Robert and the Amazing Technicolor Dream-Court

 

“In those troublesome dreams…” (Braddon 244)

This strangely allegorical dream cements Robert’s belief in both the righteousness of his cause and its otherworldly issue. Robert’s “troublesome dreams” are surprisingly supernatural breaks in a sensational but otherwise worldly novel (244). Although spirits and monsters have been invoked before, they have been the object of ridicule – typically by Robert himself. Now that he is stricken by the same sentiments, Robert does not blame indigestion or behave like “some ghost-haunted hero in a German story” (260). Robert instead acts as a biblical Judge called upon by “some hand greater than [his] own” to mete out godly justice. Much like the reluctant prophet Jonah, Robert is reminded of a (in his mind) divine quest whenever he attempts a return to his once mundane life. Robert was not swallowed by a great fish, but instead forced to answer to – or else compete with – the enigmatic Clara in his search for the truth of George’s fate. In addition to strengthening his promise to Clara, the dreams also provide valuable insight into Robert’s unexpressed thoughts. He sees “Audley Court, rooted up.. standing bare and unprotected… threatened by the… boisterous sea” as if it were a boat and Lady Audley as a “mermaid, beckoning his uncle to destruction” like a tempting siren (244). Robert sees it as his duty to steer his uncle’s estate away from the perilous rocks at the expense of Lord Michael’s dignity like Odysseus being bound to a mast. Robert is a dutiful nephew, but his actions are not entirely selfless. As heir apparent, Robert has a clear interest in steering his uncle’s estate and the Audley reputation away from the shores of peril. Lady Audley’s connection to the ocean goes far beyond her childhood home, in Robert’s dream she becomes the primordial darkness of the ocean with her “pale face and starry…” sea-green eyes surrounded by looking out from the sea’s “silvery foam” as light and lustrous as her curls (244). This comparison is part of the lasting tradition of giving feminine character to ocean storms: long periods of calm equilibrium interrupted by punctuations of brief but intense violence. The “dismal horizon” of the dream storm is defeated by a single “ray of light” parting the troubled sea (244). This biblical conclusion and the contrast of white light and dark sea reinforce Robert’s image of Clara as a seraphic beauty in complete opposition to Lady Audley.

Audley the Scrivener

“Robert Audley was supposed to be a barrister…” (Bradon 35)

This opening phrase can mean either that Audley is not truthfully employed or that he was born to occupy an office in Fig-Tree Court, Temple. The characterization that follows reveals both interpretations as equally applicable. Robert Audley is a man defined by what he is not and he has no interest in veering from the course predetermined by the circumstances of his birth. He is perfectly content to surrender himself to the dull pleasures of the routine. Numbers and passive language reappear throughout his introduction, reminders of Audley’s repetitious life and his past as an accountant: Robert is the “only child” of a father who left him “£400,” he’s aged “about seven-and-twenty,” a barrister for the “five years” his name has been painted upon “one door,” and he attends his “allotted number of dinners” (35). Although Robert’s complaints of “overwork” are laughed off, they are not entirely inaccurate (35). Audley’s greatest fault is not that he cares too little, but rather that he cares too much. Audley’s absolute rejection of violence is his only motivation, he spends all his hours contemplating how best to avoid conflict. Audley became a barrister only to avoid conflict with friends, this fear of opposition would explain why he “never… even wished to have a brief” as a confrontational litigator (35). Audley’s introduction is made even stranger by his friendship with George Talboys – a man in every way his opposite. Talboys sought out the life of violence as a dragoon that Audley so carefully avoided, not out of desperation but simple excitement. The cigar smoking Talboys plays cards while Audley smokes his “German pipe” and reads the same “French novels” unknown to Talboys earlier (35). Talboys is anxious to offboard the Argus while Audley is comfortable as a passenger on the leisurely cruise of his life.