Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Crossing Thresholds in Lady Audley’s Secret

“Circumstantial evidence. . . a word dropped incautiously from the over-cautious lips of guilty; the fragment of a letter; the shutting or opening of a door; a shadow on a window-blind; the accuracy of a moment; a thousand circumstances so slight as to be forgotten by the criminal. . .” (Braddon, 123).

This passage shows Robert Audley finally becoming what Victorian society would have expected of an adult.  Rather than lounging around and doing nothing, Robert is putting his education as a barrister into practice.  Here, Robert is explaining to Lady Audley that he believes that George’s disappearance is nefarious in nature and that someone is responsible for it.  A pervading sense of mystery is present in this scene, and the effect that it has on the novel’s characters is drastic.  

Throughout the novel and in this scene, characters cross numerous thresholds, literally and metaphorically.  They cross from sanity into madness (George Talboys) and from the unknown into the known (Robert piecing together George’s mysterious disappearance).  In this passage, Robert mentions the “shutting or opening of a door,” (Braddon, 123) and a “shadow on a window-blind (Braddon, 123). ”  Both of these phrases have the connotation that even the smallest actions are capable of being used as evidence to catch a criminal.  This passage ironically shows Robert simultaneously crossing two significant thresholds, into both enlightenment and adulthood.  Robert is enlightened because he comes to realize that George’s disappearance may be intentional.  He enters adulthood because it is the first time in his life that he is doing something with real meaning, rather than superficially wandering from on frivolous activity to another.  Individual words used in this passage such as “evidence,” “guilt,” “crime,” “penalty,” and “criminal” (Braddon, 123) are all related to the legal profession.  By using these words, and by making connections between mysterious events, Robert asserts himself as a professional seeking to solve a serious problem, something Robert Audley never would have done without George’s disappearance.

1 Comment

  1. I agree with your notion that this is an enlightened moment for Robert. He continues to obsess over circumstantial evidence, as shown by his later encounter with Lady Audley. Robert certainly is focused on small links. He is perhaps so focused on the circumstantial evidence because this is somewhat of a transitional phase for him from the frivolous to the educated, as you said. Besides the fact that Robert is perhaps incapable of solving a murder with anything but small links, the multitude of circumstantial evidence certainly demonstrates the serialization of the text, because every piece is interesting to the reader and slowly, the case against Lady Audley becomes more convincing. I also think that there is an appeal in the idea of small pieces leading to a larger whole. This novel is somewhat akin to a puzzle being slowly placed together, which seems very in line with a prototype detective novel.

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