“He had very little pleasure in returning to the stately mansion, hidden among sheltering oaks and venerable beeches. The square, red brick house, gleaming at the end of a long arcade of leafless trees was to be forever desolate, he thought, since Alicia would not come to be its mistress. A hundred improvements planned and thought of were dismissed from his mind as useless now…all these things were now so much vanity and vexation of spirit” (Chapter 16)
“The shadows of the early winter twilight, gathering thickest under the low oak ceiling of the hall, and the quaint curve of the arched doorway…he could see no shadows when she was by” (Chapter 16)
Although a passage about a less important character to the story, I found it striking due to its similarities to the overarching plot points. Considering the circumstances of other relationships in the story, a great deal of hope (or more accurately, an expectation of how things should be) accompanies these feelings of love; whether it’s Alicia wanting a certain kind of care and attention from Robert, Sir Michael expecting a different response when he proposed to Lucy, or George expecting his wife to be alive when he arrived at London. In all these cases, the “victims” of love are blinded by this delusion that their hope gives them. I think a compelling connection can be made to the theme of light and dark, as it appears shortly after the text is done talking about Harry Towers; and how we’ve established that the theme of light and shadow represents the line between truth and delusion. It’s also important to note that Lucy is also in this passage, drawing a parallel between Harry Towers and Sir Michael’s condition. Despite being a very small addition, the quote “he could see no shadows when she was by” is rather important. Considering this statement when evaluating other relationships in the story, we can see this hope in love is rather comforting, if not obstinate. The characters could be comfortable with their own imagination of reality like Alicia, or they could ignore the truth and choose blissful ignorance instead like Sir Michael; despite noticing that something is clearly wrong when he proposed to Lucy, Michael instead chooses to be happy that she agreed to marry him. We can clearly see Harry Towers suffering when his ego and hopes were crushed within a day, which is foreshadowing the miseries ahead when the bubble of delusions about Lucy Audley is inevitably popped.
The passage I chose is on pages 275-273 of chapter 11, volume II. In this passage, Lucy tries to convince Alicia that Robert is “mad” after accusing Lucy of killing George. This passage is especially important because it develops the theme of appearances and deception and sensation literature. Lucy begins by repeatedly labeling Robert as “eccentric.” As she further develops that idea to Alicia, she changes the label to “mad.” Lucy convinces Alicia that Robert is crazy and suggests that Sir Audley would believe anything that she tells him. Not only does Lucy remove the spotlight off her secrets, but she tricks Alicia and intends to use her pull on her husband to ruin the reputation and credibility of Robert. This suggests that appearances are integral in the Victorian era. It also shows how easy it is to utilize misunderstandings of mental health to create an untruthful perception of others in the Victorian era. All of this is important because it is revealing of Lucy’s lack of morals. She is willing to use her charm over Sir Audley to portray a sane family member as mentally unwell to protect herself. Furthermore, Lucy’s intense response to the accusations suggests that there is some truth to them. This means it is likely that Lucy indeed has a history with George Talboys. We can reasonably speculate that Lucy was likely married to him, however, there is yet to be enough information regarding the accusations that she killed him. Moreover, outward appearances in comparison to limited knowledge of the inner thoughts and pasts of characters have proven to be an integral part of sensation novels as it allows for tension and reader speculation.
“Whatever he would have said died away into inarticulate gasps which seemed to choke him, and sinking into a chair, he dropped his face upon the table and wept aloud. Perhaps in all the dismal scenes of domestic misery which had been acted in those spare and dreary houses- in all the petty miseries, the burning shames, the cruel sorrows, there had never been such a scene as this.” (173)
This passage was highly intriguing to me due to the strong tone and descriptive use of language within it. The graphic descriptions such as “died away” and “gasps which seemed to choke him” intensify the emotion of fear and sadness that the character was experiencing at the time. Then the author compares this scene to other descriptive experiences. As she does this, she uses more graphic descriptions to emphasize the severity of the emotions George’s father was releasing. As well as describe the intensity of this scene that Robert was witnessing. Concepts such as shame and sorrow are negative, however they are not necessarily considered dangerous. Adding such strong descriptions like burning and cruel emphasize that these feelings could elicit a sense of danger or pain.
