Robert Audley is absolutely heterosexual… right?

“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.



6 thoughts on “Robert Audley is absolutely heterosexual… right?”

  1. I have also questioned this theory many times myself while reading. It may just be that Robert yearns for anything reminding him of George because of their close friendship, and now that he is gone, Robert feels very alone. This may explain his interest in Clara, but you are right that Braddon does leave much room for interpretation. As seen on page 254, Robert longs for closure about his friend’s disappearance and is willing to do anything to attain it. Wether this is because of platonic or romantic love is up for interpretation.

    1. To add to this, as mentioned in an earlier class, the entire plot is driven for Robert’s obsession with getting closure on George. I am not entirely sure about Victorian standards of platonic relationships, but even for today’s standards, two men living together and hanging out primarily by themselves for around a year would draw suspicions about something more than friendship. Especially considering that Robert (a normally dispassionate and lazy man) suddenly finds his life’s calling when his “friend” goes missing and does not rest until he finds out the mystery.

  2. I believe that there are definitely some aspects of homosexuality at play regarding Robert’s feelings toward George. We can see this through Robert’s attraction to Clara, as you said, but I also want to bring up how it involves Robert feeling compelled to solve the case. On page 255, he tells Clara “a hand that is stronger than my own is beckoning me onward on the dark road that leads to my lost friend’s unknown grave.” This quote is not the first time “fate” seems to guide Robert to solve the case, but I think it is actually his love for George that pushes him on, and he just doesn’t understand it. Victorian society at this time explored sexuality and the supernatural through Gothic literature, and this concept ties the two together, although I believe it reveals that Victorians would sooner believe in destiny and the unnatural than question their own sexuality.

  3. Robert’s immediate attraction to Clara intrigued me as well. It is very curious that the first thing Robert noticed, and was what drew him in, was her likeness to her brother. It seems that after yearning for his lost friend for so many months, Robert is excited to fill that void with his beautiful female counterpart. Though it is highly unlikely that Braddon intended Robert’s feelings for George to be interpreted as romantic, it is undeniable that he feels an extremely deep attachment to him, and it is that attachment that drives the story. Your analysis of the use of “handsome” is also interesting, though I think that it’s more likely it was merely meant as a synonym for “beautiful,” as was common during that era. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Darcy comments that Elizabeth is “tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” Still, it’s possible that the word choice was intentional.

  4. As soon as I saw your post earlier, I was able to make so many connections in the book when it seemed like Robert’s intentions were more than platonic. At the end of the book when it’s discovered that George was in fact not murdered by Lady Audley, Robert is very eager to find out where George may be. At the time, it was thought that George ended up going to Australia again and Robert was quick to say he would go find him in Australia. Robert even tells Clara that “I will go from one end of the continent of Australia to the other to look for your brother, if you please, Clara; and will never return alive unless I bring him with me” (431). The fact that Robert is willing to die to find George makes me feel like their relationship may not be platonic. While you can argue about the nature of their relationship, whether it is more homosocial or sexual, there is something more to their friendship.

  5. This is an incredibly insightful comment, and one which raises ideas that are undoubtedly interconnected with our discussion of erotic triangles. Reading against the grain in this novel reveals Robert’s homoerotic, and arguably inexorable, love for George, which he manifests in Clara. I especially liked your comment on Braddon’s use of “handsome,” although I am still unsure if this is simply a product of Victorian language or if Braddon intentionally attempts to imply that Robert loves George. Clara’s likeness to George may even inspire Robert to continue with his investigation into George’s disappearance shortly after this passage (Braddon, 201).

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