Sickly society

” ‘Do you know, Phoebe, I have heard some people say you and I are alike?’ ‘I have heard them say so too, my lady…but they must be very stupid to say it, for your ladyship is a beauty, and I’m a poor plain creature.’ ‘Not at all, Phoebe…you are like me…it is only colour that you want. My hair is pale yellow shot with gold, yours is drab…Why, with a bottle of hair dye, such as we see advertised in the papers, and a pot of rouge, you’d be as good-looking as I any day, Phoebe.’ “(Braddon 60)

While both the surrounding environment of the outdoors/ house and other characters vividly described with multiple colors, Phoebe Marks is introduced as a stark contrast. Most notably is the pattern of drained colors: the lack of physical vibrance and life significantly dampen her features that would otherwise make her beautiful. However, you would never guess Phoebe was intelligent and hungry enough to try and blackmail Lady Audley simply because she has the image of an unhealthy lower class person. But Lady Audley herself mentions that Phoebe is similar in appearance to herself. So what if this passage is about Phoebe being an exception to Victorian social class?

It becomes more evident through the continuing chapters that Phoebe is capable of placing herself at the same level as an aristocrat. By this I mean that she defies the emphasis on desirable physical appearances (we see repeated throughout the book) that differentiate upper class from lower class. Gold hair, bright blue eyes, a dazzling smile, the most prized women are all upper class and have bright, glowing, and angelic-like faces.



6 thoughts on “Sickly society”

  1. Dear Alucard,
    I find the passage that you chose very interesting to analyze because it highlights the physical similarities between the two characters very well. In fact, it reminds me of the typical ugly-duckling storyline in movies that inevitably leads to a makeover and makes everyone see the beauty of the insecure girl in the end. I like your observations very much because they highlight how there could be another layer to Phoebe and that she might be a bit more unpredictable than she seems. For now, she seems suspiciously unsuspicious and uncharismatic. But we know that she has the potential to do bad things! (Especially considering her stealing from Lady Audley’s secret drawer.)
    Great job, Alucard!

  2. I found that passage funny; Lucy complimenting and criticizing her appearance simultaneously. We spoke of the use of color in class and how it was maybe connected to the character’s state of mind. Lucy is always described with vivid colors, highlighting her beauty. Phoebe’s colors are the direct opposite. Lucy uses her beauty to get what she wants, while Phoebe uses her brain. A woman’s beauty is more important than her intelligence, in this patriarchal society. It allows Lucy to become a Lady despite her social status, while Phoebe remains in the lower class. It alludes that people in the highest positions are not there because of merit, and are unworthy.

  3. Phoebe does stand out as the quintessential modern YA protagonist: Her beauty and cunning set her above the rest of her class, but her lack of color and birth keep her from ascending like Lucy did. The fact that both women start in a very similar place in the world makes one wonder how their paths will compare. Phoebe seems more reluctant to attempt breaking out of her class than Lucy was upon Sir Michael’s proposal. Perhaps she is so used to being different from her peers that the thought of setting herself even further apart is unattractive?

  4. I think it’s also important that Lucy placed emphasis on hair dye. That although beautiful, it is a beauty that can be replicated easily with a simple bottle of hair dye, pointing to the numerous facades that Lucy’s constantly upholding.

  5. In addition to my previous comment, I would also like to delve deeper into what it says about Lady Audley and not only about what the passage tells us about Phoebe.
    I believe that Lady Audley’s expertise on her physical appearance and cosmetic products shows us how much she cares about looks and how much she knows about presenting herself in a way that makes her appear attractive to others. It shows that she might not be as naturally beautiful as the reader assumes but that she is aware of the methods that she uses to be regarded as beautiful (especially by men).
    I have a few speculative “this-might-be-crazy-but-what-if” thoughts that I would also like to share: This passage seems like an instruction for Phoebe to take Lady Audley’s place at some point. Both of them naturally look alike and Phoebe only needs final touches to look like Lady Audley, and I don’t think that is a coincidence. Or, in reverse, Lady Audley used to look like Phoebe and had some alterations in her appearance done herself.

  6. I once more find myself considering the question: “Do women have power in this Victorian setting?” Previously when considering Phoebe’s character in relation to this question, I had thought of her as the “ghost of some other bride, dead and buried in the vault below the church” (Braddon, 114). Now, I believe Braddon is playing at something which extends beyond the societal expectations of marriage. Within her colorless complexion lies secrets known only to Lady Audley. Phoebe’s defiance of class is manifested in her leverage and “indirect power” over Lady Audley. I believe Phoebe to be Braddon’s most powerful character.

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