This may be a reach but, the emphasis of pain, danger, and death within the adjectives could be alluding to the idea that George may have been murdered. These specific words could maybe represent the emotions and pain that he had felt before he died. As the book has carried on, and the mystery grows deeper the tone becomes darker alluding to the dark secrets Robert might discover.
“Lucy Audley, with her disordered hair in a pale haze of yellow gold about her thoughtful face, the following lines of her soft muslin dressing-gown falling in straight folds to her feet, and clasped at the waist by a narrow circlet of agate links, might have served as a model for a mediaeval saint,…;and what saintly martyr of the Middles Ages could have borne a holier aspect than the man whose grey beard lay upon the dark silk coverlet of the stately bed?” (Brandon 216)
The eyes are so easily deceived. Lady Audley, as a shining jewel in society, continues to be externally depicted as the perfect lady in the Victorian Age. But it is with this emphasis on her outer “light” (pale golden hair, dazzling blue eyes, and white skin) that I believe makes it all the more disturbing when we catch a glimpse of her inner “darkness“. Thus making her not a saint but more so of a fallen angel.
There is a play at imagery throughout this passage and book that seems to be most effective when it comes to describing Lady Audley. We have this one instance with this passage in particular where she is portrayed as “a model for a mediaeval saint” (216) and her husband is the “saintly martyr”. The comparison is supported by the repetitions of light, color, and texture; Adjectives such as “pale”, “gold”, and “soft” (216) solidifies the depiction of purity and innocence. Actually, I take that back. ^ Let’s use illusion instead of depiction because the Lady Audley we see is no where close to the Lady Audley we know.
Literally a page after this passage, Lady Audley bears a facial expression and stance much less saint-like than before: “She defied him with her blue eyes, their brightness intensified by the triumph in their glance. She defied him with her quiet smile-a smile of fatal beauty, full of lurking significance and mysterious meaning-the smile which the artist had exaggerated in his portrait of Sir Michael’s wife.” (Brandon 217) This is just one example of many where Lady Audley revealing a glimpse of her true colors. But I have to wonder: Isn’t this a power play? What’s with the repetition of “She defied him”, right? Victorian Society dictates that women must be good wives, they have no rights unless granted by their husbands, and cannot be more educated than men. Yet, here is Lady Audley bearing almost the exact appearance of that portait we first saw in Volume 1, a picture of wicked triumph and cold heartedness. Her husband is no “saintly martyr” because he sacrificed himself FOR her, Lady Audley sacrificed HIM. She’s used the disadvantage of being a married woman to her advantage without anyone realizing, by using her husband as a shield for everything. Hence her prior dialogue: ‘ “Those who strike me must strike through him.” ‘ (217)
Vol II Chapter V
“A gloomy shadow spread itself like a dark veil over Robert Audley’s handsome face. He remembered what he had said the day before at Southampton – ‘A hand that is stronger than my own is beckoning me onward upon the dark road.’ A quarter of an hour before, he had believed that all was over, and that he was released from the dreadful duty of discovering the secret of George’s death. Now this girl, this apparently passionless girl, had found a voice, and was urging him on towards his fate.” (200).
This passage caught my attention because it is interesting how Robert explicitly realizes that there may be greater forces at work that are urging him toward finding out what happened to George. Throughout Volume two especially, the notion of God being a figure in everybody’s life becomes ever more prominent as Robert continues to piece together what exactly happened to his friend. In this passage, specifically, the phrases “A hand that is stronger than my own…” and “fate” stand out to me because they suggest that Robert believes that God is real, and that Robert has no control whether he discovers what happened to his poor friend or not. However, with a source of good in any novel there must be a contrasting evil. Braddon’s description of, “A gloomy shadow spread itself like a dark veil…” seems like a strange way to begin a passage that then shifts to Robert talking about the hand stronger than his own leading him on towards his fate. Often, fate is associated more directly with God and the heavens whereas darkness, such as the veil over Robert or the road that he is being led down, is associated with evil spirits and Hell. Whether or not these forces are real is up to the discretion of the reader, however I think what this passage and text is truly about is the internal conflict between good and evil within humans. Robert is ready to give up his search for the circumstances behind George’s disappearance, but something keeps leading him in the direction of the truth. Technically, Robert could stop searching for the answer to his friend’s disappearance at any point in time, but he would likely never be satisfied settling for anything but the truth. The “stronger hand at work” and “fate” seem more like mental excuses to continue his search rather than face his internal conflicts and come to the realization that it would be acceptable to never know what happened to his poor friend.
