Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Category: 2016 Blog Post (page 1 of 11)

Crossing Thresholds in Lady Audley’s Secret

“Circumstantial evidence. . . a word dropped incautiously from the over-cautious lips of guilty; the fragment of a letter; the shutting or opening of a door; a shadow on a window-blind; the accuracy of a moment; a thousand circumstances so slight as to be forgotten by the criminal. . .” (Braddon, 123).

This passage shows Robert Audley finally becoming what Victorian society would have expected of an adult.  Rather than lounging around and doing nothing, Robert is putting his education as a barrister into practice.  Here, Robert is explaining to Lady Audley that he believes that George’s disappearance is nefarious in nature and that someone is responsible for it.  A pervading sense of mystery is present in this scene, and the effect that it has on the novel’s characters is drastic.  

Throughout the novel and in this scene, characters cross numerous thresholds, literally and metaphorically.  They cross from sanity into madness (George Talboys) and from the unknown into the known (Robert piecing together George’s mysterious disappearance).  In this passage, Robert mentions the “shutting or opening of a door,” (Braddon, 123) and a “shadow on a window-blind (Braddon, 123). ”  Both of these phrases have the connotation that even the smallest actions are capable of being used as evidence to catch a criminal.  This passage ironically shows Robert simultaneously crossing two significant thresholds, into both enlightenment and adulthood.  Robert is enlightened because he comes to realize that George’s disappearance may be intentional.  He enters adulthood because it is the first time in his life that he is doing something with real meaning, rather than superficially wandering from on frivolous activity to another.  Individual words used in this passage such as “evidence,” “guilt,” “crime,” “penalty,” and “criminal” (Braddon, 123) are all related to the legal profession.  By using these words, and by making connections between mysterious events, Robert asserts himself as a professional seeking to solve a serious problem, something Robert Audley never would have done without George’s disappearance.

Is Lady Audley’s facade finally cracking?

“Faint shadows of green and crimson fell upon my lady’s face from the painted escutcheons in the mullioned window by which she sat; but every trace of natural colour of that face had faded out, leaving it a ghastly ashen grey. Sitting quietly in her chair, her head fallen back upon the amber damask cushions, and her little hands lying powerless in her lap, Lady Audley had fainted away (Braddon 123-124).”

In this quote Lady Audley is responding to the description of circumstantial evidence by Robert Audley. Robert states that some examples of circumstantial evidence include “a scrap of paper;a shred of some torn garment; the button off a coat; a word dropped incautiously from the over-cautious lips of guilt (Braddon 123).” After reading this description from Robert, the baby’s shoe and the little lock of hair found by Phoebe in Lady Audley’s jewelry box immediately come to mind. The objects found inside of Lady may have nothing to do with Georges disappearance, but Lady Audley’s reaction to this description of circumstantial evidence may suggest otherwise.

My experience with victorian era literature is limited as is my knowledge of victorian era social cues, but when someone passes out after being confronted with information, that information must hit that person right where they are emotionally vulnerable or guilty of something. That spot for Lady Audley is most likely her secret and anything connected to that secret. Those little items found in her jewelry box, if they are actually connected to Lady Audley’s secret, may fall fall under the category of circumstantial evidence. This could explain why “every trace of natural colour in Lady Audley’s face faded out, leaving it a ghastly ashen grey” after hearing Robert’s description. I think as Robert gets closer to finding out George’s whereabouts, we may see Lady Audley become more and more anxious, because she may be more connected to George than originally thought.

Lady Audley’s Practiced Demeanor and Robert Audley’s Slight Interrogation

“Better, perhaps that I should be out of the house – better, perhaps, that I should never have entered it…Oh, pray, do not be alarmed, Lady Audley,” he said gravely. “You have no sentimental nonsense, no silly infatuation, borrowed from Balzac, or Dumas fils, to fear from me.” Excerpt, Braddon p. 142

