“Robert Audley now saw her face clearly for the first time, and he saw that she was very handsome. She had brown eyes, like George’s, a pale complexion (she had been flushed when she approached him, but the colour faded away as she recovered her breath), regular features, and a mobility of expression which bore record of every change of feeling” (Braddon 198).
This passage illustrates Clara Talboy and Robert’s first acquaintance. Robert immediately feels an attraction to Clara. The reason why he feels the attraction, however, is that she resembles her brother, George, very much. Robert especially draws attention to Clara’s brown eyes that look just like George’s (198).
What struck me most, though, is that instead of calling her “pretty” or “beautiful”, he chooses the word “handsome” (198) which I would usually associate with people who identify as “male”. Robert also mentions that he noticed all of these things within a few moments, so, to the reader, it has the effect of a slow-motion. He almost seems starstruck by Clara Talboys. By spending much time with Clara, Robert can both, find out more about George, and remain a certain bond with him, through a person that resembles George very much. In the passage, Robert even claims that Clara’s face reminds him of her brother, thus, being with her would be the closest he could come to a relationship with George. It might even be ideal for him because he could be close to George without having to admit to being homosexual (plus, George Talboys is not around anymore when he meets Clara). Another passage that highlights this is: “[…] but he could see that she was young, and that she was like George Talboys” (189). Throughout the novel, there is usually an ambiguity concerning Robert and George’s relationship.
Throughout the novel, after George’s disappearance, Robert mentions George frequently, almost obsessively. Nevertheless, Braddon leaves enough room for interpretation. The readership of the Victorian sensation novel could also interpret their relationship as a very close friendship, while the sensible contemporary readership notices the nuances that allude to potential queerness.