Lucy Audley, and the Equating of Childishness to Beauty

“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

7 thoughts on “Lucy Audley, and the Equating of Childishness to Beauty”

  1. I love everything you said here! I also paid close attention to the mentions of Lucy as childlike, because I think modern beauty standards are heavily rooted in ageism. I think the last paragraph is really interesting because I hadn’t noticed that Lucy adopted a sort of child-like position in the house. I also totally agree that Michel’s obsession with Lucy’s youth is super icky, especially because she’s the same age as his daughter.

  2. It is striking to me that the book essentially confirms your point in the first paragraph of pg. 305: “[Micheal’s] lips curved in a half smile, a smile of tender happiness which he often wore when he looked at his beautiful wife, the smile of an all-indulgent father, who looked admirably at his favorite child” (Braddon). Not only does it again connect Lady Audley’s beauty to her childishness, it makes the implicit explicit by directly saying that Micheal loves her like he would a daughter. It makes me very uncomfortable that this mindset was apparently so accepted at the time that it can be mentioned as an aside and not looked into further or questioned.

  3. I honestly felt the same way about Michael. His fixation on her youthful appearance and behavior raises concerns about his motives since the start. Michael’s willingness to overlook the stark age difference and his apparent infatuation with Lady Audley’s childlike qualities suggest a degree of creepiness. This dynamic hints at a power imbalance within their marriage, where he idealizes her innocence to maintain control. His obsession with her youthfulness adds an eerie dimension to his character, leaving readers to question his intentions and contributing to the novel’s suspense.

  4. Youth and beauty have long been associated with one another, but I think it is extremely prevalent in this book. Lady Audley is meant to be described as seemingly perfect, so her actions carry more shock value when we learn the truth. I think you’re accurate about the strange relationship between Alicia and Lady Audley and where they both stand with Michale. I also think that every character in the book is meant to be flawed or slightly mad in some way which is why Michale finding Lady Audley’s childishness attractive add to the whole creepy mood of the text.

  5. While I recognize that Lady Audley is described as dainty and fragile to demonstrate that she is the ideal of beauty by Victorian standards, I agree that the repeated use of the word “childlike” is significant. Michael’s attraction to his wife does seem to be largely rooted in her childlike appearance and nature, which is rather disturbing– even by Victorian standards. When we discuss who is truly “mad” in this novel, I think we should really analyze Michael and his attraction to his wife for this reason.

  6. The connection you made about Lucy and Michaels relationship really intrigued me especially with regards to their relationship mirroring that of a father daughter relationship. Another point that I did not really think about when reading this chapter was the idea that Lucy and Michaels relationship is more of a partnership than anything else. This is a theme that continues throughout the novel as Lucy is using Michael for financial freedom while Michael gets to admire Lucy’s beauty and live with the love of his life. The final thing that I believe this post starts to hint it is the manipulative nature that Lucy holds over Michael which is a key factor in the book.

  7. I totally agree, and was disturbing to see LA’s capricious nature painted to be attractive especially by Michael. Further more, like a child throws temper tantrums to get what they want, Michael seems to cave in willingly and without second thought. I also liked your analysis of Lucy almost taking over the role of a daughter and not just metaphorically, as their age gap could very be well of siblings.

    Michael is definitely a creep and clearly wanted a “trophy wife”. I like to compare it with how parents like to show off or boast about their children’s accomplishments and virtues.

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