In this passage, Robert Audley has begun to interrogate Lady Audley. Leading up to this, Lady Audley had been talking with Robert about how “unfortunate” she thought it was that Robert had to be kicked out of their house. The reason she gives for Robert Audley being forced to leave is that her husband, Michael Audley, was concerned with it being “dangerous” for a man to be smoking so much around his wife. She tells Robert than he is owed an apology, because of her husband’s “silly thinking.” To the reader, this is clearly a lie, as we have heart the real reason Robert was turned away, and that Lady Audley clearly felt that no apology was needed. And although Lady Audley lied to Robert, she did it with her usual, “peculiar childish vivacity, which seemed so natural to her.” In this excerpt, Robert Audley shows the small amount of knowledge he has that she has malevolent intentions. By saying that it might have been better if he had never come into the house, Robert begins to bring up the idea that there is something dangerous about being inside it. After he says this, Lady Audley looks “with an earnest, questioning gaze,” that Robert fully understands. Although she looks up at him seemingly in earnest, what Robert understands is that this is all for show. He tells her not to be alarmed, as she shouldn’t expect any “nonsense,” or “silly infatuation” from him. He tells her that he will not have to borrow womanly tactics from the writing of Dumas, and the “fils” in them. This is Robert telling Lady Audley that he will not be pretending to be ignorant, or that he will not the true meanings of his words with anything “borrowed.” This passage shows the reader that Lady Audley is constantly retaining her façade around everyone, but that Robert Audley is challenging it.

 

Blackmail

“Oh yes, you will though,” answered Luke, with quiet insolence, that had a hidden meaning. “You’ll make it a hundred, my lady.” Lady Audley rose from her seat, looked at the man steadfastly in the face till his determined gaze sank under hers; then walking straight up to her maid, she said in a high, piercing voice, “Phoebe Marks, you have told this man!” (Braddon 113)

From the first appearance of Lady Audley, I have questioned her motives towards the Audley household. Obviously, we all question if she is who she says she is, along with guessing the meaning of the ring and strands of hair she keeps with her. But what else she could she be hiding, and what caused her to share such secrets with Phoebe?

Lady Audley had presumed that what she was doing was a good deed by offering Luke money to drop the presumed marriage between him and Phoebe. She did not expect that he would be aware of her secret, or that Phoebe would go behind her back to tell him. The overall conflict had Luke demand more money and silently hinted at blackmail. The big question to be taken from this is, what is Lady Audley’s secret?. Is it so bad that it would allow someone to extort her for money?

The passage reverts back to the main questions we have all had about the novel so far. What is Lady Audley hiding? This passage only deepens curiosity about what she may be hiding. When Lady Audley confronted Phoebe about why she told, all phoebe had to say was, “He forced it from me, or I would never, never have told!” How Luke even knew the secret was questionable. Phoebe telling him possibly out of her own will may be an abstract thought, but may just be possible as there are some inconsistencies within the story.

Overall, I see this short text as another form of drama arising due to Lady Audley who seems to be inciting it with her sketchy past and questionable motives towards her choices of becoming Lady Audley.

Innocuous Illusion vs. Grim Reality in Lady Audley’s Secret

“Foul deeds have been done under the most hospitable roofs, terrible crimes have been committed amid the fairest scenes, and have left no trace upon the spot where they were done. I do not believe in mandrake or in blood-stains that no time can efface. I believe rather that we may walk unconsciously in an atmosphere of crime, and breathe none the less freely. I believe that we may look into the smiling face of a murder, and admire its tranquil beauty.”

 

I’d like to draw attention to the fact that in the book, there’s an ongoing theme of facades and of harmless, even positive and pleasurable things, concealing dark secrets, even if said dark secret is only ever hinted at within the work (as of yet). Lady Audley is–we know full well, both from the way the world reacts to her (as outlined in my classmates’ blog posts) and from other evidence in the story–the primary example of a beautiful façade versus a dark and underlying truth. We know nothing about her; she shows up out of the blue; dogs are frightened of her; and there are other hints.

 

There are also some fairly obvious inferences that can be made (Braddon is not adept at hiding her mysteries–but maybe that’s a topic for another post) that as of the end of volume 1 have not been laid out clearly for to the reader. So even though it’s not been stated outright, we know that Lady Audley is almost certainly George Talboys’ “deceased” wife.

 

I believe Robert is wrong about this. Robert thinks that any number of atrocities can be committed in a place, by a person, involving an object–and there could be no trace. But maybe he doesn’t want to see those traces. In the case of Lady Audley, there IS a trace. There are several traces that Robert has only begun to see.

 

Indeed, it is very possible that Robert has done what he has described many times–he has looked into the smiling face of someone who may very well be a murderer.

