Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Miss Stapleton and Lady Audley

While reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, I could not help but notice some similarities between it and Lady Audley’s Secret. Specifically, Miss Stapleton struck me as very similar to Lady Audley, both in how she is described and through her actions thus far.

Like Lady Audley, Miss Stapleton is described as very beautiful, and almost “exotic”, as we see from Watson’s narration: “I had heard someone describe her as being a beauty. The woman who approached me was certainly that, and of a most uncommon type…for Stapleton was neutral-tinted, with light hair and grey eyes, while she was darker than any brunette whom I have seen in England – slim, elegant, and tall” (Doyle 70). Watson is taken aback by Miss Stapleton’s beauty, and only becomes more shocked when she urgently tells him to go back to London. She tells him she cannot explain why he must leave, and when her brother comes near, she tells Watson to not speak of this to him. Already we can see there is some secret that Miss Stapleton is hiding, and she does not want Watson, or even her own brother, to know what it is (just like Lady Audley wanted to keep her secret from both Sir Audley as well as Robert). Miss Stapleton also shows she is quite capable of lying, when she gives her brother a fake explanation of what she and Watson were talking about.

Clearly, Miss Stapleton is actively interested in keeping her secret, as we see when she runs to apologize to Watson about the mixup. Watson expresses his doubts as she tries to brush off what she told him earlier: “‘Please forget the words I said, which have no application whatever to you.’ ‘But I can’t forget them, Miss Stapleton…Tell me why it was that you were so eager that Sir Henry should return to London.'” (73). This exchange reminds me of when Lady Audley pays a visit to Robert at the inn. Like Lady Audley with Robert, Miss Stapleton wants to make sure Watson does not know too much, but he is very intent on finding out what she is hiding. This idea of a character keeping secrets hidden behind a veneer of beauty reminds me exactly of Lady Audley.

 

2 Comments

  1. I find your comparison of these two female characters very interesting. Especially your connection of beauty and secrets is a good observation. After finishing the whole short novel, I think that Laura Lyons fits in with your findings rather nicely. She, also, is a young woman who is introduced to the audience as an integral part of the investigation. Like Lady Audley and Miss (or rather Mrs.) Stapleton, she hides a big secret that helps Holmes and Watson to eventually solve the case. However, I find noteworthy to state that I also see a lot of differences between these three female characters. While Lady Audley keeps a secret that incriminates herself and she hides it by using her beauty as some sort of disguise, Mrs. Stapleton and Laura Lyons do not actively use their beauty as a form of deception. Still, Mrs. Stapleton keeps a secret in order to protect her abusive husband and Laura Lyons keeps her secret out of fear and love for Mr. Stapleton. While all three women have different motives for their secrecy (and Lady Audley definitely stands out as the most scheming character out of all three), the female character of this time was obviously often associated with a general sense of secrecy and deception.

  2. As the novel comes to a close, the reader learns that these two characters not only share secrets, but also both have secret identities. A large portion of Braddon’s work was deciphering whether or not Lucy Graham and Lady Audley were the same person. Indeed they were the same, and the novel concludes with “your name is Madame Taylor here” (Braddon, 383) as the former Lady Audley enters a madhouse. Miss Stapleton is also not who readers first thought her to be considering Holmes proclaims, “I repeat that the lady is his wife and not his sister” (124).

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