Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Despair in The Midst of Opulence:

“I should be preaching a very stale sermon, and harping upon a very familiar moral, if I were to seize this opportunity of declaiming against art and beauty, because my lady was more wretched in this elegant apartment than many a half-starved sempstress in her dreary garret… and all the treasures that had been collected for her could have given her no pleasure but one, the pleasure of flinging them into a heap beneath her feet, and trampling upon them and destroying them in her cruel despair” (Braddon 292-293).

In this passage, while surrounded by her bounty of luxurious possessions, Lady Audley sulks over her hopeless situation following the discovery of her crimes. The “Benvunuto Cellini carvings and the Sevres porcelain” are only a few of her many exotic treasures that, as the narrator explains, suddenly do not “give her happiness.” Ironically, she is more miserable in her “elegant apartment” than “many a half-starved sempstress in her dreary garret.” Lucy’s distress in the company of her opulent room represents a distortion of the Victorian values and desires to have worldly treasures at their fingertips. During the Victorian era, English imperialism was on the rise, and the ownership of ornate foreign items became a new obsession. However, Braddon illustrates the possession of exotic riches in a negative light: “all the treasures that had been collected for her could have given her no pleasure but one, the pleasure of flinging them into a heap beneath her feet, and trampling upon them and destroying them in her cruel despair.” The mere suggestion of ruin and disposal of such valuable riches would possibly shock the Victorian reader, for Lucy’s displeasure represents a rejection of the esteemed upper-class life of grandeur. Furthermore, the narrator uses a sarcastic tone while describing Lady Audley’s elaborate belongings. For instance, the narrator describes “wealth and luxury” as “such plasters” and a “circle of careless pleasure-seeking creatures,” which alludes to the superficiality of a seemingly desirable social status. Furthermore, this demonstrates Braddon’s criticism on the materialistic values of the Victorian Society, as she suggests that happiness does not necessarily come from the enviable and lavish life of wealth and luxury.

 

4 Comments

  1. I think that this is a really interesting concept. Important material possessions come up again and again in all of the works of Victorian literature that we have read. I was thinking that this passage about Lucy could also be trying to show that focusing on material possessions and luxury could potentially end in one’s downfall. This idea is also shown in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” because the stepfather is so focused on maintaining his wealth that he eventually dies trying to preserve it. These passages could be warning readers of potentially dangerous behavior, regarding material possession.

  2. At first when reading the passage, I was overwhelmed with the language used. I thought you did a good job delving into a hard text. There was a brief paraphrasing which was splendid for a reader like me who didn’t at first understand. I too agree that the loss of such valuable riches would be shocking to someone in the Victorian Era. I did not pick up on the sarcasm that you said was used by I can see it now. A very interesting interpretation overall

  3. This may be inaccurate, but after reading your blog post it made me question whether or not this is also Braddon representing a dislike for foreign countries and people. Due to British imperialism and the ownership of many foreign countries at the time, the British feared those countries and the people in them. When you said that “Braddon illustrates the possession of exotic riches in a negative light” it made me wonder if the exotic riches that Braddon dislikes includes exotic, or foreign people.

  4. In this passage you notice that Lady Audley is truly surrounded by exotic luxuries from all over the world, could these objects make Lady Audley feel trapped? Her like many other Victorians have the world at their fingertips, she is able to purchase any material good from anywhere in the British Empire, but she is unable to escape her own situation. When these foreign items were first purchased they may have invoked excitement and joy in Lady Audley, but now they may serve as a reminder that she will never be truly free from her secrets.

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