“Nobody ever remembered getting upon what is popularly called the blind side of Harcourt Talboys. He was like his own square-built, northern-fronted, shelterless house. There were no shady nooks in his character into which one could creep for shelter from his hard daylight. He was all daylight. He looked at everything in the same broad glare of intellectual sunlight, and would see no softening shadows that might alter the sharp outlines of cruel facts, subduing them to beauty. I do not know if I express what I mean, when I say that there were no curves in his character—that his mind ran in straight lines, never diverging to the right or the left to round off their pitiless angles. With him right was right, and wrong was wrong. He had never in his merciless, conscientious life admitted the idea that circumstances might mitigate the blackness of wrong or weaken the force of right. He had cast off his only son because his only son had disobeyed him, and he was ready to cast off his only daughter at five minutes’ notice for the same reason.” (Chapter 3)
This paragraph is a perfect example of how Mary Elizabeth Braddon uses subliminal messaging in order to foreshadow a strong parallel in defining characteristics between characters. This also speaks to the idea of what is idealized or “correct” during the Victorian era. We begin the text with a deep, agonizing description of the Audley estate, and how the complexity in both architecture and nature creates a home for darkness and secrets underneath. Whenever a new setting is introduced, it is not only establishing a scene, but pushing to identify potentially revealing components of the characters it holds. The instance that was chosen is right before Robert visits Harcourt Talboys, the father of the missing George Talboys. Robert goes to George’s father looking for answers, not only regarding his disappearance, but to see how his absence is affecting his father’s emotional state. By describing not only where Harcourt lives, but also using this as an opportunity to describe his emotional tendencies, Braddon is setting up the reader’s expectation of how the father will respond. Harcourt is described as sharp, and brutal. His house is described as shelterless, and completely unveiled from darkness. There is not a single detail left to be disregarded, and this is presented as a cruel, incorrect way of handling situations, such as the alienation of his son. This way of handling family situations is presented as unappealing, as during this time, the secrecy and lies were not only much more comforting to the ego, but also soothes the fear the one’s reputation will be squandered.
This is important to understanding the text as a whole as it aligns with the Victorian mentality regarding the emotional self at this time. The Victorian era was a time where the self, emotions, and decisions are dissected in great deal through creation of countless poems and texts. The straightforward approach of analysis wouldn’t suite the display of extravagant wealth and power that was allowing the people of this time to thrive, and can only be shown through mirroring the extravagance of drama in secrecy and lies. These dramatic components create layers of a person as a whole, aside from just the plot.
Passage: “People are insane for years and years before their insanity is found out. They know that they are mad, but they know how to keep their secret… They commit a crime, perhaps. The horrible temptation of opportunity assails them, the knife is in their hand, and the unconscious victim by their side” (Braddon 283).
During this passage, Lady Audley is desperately trying to make Sir Michael believe that Robert has gone insane. She hopes to convince Michael that Robert suffers from madness before he has the chance to expose her secret to him. Through this passage, Lady Audley is trying to frame Robert, however, I believe this passage to be a reflection of her own mental state, and even a confession. As Lady Audley states, “people are insane for years and years before this insanity is found out”, and “they know how to keep their secret” (Braddon 283). This description fits Lady Audley because she has probably been mad for many years, due to George’s absence, and she definitely knows how to keep her secret. There have been many instances where Lady Audley has tried to manipulate Michael so he does not find out her true identity. Also, before the passage, Lady Audley says “I believe [Robert] has lived too long alone in those solitary Temple chambers. Perhaps he reads too much, or smokes too much” (Braddon 283). Again, this is more self-reflection on Lady Audley’s part as she was essentially alone for many years while George was in Australia. She even once admitted to Phoebe that she loves reading sensation novels.
