Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

False Appearances

“Foul deeds have been done under the most hospitable roofs, terrible crimes have been committed amid the fairest scenes… I believe that we may look into the smiling face of a murderer, and admire its tranquil beauty” (Braddon, 143-144).                                                                                                        

            This passage comes from an exchange between Robert Audley and Lady Audley during an  unexpected visit she makes to the inn. Robert demonstrates his role as the detective, suspecting that his dear friend, George Talboys, has been murdered, possibly in an unexpected place: the domestic home. Robert emphasizes the ironic situation of a horrid event occurring in a seemingly safe place. He explains that “foul deeds” and “terrible crimes” have taken place “under the most hospitable roofs” and  “amid the fairest scenes.” The contrast between the harmful acts and peaceful environments implies the greater theme of false appearances throughout the novel. Furthermore, Robert detects false appearances in people, specifically murderers. He states, “I believe that we may look into the smiling face of a murderer, and admire its tranquil beauty.” He reveals his beliefs that a calm and appealing exterior, in this case a “smiling face,” may belie an ugly and dangerous truth, which potentially foreshadows that one or more of the characters in the novel will be discovered to possess a shameful secret or mad behavior. The barrister acknowledges that “we” are oblivious to the dark secrets and crimes that are occurring, suggesting that the characters are being deceived by a harmless appearing “atmosphere,” a house, or another character in the novel. However, because the conversation is between Robert and Lady Audley, the barrister may be hinting that Lucy, herself, is the one who’s innocent appearance is concealing a dreadful secret.

 

3 Comments

  1. The binaries in the novel all seem to be connected to either safety or fear, peace or violence, and beauty or abnormal. It’s interesting how sensation novels, like this one, seem to interest the reader with descriptions of beautiful places or people but then change the story into something horrific. This could potentially be an exaggeration of what the Victorian Era was fearful of or what it was beginning to analyze. These novels may have been trying to speak to different identity and social problems that were hidden under a community’s socially accepted behaviors. Yet, these problems are being presented as something to be fearful of meaning that the Victorian era was still uncomfortable with talking about certain topics at face value.

  2. I really like this passage– this is Robert at his sharpest, making Lady Audley uncomfortable by displaying his own knowledge and competence in the situation, the lack of both being what Lucy wanted to rely on to ensure her own safety. He’s definitely hinting that he knows she’s a murderess; there are a couple of passages where the two of them speak in what would seem to be commonplace comments to an outsider but which, by a tone or expression, both of them understand to be about deeper issues (another example on pg. 148 when Robert and Lucy meet in London). I definitely agree with the idea that Robert’s disinterest in physical beauty allows him to see through the facades that Lucy (and potentially others) put up for the sake of hiding poor character. His lack of passion or admiration for beautiful people lets him be objective, which is critical when a villain’s main weapon is her appearance.

  3. solongandthanksforallthefish

    September 26, 2018 at 4:06 am

    I enjoyed this blog post, and after reading another one about false appearances, I find it even more interesting, because I mentioned how it’s a theme reoccurring throughout the text. While this one is a bit more subtextual, it’s even more important in the larger context of the sensation novel and how groundbreaking it was at the time for a potential act of domestic violence be serialized into a story to gripe readers’ attentions and make them feel unsettled by the idea they could be at harm in the household. Certainly, within the text as well, more implications are made thematically, especially at the large mystery of Lady Audley’s identity, and as we read on, this becomes more and more apparent.

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