Secrets of the Heart

“Nobody ever remembered getting upon what is popularly called the blind side of Harcourt Talboys. He was like his own square-built, northern-fronted, shelterless house. There were no shady nooks in his character into which one could creep for shelter from his hard daylight. He was all daylight. He looked at everything in the same broad glare of intellectual sunlight, and would see no softening shadows that might alter the sharp outlines of cruel facts, subduing them to beauty. I do not know if I express what I mean, when I say that there were no curves in his character—that his mind ran in straight lines, never diverging to the right or the left to round off their pitiless angles. With him right was right, and wrong was wrong. He had never in his merciless, conscientious life admitted the idea that circumstances might mitigate the blackness of wrong or weaken the force of right. He had cast off his only son because his only son had disobeyed him, and he was ready to cast off his only daughter at five minutes’ notice for the same reason.” (Chapter 3) 


   This paragraph is a perfect example of how Mary Elizabeth Braddon uses subliminal messaging in order to foreshadow a strong parallel in defining characteristics between characters. This also speaks to the idea of what is idealized or “correct” during the Victorian era. We begin the text with a deep, agonizing description of the Audley estate, and how the complexity in both architecture and nature creates a home for darkness and secrets underneath. Whenever a new setting is introduced, it is not only establishing a scene, but pushing to identify potentially revealing components of the characters it holds. The instance that was chosen is right before Robert visits Harcourt Talboys, the father of the missing George Talboys. Robert goes to George’s father looking for answers, not only regarding his disappearance, but to see how his absence is affecting his father’s emotional state. By describing not only where Harcourt lives, but also using this as an opportunity to describe his emotional tendencies, Braddon is setting up the reader’s expectation of how the father will respond. Harcourt is described as sharp, and brutal. His house is described as shelterless, and completely unveiled from darkness. There is not a single detail left to be disregarded, and this is presented as a cruel, incorrect way of handling situations, such as the alienation of his son. This way of handling family situations is presented as unappealing, as during this time, the secrecy and lies were not only much more comforting to the ego, but also soothes the fear the one’s reputation will be squandered.  

   This is important to understanding the text as a whole as it aligns with the Victorian mentality regarding the emotional self at this time. The Victorian era was a time where the self, emotions, and decisions are dissected in great deal through creation of countless poems and texts. The straightforward approach of analysis wouldn’t suite the display of extravagant wealth and power that was allowing the people of this time to thrive, and can only be shown through mirroring the extravagance of drama in secrecy and lies. These dramatic components create layers of a person as a whole, aside from just the plot. 

2 thoughts on “Secrets of the Heart”

  1. To start off, I really like the author’s connection between Braddon’s description of the Audley estate compared to Harcourt Talboys’ estate, and how the two are both overwhelmingly extraordinary but not that different in terms of status. The reason I find this noteworthy is because the dramatic setting up and detailing of the home, the garden, the architecture etc. of the Talboys’ estate made me think there was something dark or mysterious going on as there was at The Audley Estate. I also wanted to note that the intense information and introduction for Harcourt Talboys’ is so important because he is a large reason for why George’s life was not where he wanted it to be and was so complex. Also, I thought of the “power” tenant throughout this entire description of Harcourt, which is also shown by how he treats Clara as well.

  2. It does seem that Mary Elizabeth Braddon does use subliminal messaging to foreshadow many things in Lady Audley’s secret. It is interesting that this messaging does often align with the description of scenes and settings. For example, the darkness/shadows at Audley court foreshadow the darkness that seems to come out within the walls of the building. Throughout each of the volumes there are hidden clues and details that foreshadow feelings and events, which does align with Victorian views as you stated prior. Victorians did not tend to be straight forward with their thoughts and feelings, hence why foreshadowing and hints were prevalent in much of the literature and media at the time.

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