Ghost!!!!!! Ghost!!!!!! Ghost!!!!!!.?

When Robert Audley returns to Audley Court after receiving a letter from Alicia describing Sir Michael’s sudden illness, he remarks upon his sinister surroundings as he walks the path to the mansion: “The over-arching trees stretched their leafless branches above his head, bare and weird in the dusky light. A low moaning wind swept across the flat meadowland, and tossed those rugged branches hither and thither against the dark grey sky. They looked like the ghostly arms of shrunken and withered giants beckoning Robert to his uncle’s house. They looked like threatening phantoms in the chill winter twilight, gesticulating to him to hasten upon his journey. The long avenue, so bright and pleasant when the perfumed limes scattered their light bloom upon the pathway, and the dog-rose leaves floated on the summer air, was terribly bleak and desolate in the cheerless interregnum that divides the homely joys of Christmas from the pale blush of coming spring – a dead pause in the year, in which Nature seems to lie in a tranced sleep, awaiting the wondrous signal for the budding of the tree, and the bursting of the flower” (Braddon 213).

At first read, this passage seems to be yet another obnoxiously detailed account of the spooky lime tree walk, which is so beautiful and bright during the day but dark and evil in the nighttime hours. Indeed, Braddon does use this moment as another excuse to emphasize the dual nature of the infamous lime tree walk, but this time she takes a step deeper into the mystery. The vocabulary used in this paragraph evokes an atmosphere that is not just dark, but eerily haunted. Words such as “bare,” “withered,” “bleak,” and “desolate” are familiar descriptions of wintertime, but new words such as “moaning,” “ghostly,” “phantoms,” “tranced,” and “dead” conjure a truly ominous image. The lime trees are not just dark shapes casting shadows upon the hidden path, they are ghosts reaching out to whoever passes by, guiding them on their way. An interesting aspect of the syntax in this passage is the repetition of the phrase “they looked like…” The third and fourth sentences both begin with the observational words and continue to describe the spectral appearance of the trees. The two sentences are very similar, as they both paint the image of the trees “leading” Robert along the path to the house.

Ghostly imagery has been teased at in other points of the book, and their egregious use in this moment leads the reader to imagine there may be some supernatural aspect to the story. Perhaps the phantasmal trees are moved by the spirit of the lost George Talboys, and it is no coincidence that it was from the lime tree walk that he disappeared. Perhaps the trees are “beckoning Robert to his uncle’s house” and “gesticulating to him to hasten upon his journey” to hurry him forth on his quest for truth and justice. At the beginning of the novel, it is insinuated that countless secrets have been divulged and kept under the shadow of the lime tree walk, so perhaps there are more spirits than just poor George haunting the pathway. Throughout the story, Robert makes several references to an unknown hand guiding him along his journey. These sentiments largely seem to be in reference to God, but perhaps this helping force is a different sort of spirit. To take it one step further, I would make the claim, however far-fetched, that it is this omnipotent spirit, either of George in particular or of every spirit wronged at Audley Court, who narrates the novel.

George’s Dramatic Descent into Misery

“The hot August sunshine; the dusty window-panes and shabby painted blinds; a file of fly-blown play-bills fastened to the wall; the blank and empty fire-place; a bald-headed old man nodding over the Morning Advertiser; the slipshod waiter folding a tumbled tablecloth, and Robert Audley’s handsome face looking at him full of compassionate alarm. He knew that all these things took gigantic proportions, and then, one by one, melted into dark blots that swam before his eyes. He knew that there was a great noise as of half-a-dozen furious steam-engines tearing and grinding in his ears, and he knew nothing more, except that somebody or something fell heavily to the ground” (Braddon 40).

This dramatic passage occurs just after George Talboys has learned from a newspaper that his wife passed away. For most of the novel, the narrator is a third-hand observer, albeit somewhat omniscient, but in this instance, the reader is transported directly into George’s mind. The paragraph begins with a simple listing of George’s surroundings, separated by semicolons and described thoroughly but without reasoning, as if George is trying to ground himself after such a shock. He first identifies “the hot August sunshine,” a relatively basic observation, before listing the blandness of the coffeehouse. The use of words such as “dusty,” “shabby,” “blank,” and “empty” illustrates both the physical characteristics of the coffeehouse as well as the dark mood George is slipping into at the heartbreaking news. Finally, he notices the people in the coffeehouse, including his friend Robert Audley. A significant aspect of this paragraph is the repetition of “he knew.” This serves as another way in which George is attempting to ground himself in reality, but it fails in the end as the last thing “he knew” was his own body collapsing to the floor. As the paragraph concludes, George essentially has an out-of-body experience, a melodramatic reaction to the loss of his wife. Before he blacked out, however, everything around him “melted into dark blots that swam before his eyes.” This parallels how everything bright and beautiful about his life has faded into darkness since his wife was all he cared about. As his vision goes black, George hears “a great noise as of half-a-dozen furious steam-engines tearing and grinding in his ears.” The intensity of the words “furious,” “tearing,” and “grinding” brings a stark difference to the plain vocabulary used to describe the coffeehouse. This also seems to be a somewhat supernatural event, since it is unlikely this sound actually occurred in reality, which sets up the surrealism of his out-of-body experience. Overall, this passage chronicles George’s descent into darkness, emotionally and literally, when he learns of his wife’s death. Everything he loves, has worked for, and admires, fades away into misery and he is transported out of his body because he is so broken and disconnected from his life.