 

Animal Instinct About Lady Audley

“Lady Audley happened to enter the room at this very moment, and the animal cowered down by the side of his mistress with a suppressed growl. There was something in the manner of the dog which was, if anything, more indicative of terror than of fury, incredible as it appears that Caesar should be frightened of so fragile a creature as Lucy Audley” (Braddon, 107).

 

This passage continues to reveal that Lady Audley’s true personality might not be the one she outwardly portrays to others.  The words, “cowered,” “terror,” and “frightened” (Braddon, 107) are all used to contrast and question the reaction of Alicia’s Newfoundland, Caesar, with Lady Audley’s “fragile” (Braddon, 107) persona. This juxtaposition of the aura Lady Audley gives off and the appearance she wishes to convey to others, raises questions of whether or not Lady Audley is genuine in her being. Lady Audley was previously described as having “the innocence and candour of an infant” (Braddon, 55) which makes  it strange that an animal should be fearful of a person as “fragile a creature as Lucy Audley” (Braddon, 107). The binary of sincerity vs. façade is once again brought up. This passage further reveals that Lady Audley is not as innocent as she wants people to believe. Caesar is “terror[ified]” when she enters the room after previously “roll[ing] his eyes” (Braddon, 107) and appearing calm. It was only after Lady Audley’s entrance that his personality changed. It is unknown what specifically sparks the change in the dog, but the reader can infer that the presence of Lady Audley has caused a disturbance. Dogs are often said to be a good judge of character, which makes the reader even more skeptical of this scenario. In the next chapter, Robert Audley also mentions “a change!” (Braddon, 121) that Lady Audley has brought about. As the novel progresses, readers continue to see the responses of and to Lady Audley that seem odd and out of place. This adds to the question of who Lady Audley actually is and what is her secret?

In an Artist’s Studio–

In summary, ‘In an Artist’s Studio’ is about the male artist’s tendency to objectify his female sitters or ‘models’ for his paintings and sculptures; the woman is merely a passive object on which the artist projects his fantasies and Christina Rossetti ‘dreams’. Written by a woman, the poem at first seems confusing  The artist is seen as a sort of predator or parasite, ‘feed[ing] upon’ the face of the female model – ‘by day and night’, we learn, the odd mention of ‘night’ suggesting some sort of male monster or demon. Rossetti seeks to demonstrate how women are treated and how they are viewed. This poem examines the tendency of men to objectify women in art and the way that women are shown to suffer as a result. The poem presents us with a male artist who has one beautiful muse who is the subject of all of his paintings. We can see therefore that in his art the male artist objectifies her and limits her to this “one meaning.” The poem becomes more sinister as we see that “He feeds upon her face by day and night,” which presents us with an almost vampiric image of how the artist treats this unnamed woman. As the poem ends it is clear that in a sense the artist is not strictly painting the woman before him, because the woman he is painting is merely an object for his satisfaction.

“Man is not truly one, but truly two” : transformation scenes

“These illustrations are from an edition of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde published in 1930. They are by S G Hulme-Beaman, who was better known as a children’s book illustrator.” See more at: http://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/jack-the-ripper#sthash.weftgYud.dpuf 

 

“La Belle Dame” of Death

   “Ballads have strong associations with childhood: much children’s poetry comes in ballad form. […] Ballads emphasize strong rhythms, repetition of key phrases, and rhymes. […] Ballads do not have the same formal consistency as some other poetic forms, but one can look for certain characteristics that identify a ballad, including [a] simple language, […] stor[y-like poetry], […] ballad stanzas – consisting of four lines, rhymed ABCB (or sometimes ABAB–the key is that the second and fourth lines rhyme), repetition, […] and third-person objective narration.

   It is the third-person narration that makes John Keats’ poem “La Belle Dame sans Merci” (1819) peculiar as a ballad. The poem opens with two descriptive third-person “objective” narration stanzas in which the poet sets the environment. We are in an idyllic dark location where a “knight-at-arms” (line 1) ails “alone and palely loitering”, being also “haggard and so woe-begone” (line 6).

   The poem suddenly changes towards a more subjective narration, the audience can’t easily understand who “I” is who is telling the story until the very last stanza where the narrator is indeed the knight-at-arms that “sojourn[s t]here, alone and palely loitering” (lines 45-46).

