“In spite of Miss Alicia’s undisguised contempt for her step-mother’s childishness and frivolity, Lucy was better loved and more admired than the baronet’s daughter. That very childishness had a charm which few could resist. The innocence and candor of an infant beamed in Lady Audley’s fair face, and shone out of her large and liquid blue eyes. The rosy lips, the delicate nose, the profusion of fair ringlets, all contributed to preserve to her a beauty the character of extreme youth and freshness. She owned to twenty years of age, but it was hard to believe her more than seventeen…. her fragile figure… was as girlish as if she had but just left the nursery” (Chapter 7 of Volume One, page 55).
Lucy Audley is time and time again through the novel described as beautiful, beguiling, and charming. And the way in which she is described as beautiful is always in terms of fragility and extreme youth. The two are so interconnected to each other in the text that one comes to the realization that is not just that Lucy Audley is a beautiful woman who looks like a child– she is beautiful because she looks like a child.
This turns her marriage to Sir Michael into an equal partnership where both gain benefits (Michael gets to marry the woman he loves, and Lucy gets to be financially supported beyond her wildest dreams) into something more sickening. Michael is a man wrapped completely around his wife’s finger, catering to her every whim no matter how bizarre or how quickly she changes her mind. One only needs to look at how she switches between kicking Robert out of the house and begging to have him visit again to see that she is a mercurial woman: another aspect associated with childhood. But what concerns me about the relationship Michael and Lucy have is that Michael’s behavior completely supports her leaning into this childlike mindset, and he seems to find it attractive. All of these traits which are so connected to childhood– the indecisive nature, the fragility, the youthful glowing face– are precisely what draws him to her and results in him falling in love with her. I frankly find it disturbing. Lucy might be a legal adult and not actually a child, but Michael is still a complete creep about it.
It could be said that part of why Alicia has lost such favor with her father after he marries Lucy is that Lucy is not just taking the place of a wife but also supplanting Alicia’s role as Michael’s daughter. Michael is shown in the chapter where he proposes to Lucy that he is a very lonely man– he has been a widower for over fifteen years, and his daughter is now a grown woman, with all the independence that entails. Furthermore someday Alicia will depart from Michael’s household when she marries. She doesn’t need him anymore. And Lucy does.