Pretty Privilege

“Perhaps in that retrospectove reerie she recalles the early time in which she had first looked into the glass and discovered that she was beautiful: that fatal early time in which she had first begun to look upon her loveliness as a right divine, a boundless possesion which was to be a set-off all girlish short-comings, a counter-balance of every youtful sin.” (Braddon 293) 

In this passage, beauty is depicted as a tangible, powerful object, something that can and will be used. The term “boundless possession” specifically stood out for the reason that it shows how the attainment of beauty has no limits as to what someone can accomplish with it. This concept is not foreign to Lucy Audley. She has used her pretty face and deceitful nature to successfully carry out numerous ploys and instances of minipulation. She knows how easily she can influence the mind of Sir Michael Audley, along with others, as shown throughout the past few chapters of the book. She is confident in her ability to persuade Michael to believe that Robert has gone mad and does so with ease with her intense expression of emotion and the facade of a childlike innocence and ignorance. Robert recognizes this and in turn starts to generalize the category of women as a whole of doing this action. He sees this “power” that women hold as a danger to others, almost in protest to the increasing social power that women are gaining at this time in history. The book continuously builds on the idea that men are perceived to hold the power in social and romantic relationships while, in reality, women use their high emotional intelligence to gain power over situations and people. This way, they are easily able to manipulate for their own benefit. This idea is expressed through other female characters as well, such as Clara Talboys. Robert Frequently thinks back to her plea for him to continue searching for the truth of her brother’s “dissapearance”, a plea that he could not refuse. The fact that he could not say no to Clara angers Robert because he is then burdened with the responsibility that comes with the answers he is looking for. He is also angered at the fact that he could not say no because of her emtional power over him as a beautiful woman.  

4 thoughts on “Pretty Privilege”

  1. I agree with your comment, and I want to add something about Victorian women’s power. I think Mary Elizabeth Braddon relates women who have power to witches, or non-humans. Especially Lady Audley. In Victorian society, it was unthinkable for a woman, especially a beautiful, petite one like Lady Audley, to hold any power over someone, and the author attacks this issue by suggesting that she is not a woman at all, but an unearthly being. For example, while she serves tea to Robert, it is described as “the most feminine and most domestic of all occupations,” and yet it brings “witchery to her every glance.” At the same time, to take away a woman’s tea-table is to rid her of her “legitimate empire”. Preparing tea is a Victorian woman’s display of power, and it is associated with witchery in the text.

    1. Excellent observation! I strongly agree that Braddon wrote Lady Audley in such a way that she could seems witch-like in nature. I looked online for context and Wikipedia (our Lord and savior) says that in England, witch trials were conducted from the 15th century up until the late 18th century. Approximately 500-1000 people were killed, 90% of the victims being women. I wish I could recall the name of a book I found for another class, it was around this era and basically detailed how women were the spawn of the devil and responsible for the destruction of all men.

  2. I think to understand this “pretty privilege” better, it would be helpful to look at the entire text and examine how it is portrayed. Towards the end of the story, Lucy remarks that whatever misfortunes her enemies can bring upon her, they may never take away her beauty. In this way, I think she sees it as a divine right upon herself to use that no one can take away (which is false, she can still get old or someone can throw acid on her, etc…whatever). One thing about her final fate though, is that we see her complain repeatedly about being treated like a baby or a naughty child. Indeed, without her beauty, she has no real power in this patriarchal world. The business of her fate is discussed by Robert and the hotel owner in private. Despite still being present, her beauty does nothing to help her situation and we can see truly just how oppressed women, in general, are towards the end of the novel.

  3. I think that this is a very accurate close read of the passage, and a strong claim about how Lucy uses her beauty as a power to manipulate others. Lucy is constantly being described as “child-like” and “delicate” which indicates her outward appearance of being harmless. Lucy uses her beauty to mask the fact that she is suffering from madness and convince those around her that she is capable of no harm.

Comments are closed.