“La Belle Dame Sans Merci” by ConfusedLarch

   The question here is who is this Belle Dame? Weirdly described as “a faery’s child” (line 14), with “wild” (line 16) eyes, this woman can easily make our narrator fall in love with her and vice versa, because she tells him “I love thee true” (line 28) even if she spoke “in language strange” (line 27). Everything happening between the two is so fast that once we read “there I dreamed – Ah! Woe betide! – the latest dream I ever dreamt” (lines 34-35), we feel relieved because we realize that she is a demon-like figure that kills men by seducing, abducting, deceiving, and eventually using them for her own pleasure. She is, after all, what the other fate-like “kings and prince” (line 37) tell him, she is “La Belle Dame sans Merci [that] thee hath in thrall!” (lines 39-30).

   I would argue that she does not represent what many critics say she represents: the femme fatale that puts a man to disgrace. Back when he was writing this poem, John Keats had recently found out about his disease that would have surely brought him to death. Because of this, one can tell that he focused his lyrical attention on death. In this poem, the elfin-fairy woman is perhaps death itself. He cannot say no to her, she appears out of nowhere, she killed brave “warriors” (line 38) before him, and eventually “lulled [him] asleep” (line 33). There’s nothing that, metaphorically speaking, can’t refer to death, particularly if the first thing he sees is the flower of death:

“I see a lily” (line 9).

The Result of Temptation in “The Lady of Shallot”

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” is a poem that tells the story of a cursed lady imprisoned in a tower on the island of Shalott near the city of Camelot. Through her curse, she is unable to look outside of her window into the real world. As a result, she is forced to live a life where she weaves a tapestry all day every day unable to see the world except through the reflection of her mirror. Although the tale seems to focus on an unattainable love, a much more Victorian understanding is unraveled when one focuses on the role of the lady of Shallot.

No time hath she to sport and play:

A charmed web she weaves alway.

A curse is on her, if she stay

Her weaving, either night or day,

To look down to Camelot.

She knows not what the curse may be;

Therefore she weaveth steadily,

Therefore no other care hath she,

The Lady of Shalott.

In the first stanza of the second part of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” a woman is introduced, described as unattainable, composed, and dedicated to her womanly tasks – all of which an ideal Victorian woman should embody. She is described as being “cursed.” However, the reason for her curse is unknown to readers, as the woman herself does not even known the reason. Despite the passing of knights on horseback, priests, etc., the lady “still delights [in her web] / To weave the mirror’s magic sights,” showing how dedicated she is to fulfilling her tasks (which is weaving the beautiful world around her).

Despite the “perfection” to which the lady seems to embody, her downfall becomes evident when a man by the name of Sir Lancelot passes by her tower. Depicted as the most dashing and chivalrous of all knights, the lady of Shallot cannot help but look away from her mirror to see the image of the great knight from outside of her window.

She left the web, she left the loom

She made three paces thro’ the room

She saw the water-flower bloom,

She saw the helmet and the plume,

She look’d down to Camelot.

Out flew the web and floated wide;

The mirror crack’d from side to side;

‘The curse is come upon me,’ cried

The Lady of Shalott.

Up until this point in the poem, the lady of Shallot is considered the ideal woman because she is isolated from society’s temptations, making her a very innocent individual. However, when Lancelot comes to the scene, she is no longer the innocent woman she once was because she is tempted by her desire to see the real Lancelot – that is, Lancelot from outside of her window, not from the reflection in her mirror. From this point forward, she exits her tower, entering a world where evil lurks.

This particular poem breathes domesticity. While men are constantly passing the tower doing “manly” things (most likely), the lady of Shallot is confined to her tower, where she is subdued with tasks such as “weaving a web.” As a result of her unawareness of the outside world, the lady leads an ideal life (from a Victorian standpoint) because she is unaffected by society’s temptations. However, the instance that she decides to look away from her mirror outside into the real world, she knows what is going to happen: death.

Tennyson’s poem, “The Lady of Shallot,” seems to function as an admonition. He introduces an interesting story about a woman and her newfound infatuation for the great Sir Lancelot to write that, when women escape their domestic lifestyle comprised of “womanly” tasks, the ultimate conclusion is death.

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