Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

The complex relation between the lady and Phoebe

Treated as a companion by her mistress, in the receipt of the most liberal wages, and with perquisites such as perhaps no lady’s-maid ever had before, it was strange that Phoebe Marks should wish to leave her situation; but it was not the less a fact that she was anxious to exchange all the advantages of Audley Court for the very unpromising prospect which awaited her as the wife of her cousin Luke. (Braddon, 110)

This passage implies the complex relationship between Lady Audley and Pheobe and each of their common/individual interest. And this relationship between them leads us to these questions; What made Lucy so anxious and burdened in her position as an assistant/accomplice to her lady that she wants to give up her benefits of being a maid of wealthy, generous lady as Mrs. Audley? What is Phoebe’s weakness that is seized upon Luke that made her go into an unwanted marriage? What does the ‘unpromising’ prospect of the marriage life with Luke indicate?

Firstly, the existence of huge burden that Phoebe has to bear is evidenced by her explicit and implied practices of running the lady’s errands regarding the secret quest the lady is going through. In the earlier chapter, Phoebe had been to London to run errand that should remain confidential to others except my lady and it seems that she must have been participating in additional works for the quest of lady. And Lady Audley’s referring to a tragic narrative of a beautiful woman who committed crime exposes the fear not only Phoebe but also lady herself even has to bear. It raises questions about what lies in their common fear of being revealed who they are or what they did.

Secondly, regarding the weakness of Phoebe that makes her go through the unwanted marriage, we can guess that it may not matter only to herself but also to the lady. In the later chapter of the book, there is a scene in which Phoebe is reprimanded for her sharing of lady’s secret with Luke. It may explain the fear that Phoebe and lady have in common, which makes up the motivation for cooperation out of necessity.

Finally, I want to explore the possible connotations that the word ‘unpromising’ implies. Given the conservative and women-oppressing environments of the Victorian age, it is very likely that the unpromising aspect/future of Phoebe’s marriage life does not simply mean dissatisfaction, but rather a more critical risk to her life, even to the degree of life-threatening. And it is also possible that Lady Audley herself may have gone through the predicament of unwanted, unsatisfactory, oppressive or threatening marriage before she got married to the ‘sweet’ gentleman like Mr.Audley.

2 Comments

  1. One of my favorite aspects of the Phoebe / Lucy relationship is the contrast between their marriages, and what the novel might be suggesting about marriage in general. If we are to assume that Lady Audley is in fact Helen Talboys – a conviction I strongly feel – then there are several degrees of deception that are inseparable from the Audley marriage, be it her hidden identity or the fact that she could not legally marry Michael while George was alive. Meanwhile, Phoebe’s marriage to Luke, while entirely legal, is shown to make her miserable. I believe that Lady Audley’s Secret makes an arching statement that there is no such thing as a good marriage, and that furthermore one’s spouse can never really be healthy for them.

  2. The passage seems almost symbolic or representative of Lucy herself. The fact that Phoebe was leaving a certain life behind in the hopes of an “unpromising” future, is exactly what Lucy did, she left an old life for a new life. I believe that is why Lucy and Phoebe’s relationship is one of the strongest in the book, because they are so similar. They come from the same poor-class, have similar goals, and will try to achieve those goals no matter what. Even if it means marrying someone they don’t love.

    It’s interesting, because Phoebe and Lucy’s relationship seems to revolve around secrets and “woman trickery” (Braddon, 149). There was a passage that showed how much they rely on the support of each other as a way of letting out their secrets, ““Sit down here, Phoebe,” Lady Audley repeated; “sit down here and talk to me. I’m very glad you came here to-night. I was horribly lonely in this dreary place””(Braddon, 296). In this passage Lady Audley appears to feel most comfortable, because Phoebe is her only true friend she trusts, and knows she will understand in situation.

    What if Phoebe was a boy? Would Lady Audley still have such a close relationship with her servant then?

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