Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Inspiration of a Painter

“I have been trying to catch your likeness; and, while telling your story, you have unconsciously shown me the natural expression I wanted to ensure my success” (Collins, 46)

This passage in Collins’ A Terribly Strange Bed makes readers consider the act of painting a portrait in the Victorian era, and what it took to elicit a natural expression from the sitter. After reading this passage more carefully I could not help but think of a passage in Braddons Lady Audley’s Secret when Alicia is telling Robert about the painting of Lady Audley.

“I think that sometimes a painter is in a manner inspired, and is able to see, equally a part of it, though not to be perceived by common eyes. We have never seen my lady look as she does in that picture; but I think that she could look so” (Braddon, 73).

In this passage Alicia explains how the painter may have seen a look on Lady Audley that she has never seen. Alicia explicitly states how a painter can see a side of the sitter that is less obvious to the untrained eye, but until reading Collins’ story I had not considered how the artist is able to see this look. Potentially Lady Audley had been telling the artist the “secret of her life” or had told the artist a different story altogether. It seems that the artist was able to capture the madness within Lady Audley far before her family was able to see it. This passage foreshadows the ending of the book as does the painting itself. The passage repeats the words look, expression and see/seen. Alicia is clearly hung up on the look and expression on Lady Audley’s face, and finds it strange. I believe Alicia has always been slightly suspicious of Lady Audley and her background and intents. Robert tells Alicia to not be German after she say all of this. From the clues in the surrounding pages it seems being German is to be rude, and Robert is telling Alicia to not be so blunt and rude toward Lady Audley’s appearance.

Overall, this passage was an important clue in foreshadowing the ending to this book, and the connection because quite clear after reading A Terribly Strange Bed.

1 Comment

  1. The significance of portraits during the Victorian Era also becomes evident in The Hound of The Baskervilles, for Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes observe portraits in the Baskerville mansion that reveal “the obvious missing links” in solving the mystery (Doyle 138). Similar to how the portrait of Lady Audley captures her “madness,” the portrait of the infamous Hugo Baskerville displays “a lurking devil in his eyes” (Doyle 137). However, Holmes realizes that the painting reveals more than just Hugo’s evil nature, as it unveils the face of Stapleton, who shares the characteristics and features portrayed in the painting. This further emphasizes the Victorians’ value of the portrait, for it has the power to reveal the natural state and characteristics of the sitter, and it also has the ability to capture his or her heredity.

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