependence” and in “drudgery” causes the passage to sound rhythmic. The same effect is created by the repetition of the word “every” and the repetition of the final phrase “except these”. The entire passage – from beginning to end – almost sounds like a chant.

Moreover, on a content level, the critical reader is also confronted with certain particularities. What appears most striking is the passage’s reference to an “old life” which “melt[s] away” and an “identity” that is “buried and forgotten”. These formulations sound cryptic and seem to be pointing towards a mystery within the narrative’s plot. Considering the context in which these words are uttered by Lucy, they appear odd as well. Having just accepted a marriage proposal, Lucy’s words and thoughts seem to be consumed with negativity. She speaks of “dependence” and “humiliation” and does not choose happy words to signal her optimism for her future as a married woman.

Essentially, what this passage may indicate is that Lucy Graham might be hiding a secret concerning her true identity which will most likely be the center of the whole narrative.


  1. Why do you think the repetition of words beginning in the same letter might indicate that Lucy Graham is hiding her true identity. What is it about the repetition that might indicate this specifically? You bring up an interesting point about how the passage sounds like a chant. Other than Lucy’s hidden identity what else could the repetition mean? Could the author be pointing out some other important details about the possibly strange intentions of Lucy? I think your definitely right about Lucy’s hidden identity and her possibly being Helen. Maybe the repetition might also indicate a sort of nervousness and awkwardness.

  2. I agree, this passage did strike me as sort of chant-like, especially along with the sentence preceding it: “She placed her dim candle on the chest of drawers, and seated herself on the edge of the white bed; still and white as the draperies hanging round her.” The candle sort of stereotypically reminds me as something present during a chant, and I was also thinking that the last line, “still and white as the draperies hanging round her”, is supposed to be a description for not only the bed, but also perhaps for Lucy, rigidly performing her makeshift chant. Either way, this passage is definitely a very suspicious one, and it leaves plenty of questions for the reader.

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