“Upon a lowering afternoon in November, with the yellow fog low upon the flat meadows, and the blinded cattle groping their way through the dim obscurity, and blundering stupidly against black and leafless hedges, or stumbling into ditches, undistinguishable in the hazy atmosphere,” (Braddon 114).
This passage contains more highly evocative landscape description, which is prevalent throughout the novel. The specific feeling being evoked here is a deep dread and uncertainty, with repeat references to fog and obscurity and unseen ditches. There is something wrong in the air here, Braddon is saying, who knows where danger may lie. This uncertainty is combined with recurring features of the British countryside, with flat meadows and cows and hedges, which Braddon’s primary audience would generally see as bucolic and peaceful. This seemingly peaceful setting enhances the sense of unease, continuing the theme of dark secrets and hidden dangers being present in a familiar environments that runs so strongly throughout this book and sensation novels as whole. The placement of this section passage is important, starting chapter fifteen. In chapter fifteen, two notable events occur: Phoebe and Luke get married, and Robert returns to Audley Court to fully begin his investigation. This opening passage strengthens both by priming the reader for hidden threats. The Marks’ marriage only occurs because of the threat of physical violence, and the evocation of unease in the opening passages helps to highlight that despite victorian ideals of marriage, this is a very dangerous situation for Phoebe to be in and it is unlikely to stop being so at any time. For Robert’s section of this chapter, the feeling set up in the reader by the opening passage underlines the fact that he is investigating a dangerous matter that has likely already resulted in one man’s death and could easily lead to his. The passage at the start of chapter fifteen may be seen as just environmental description, but it has a definite role in supporting the main events of the chapter.