Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Lady Audley vs. Alicia Audley

“‘What a severe creature you are, Alicia!” said my lady, making a little grimace. ‘I suppose you mean to infer by all that, that I’m deceitful. Why, I can’t help smiling at people, and speaking prettily to them. I know I’m no better than the rest of the world, but I can’t help it if i’m pleasanter. It’s constitutional.’” (Lady Audley, page 108)

Lady Audley’s acknowledgment that she is overly friendly on purpose gives the implication that she is trying to project this happy image that she created as much as possible so that people won’t suspect her of keeping a secret. This relates to the binary found in this passage where Lady Audley is trying to outwardly portray the ideal Victorian woman and fulfills the “Angel of the household” stereotype – charming and innocent – all while working to shield her secrets from the rest of the characters. Lady Audley is often contrasted with Alicia Audley, who is active (especially for a Victorian lady) and is constantly described as being in motion with her “bouncing walk”. Another notable Alicia characteristic that differs from Lady Audley is that she is full of passion – as evidenced by her shouting at her cousin Robert. Alicia being pushed out of the domestic sphere when Lucy became Lady Audley adds to the binary of Lady Audley doing everything she can to avoid suspicion. However, Alicia thinks that Lady Audley is too friendly, and does not consider her to be genuine. This assessment relates back to the poem “The Last Duchess”. Both Lady Audley and the Duchess are described as being overly nice and borderline flirtatious. Here, however, it seems that Michael Audley is not suspicious of his wife at all and is instead completely under her thumb. Instead is it the “wild” character Alicia and the animals (the dog and horse) that do not trust Lady Audley.

1 Comment

  1. I enjoyed the fact that you saw the connection between this passage and Robert Browning’s poem as well. When I first read this passage, it instantly reminded me of the Duchess from the poem. I agree that Lady Audley seems to be different from the Duchess in the way that her husband, Sir Michael, seems to trust her more. What I wondered, however, is this: Both Victorian texts deal with the implication of women being too flirtatious and ‘friendly’ towards men. While the Duke in the poem is interpreted to be ‘mad’ (I use this term with reservations at this point!) which probably led him to killing his wife out of jealousy and paranoia, in Braddon’s narrative these questions of madness are still present. What remains for us to determine (or rather: interpret) is who this ‘madness’ actually pertains to. Is Robert, whom Lady Audley has called ‘mad’ several times at this point, truly ‘mad’? What other characters in the book could we possibly consider ‘mad’? Is it possible, that the Duke’s ‘male madness’ from Browning’s poem might have shifted to ‘female madness’ of Lady Audley?

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