Victorian-era catfish?

“No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have so exaggerated every attribute of that delicate face as to give a lurid brightness to the blonde complexion, and a strange, sinister light to the deep blue eyes. No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have given to that pretty pouting mouth the hard and almost wicked look it had in the portrait” (Braddon 55).

At first glance, the portrait perfectly reflects Lady Audley’s likeness. It conveys in great detail her beauty and extravagance. But strangely, something feels off about it. Upon further inspection, the painter included details about the Lady that only someone with a very careful eye could discern. It gave the Lady an unsettling, evil aura that baffles the onlookers, who saw no such qualities in her themselves.

There is a contrast between the doll-like aesthetics and the malevolent tone befitting the artwork. Before reading, I sympathized with Lady Audley. I thought she probably made a bad decision and was presently regretting her choice. This passage alludes that Lady Audley’s secret may not simply be something she did in her youth. It illuminates the darkness of her true personality, which she has expertly hidden from the outside. In fact, she is so good at maintaining this fake image that observers rather question the artist’s motivations than doubt her sincerity. Pre-Raphaelite refers to a controversial group of painters that “sought to express a new moral seriousness and sincerity in their works” (Britannica, “Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood). The painter was doing his job and painting the subject as it was. This description of the portrait foreshadows Lady Audley’s ulterior motives and later behavior in the novel.

3 thoughts on “Victorian-era catfish?”

  1. Dear Penny Dreadful,

    First off, I love the title of your post. I think it fits your analysis very well. Your statement in the end is very interesting and it opens a new perspective to the character of Lady Audley. The idea of the painting reflecting the true personality that she initially wants to hide from everybody is an intriguing concept. I also like that you backed up your argument with the Britannica quote. I will read the article because it sounds like an approach worth digging deeper into.
    (Taking the title of your post into consideration, I immediately thought: If the novel happened now, Lady Audley would absolutely try to seem perfect on social media and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood would be the first ones to use the hashtags #nofilter and #morerealityoninstagram.)

    Great job! Your analysis is really thought provoking and I loved reading it.

  2. As we get further into the book, this passage seems to be more and more revealing. At the end of volume 1, Lady Audley paid Robert a visit in the Castle Inn, and seems to have shown her evil aura a little bit. Originally, everyone said that the painter showed something that no one else could see, and Robert told them to stop being German. However, when Robert and Lady Audley meet again the next day in the train station Robert says that she had seemed to drop her mask a little bit the day before – but she was back to her overly smiley and charming self the next day. I am interested to see how this darker side of Lady Audley continue to come out more, and how other characters will react to it.

  3. In addition to my previous comment, I would like to delve deeper into some interpretative (and speculative) thoughts about this passage. I find the words “strange” and “sinister”, as well as “wicked” very interesting in this passage. Especially the word “strange” is one that we have encountered in previous class discussions and I was thinking that it might not be used in a sense of “weird” but rather in a sense of “alien”. It could mean that the portrait might not be of the Lady Audley that we know and that the painter wanted to show that.
    When it comes to paintings in classic literature, I always suspect something supernatural-ish (á la Dorian Gray) to happen so I would not be surprised if we get something similar here. That is just a speculative thought though.

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