“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.