It’s A Mad, Mad World

“Mad-houses are large and only too numerous; yet surely it is strange they are not larger, when we think of how many helpless wretches must beat their brains against this hopeless persistency of the orderly world, as compared with the storm and tempest, the riot and confusion within; – when we remember how many minds must tremble upon the narrow boundary between reason and unreason, mad to-day and sane to-morrow, mad yesterday and sane to-day” (Braddon, 206).

It’s a mad, mad world, plain and simple.

The above passage shows us some of Robert Audley’s innermost thoughts. He’s just come from speaking with George’s estranged father and sister, and as a result of the exchanges he shares with them, we are exposed to a far deeper understanding of the grief that he feels regarding the disappearance and presumed death of his dear friend. This passage stood out to me because Robert calls into question the way in which the world operates.

In class, we discussed a variety of values and beliefs that people of the Victorian Era held near and dear to their hearts. At the top of this list was the desire for propriety and decorum. It was frowned upon for people to display any outward signs of inner turmoil. Respectable members of society believed that it was far more important for one to maintain their composure in the presence of others than it was for them to express their feelings, no matter the toll that burden was taking on their heart and mind.

This passage is significant because it sheds light on the notion that not everything is as wonderful as it seems. While individuals might be able to hide their true selves from the prying eyes of society, it doesn’t change the fact that the world still has many flaws and not everyone is satisfied with this truth. Robert expands on this idea, saying, “We are apt to be angry with this cruel hardness in our life” (Braddon, 206). However, it is because of this desire for perfection that people are encouraged to suppress the emotions that torment them.

Based on this assessment, it is no wonder why many people in the Victorian Age despised sensation novels. They showed that even the most decent members of Victorian society could have potentially dark and dangerous sides. I’m sure they made many people uncomfortable, as they walked a fine line between fiction and reality.

In the case of our novel, we can see that Lady Audley is displaying rather peculiar and suspicious behavior in the way that she is reacting to the disappearance of George Talboys. Might this mean that she had something to do with it? Perhaps it isn’t strange for one to wonder if she isn’t half crazy herself.

After all, the world isn’t perfect; it is actually quite mad.



2 thoughts on “It’s A Mad, Mad World”

  1. Another interesting point this passage brings up is the interest the Victorians had for what we now call psychology. Part of the Victorian era was about propriety, so when people can not control their own actions, it must have been a terrifying yet fascinating thing for them because they did not know the cause.

  2. Braddon’s Victorian world is indeed a “mad world.” Themes of madness are likely espoused by Braddon throughout the novel due to the widespread desire among Victorians to understand psychological constructs. The image of a mad-house returns to the novel when Robert feels threatened by Lucy and thinks to himself: “She would be capable of … plac[ing] me in a mad-house” (Braddon, 271). It’s interesting to consider how Robert’s “innermost thoughts” might later inform his fears of Lucy. Fear may also be Braddon’s interpretation for how lay people in the Victorian era reacted to advancements in psychological findings around madness.

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