Passage: “To call them the weaker sex is to utter a hideous mockery. They are the stronger sex, the noisier, the more persevering, the most self-assertive sex. They want freedom of opinion, variety of occupation, do they? Let them have it. Let them be lawyers, doctors, preachers, teachers, soldiers, legislators – anything they like – but let them be quiet – if they can” (Braddon 208).
Within the first lines, we see Braddon contrasting the phrases “weaker” and “stronger” as they relate to a woman’s sex. Braddon’s juxtaposition of these words helps to demonstrate the power of women throughout the novel. This comparison also allows for Braddon to bring Robert’s conceptualization of womankind into fruition while simultaneously identifying specific strengths of women through the misogynistic lens of Robert’s character. For example, we see the use of words like “noisier, persevering, and self-assertive.” All these qualities can be interpreted as strengths, but Robert implies that they are more of an annoyance. This passage also employs repetition of the phrase “let them.” Braddon likely intentionally made this choice to draw readers’ attention to the subsequent cluster of occupations. These were likely the occupations that women were becoming employed in for the first time throughout the Victorian era. Perhaps this passage represents Robert’s unease with the idea of fluctuating gender roles, but his content with societal changes, nonetheless.
Contextually, Robert’s brooding in this passage serves as a build-up to the following paragraph in which he “savagely” thinks to himself: “I hate women … they are bold, brazen, abominable creatures, invented for the annoyance and destruction of their superiors” (Braddon 208). Unlike the original passage, this line elicits stronger feelings of unrest. More importantly, these passages together connect to our discussion from class about whether Lady Audley’s Secret as a publication was invested in supporting the movement for women to have more power. Despite his passionate dislike for women, I believe that Robert’s opinions seem progressive in the context of the Victorian era. For this reason, I believe that the novel did help to push notions of gender “equality” upon victorian society.
On a separate note, the original passage foreshadows events related to Lucy’s ‘power craze’ towards the end of Volume II and leading into Volume III. I believe this is the case because Robert had recently made claims to Clara (in the prior chapter) that he knew who the individual guilty of committing George’s murder was (readers are unaware that he is referring to Lucy at the time). Additionally, “let them be quiet – if they can” seems to solicit a sense of action. This may relate to future events in which Robert silences Lucy by preventing her from using her ‘indirect power’ to manipulate her husband into doing whatever she wills him to do.