Womenslaughter Ethics

“Perhaps they took a horrible pride in the enormity of their wickedness; in this ‘divinity of hell,’ which made them amongst sinful creatures” (Braddon 293)


This quote was initially confusing for me, considering the context of the period. A woman wrote this quote, and yet she is contradicting other women who are taking power for themselves. Yes, the women who are the subject are murderers and “wicked” (Braddon 293), but they are also going against cultural norms for women and taking over the patriarchal dynamic. On the other hand however, Mary Elizabeth Braddon may be trying to appease her male audience. A large portion of Lucy’s thoughts would be considered scandalous if she said them aloud, most of them around secrets, murder, hidden lives, and treachery. It is also heavily implied she is psychologically manipulating her husband for an ulterior motive and ignoring ethical boundaries, especially of the Victorian era. Perhaps Braddon was trying to point out the difference between women who use what power they have for evil, and women who use power for good. Lucy clearly has decision-making power in the novel, but the text talks about the root of her motive being sinful instead of good.

Another important part of the quote is who is saying this. Even though this section of the book is from Lucy’s perspective, Lucy herself is neither thinking nor saying this. Instead, it is the anonymous and omniscient narrator. The readers do not know the gender, the name, or the relationship of the narrator, which warrants the question: should we trust what they are saying? The narrator is clearly interjecting their opinion on women who commit sin with the dramatic line of the “divinity of hell” (Braddon 293). It compares women who are, from the Victorian perspective, inferior, because of the first “mistake” Eve made, yet the narrator put “divinity” before “hell” (Braddon 293). This implies that, if women are of the hellish nature, they still have divine power or some sort of speciality about them, more than what meets the eye.

A Secret Identity and Scandalous Past

“‘No more dependence, no more drudgery, no more humiliations’ she said,’every trace of the old life melted away-every clue to identity buried and forgotten-except these, except these'” (Braddon 17)

This passage is especially full of scandal. It talks about the “dependency, drudgery, and humiliation” (Braddon 17) of a woman who was shown as reverentially perfect in descriptions of previous chapters. When we are first introduced to Lucy in chapter 1 through Sir Michael Audley’s eyes, he describes her as having a “perfect harmony which pervaded every charm” (Braddon 12). However, the words in the quote above are all words full of negativity and hardship. She talks about her old life “melting” away which is the exact term used previously in the book to describe her eyes (Braddon 12).  Melting is a term for going away, slowly disappearing, like her identity, which she wanted to destroy. She seems desperate to leave all traces to her old life behind, but she repeats “except these” (Braddon 17) more than once in the passage. The reader is unsure of her expression when she says this, the narrator (who is omnipotent yet anonymous) doesn’t mention her feeling. This is a very passionate scene, yet there is irony in it because the characters and narrator have information that is important to the storyline that the reader does not. We as readers do not know if she is yearning, angry, mournful, or any other emotion, it is left purposely vague which adds to the air of mystery. Lucy wants to leave her life behinds so badly, she uses the word “clue” (Braddon 17), implying there is a mystery or problem there to be solved. There has to be something, so scandalous or reputation-ruining, she doesn’t want anyone to know or be able to trace to her. She also uses the term “identity,” implying her entire persona has some secrets or is entirely fabricated. She is leaving an identity behind, so it is an old life, family, or name she can no longer live? Perhaps the depression she spoke of in the “no more…humiliations” (Braddon 17) quote led to her running away and needing to start anew.

What I really think this passage is about is the hint to something that is sinister and scandalous underneath Lucy’s perfect facade. A past like that she could no longer tolerate due to a terrible mental state or maybe a dangerous situation. It was her own volition to start anew for a reason that is unclear to the reader, yet it hints still at secrets yet to be revealed.