Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

The Failing Aristocracy in Victorian Literature

When looking at The Hound of Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle through the lenses of Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Braddon, how young men in the aristocracy can be naïve and somewhat prideful. In both novels appear young aristocratic male characters who are the last living male heirs to their family’s estate who have been thrown into a mystery surrounding the well-being of their family. In The Hound of Baskerville Sir Henry Baskerville says, “Whichever it is, my answer is fixed. There is no devil in hell, Mr. Holmes, and there is no man upon earth who could can prevent me from my final answer.’ His dark brows kitted and his face blushed to a dusky red as he spoke” (Doyle 38). Henry does not listen to Sherlock’s or Dr. Mortimer’s advice. He assumes that he knows more than both the men even though they are more educated and older than he is. Henry does not like the idea of someone telling him what to do or having any sort of control over him, hence he does not care if there might be a threat of danger to him. Henry’s reaction to Sherlock’s warning reveals how he is not only ignorant of the situation, but that he is prideful that he cannot imagine being at the will of someone else.

This depiction of the aristocracy also appears in Lady Audley’s Secret, “He [Robert] was a handsome, lazy, care-for-nothing fellow, of about seven-and-twenty; the only son of a younger brother of Sir Michael Audley” (Braddon 35). Like Henry, Robert is also an ignorant and entitled person. He does not work very hard and it is seen many times in the novel that he is not a particularly smart person. These two men together represent how the aristocracy is not as amazing as sometimes imagined.

4 Comments

  1. I totally agree with how you wrote about Robert and Henry being entitled and blind to any warnings people with less of a “status” give them. I find it ironic because I think it mentions in the book how Henry owned a farm previous to his inheritance of the large estate and wealth. I would have assumed he would show little more empathy to Holmes and listen to his advice. After all, he is Sherlock Homles and is well known. This shows the role and character of wealthy entitled aristocratic men in the Victorian era. In the novel when Holmes asks Dr.Watson a question relating to the case, Henry gives a Watson a look of what would this assistant know more than Holmes himself. Little does he know that Watson does have fair enough experience and will be reporting back to Holmes of the Baskerville case. Not saying that Watson is a 100% reliable but Holmes seems to trust him enough. Henry will hopefully realize how both these men are trusted and only trying to help.

  2. I like your analysis of the aristocracy in both texts. I think historically with the shift in the economy and industrial boom, there was space for the aristocracy to be painted more honestly. By painting aristocrat like Henry and Robert as selfish and lazy, Braddon and Doyle were able to relate to their readers, who were middle-class working people, that probably already viewed the aristocracy in this light. I am curious to learn more about the about the way authors criticized or drifted the public representation of the aristocracy at the time

  3. It’s interesting to see how you end your post with “the aristocracy is not as amazing as sometimes imagined”; yet, there is still an emphasis on the importance of status and wealth in a Victorian society, as seen in both novels. In “The Hounds of the Baskevilles,” Mr. Frankland “refused to have anything to do with [his daughter], because she had married without his consent” (Conan Doyle, 105). Laura Lyons’ decision to marry an artist for loveis similar to George’s situation in Braddon’s novel. Like Ms. Lyons, George faced disownment from his father too considering, “My father hear[d] that I had married a penniless little girl… than he wrote me a furious letter, telling me he would never again hold any communication with me” (Braddon, 23). So, while the actions of the aristocracy may be underwhelming, the status they hold is of upmost importance.

  4. I didn’t think of Sir Henry that way before but your argument provided me with some new perspective about the aristocracy in both novels. Description or suggestion of certain characters does not confine itself to the position of neutral conveyance but can work to support or criticize certain values attached to those characters. As the two protagonists of the Sherlock Holmes, Holmes and Watson are celebrated not because of their lineage but because of their pursuit of modern values (rationality, scientific methods), it might be interpreted that Doyle wanted to boost modern values by attaching it to the characters who are admired by their readers. However, I want to raise a question about Sir Henry’s aristocracy. It seems true that he is such an idle figure. But could he indeed be regarded as someone who represents aristocracy? He had been detached from Baskerville Hall long ago and been living around North America where the practice of aristocracy cannot be discovered. I rather find it interesting that person who has been living apart from aristocratic values could adapt so fast that he decided to be back immediately at Baskerville Hall and contributed himself to the family goal.

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