The second part of the passage is where I believe Lady Audley is making a confession. She says “They commit a crime, perhaps. The horrible temptation of opportunity assails them, the knife is in their hand, and the unconscious victim by their side” (Braddon 283). Lady Audley was tempted by the opportunity to fake her death and start a new life, then, when George discovers her truth, she takes that opportunity to kill him. Though Lady Audley is trying to convince Michael of Robert’s madness, she was really reflecting on herself and the crimes she has committed.
“How pitiless these women are to each other….she sniffs trouble to her fellow female creature and rejoices in it”(236)
Throughout the end of the second volume, Robert continues to have thoughts about women and how they interact with each other and those around them. These thoughts stood out to me in how repetitive they were and how often Robert continued to have these thoughts. Also, these thoughts were something that I did not expect to come from Robert, as the book did not make it obvious earlier that Robert has strong feelings against women. In the passage listed above, Robert mentions how women will rejoice in finding a way to put each other down. He goes even further to mention that women put other’s life in their hands. He even goes on to claim this for all womankind.
I felt these thoughts arose out of nowhere and did not expect them from Robert. While he was shown to be frustrated by the fact that his case was continuing to hit dead ends, it seems a questionable way to let out your frustration on all women as a whole. I feel these thoughts came from a deep anger towards Lady Audley that has been growing in Robert throughout the story. Now that he has hit a point where he is gathering strong enough evidence against her, Robert feels he will have the upper hand. This may have been what led him to thinking these irrational thoughts. Also, after seeing numerous women acting in secretive and sly manners, Robert may have started thinking of all women in this way with maybe the exception of a few who help him in the story.
“Miss Graham told me nothing… without so much as one word of recommendation from any living creature,” (Braddon 234).
Before this passage, Robert asks both Mrs. Vincent and Miss Tonks where Lucy Graham was coming from. Mrs. Vincent gave a very vague answer that she was coming from the seaside. In this passage, Miss Tonks answers, “Miss Graham told me nothing; she was too clever for that.” We can see that Miss Tonks is very sure that Lucy Graham is hiding something, especially when Robert asks, “you think she had secrets, then?” and she make sure to emphasize, “I know she had.” We are also previously given information that Miss Tonks has a very good memory and if she cannot remember where Lucy had come from or when, then that makes Robert even more suspicious. It also seems that even though Miss Tonk has little information on Lucy, she has no problem with throwing her under the bus with any information she has, “She made the most of what she did know,” (Braddon 235). Though Robert is suspicious of Lucy, he also notices how easy it is for her to do this when she reveals the box, “How pitiless these women are to each other.” With this box, Robert was able to discover a label, “which bore the name of Miss Graham, passenger to London,’ which brought the novel to a cliffhanger with more evidence for Mr. Audley’s investigation.
“Mr. Maldon is not at home, Sir,” she said, with insinuating civility; “But if not for the water rate, he requested me to say that- “She was interrupted by little George Tallboys, who scrambled down the high chair upon which he had been perched, and ran to Robert Audley” (165)
I think what peaks my interest the most regarding the beginning of volume II is the interest Robert Audley has directly within finding George Tallboys. It would be one thing if he just reported his disappearance to the proper authorities and from their just waited on word from that point but instead he has this very boots on the ground style approach to looking for him. Going very far in the process even looking at a place where he knew he would find George’s son. I think these actions speak a lot to the bond between the two. I wonder as we continue how these actions will evolve as well as Robert’s attitude toward this investigation. Is there a deeper reason or secret to why Robert is being so throughout this investigation? Is there anyone that he really trusts? The other thing I thought about in this volume is how it seems like a lot of characters end up giving very half answers to a lot of questions that a rise from Robert.