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.

Age Before Beauty

Paragraph beginning “That one quiet evening had sealed Sir Michael’s fate…” and ending “Sir Michael Audley had fallen ill of the terrible fever called love” (Braddon 12-13). 

This paragraph begins with the description of Lucy Graham, a charming governess beloved by all for her quiet beauty.  Sir Michael Audley, upon meeting Miss Graham, wrestles with the complexity of his emotions.  He sees her largely in a gentle light and recognizes her femininity, yet this is almost immediately and violently juxtaposed with the tumultuous conflict over love which occupies his mind.  Michael cries (inaudibly), “Destiny!  Why, she was his destiny!  He had never loved before” (Braddon 12).  This phrase indicates that Michaels sees love not as a relationship between people, but as a means of ownership and submission between those who partake in the marriage vow.  He also places the value of his happiness on her by saying that she alone is what his future holds.  This view of ownership and power dynamics is further substantiated by the description of his wrestling thoughts.  He describes his definition of love as a, “fever, this longing, this restless, uncertain, miserable hesitation; these cruel fears that his age was an insurmountable barrier to happiness” (Braddon 12).  The emotions of a man are seen in this passage as a plague or something to be pitied.  Both the presentation of Lucy Graham and Michael Audley’s view of love and emotion seem to fall within typical expectations between sexes: the female being sweet and silent; a beacon of light in a dark world, while the male is vocal and dominant.  This passage appears to be about a man’s ability to express emotion, as Michael Audley repeatedly struggles with his emotional desires, his age, and his past marriage.  Because of the strength of the words being expressed, but only within the confines of Sir Audley’s mind, this passage implies an apparently typical emotional alienation and the invocation of a public mask to protect private life. 

The Secrets of the Black Ribbon

 “She wore a black ribbon round her neck, with a locket or a cross, or a miniature, perhaps, attached to it; but whatever the trinket was, she always kept it hidden under her dress” (Braddon 14).

Even though Lucy always wears this ribbon around her neck, she does not disclose what hangs from the ribbon. It is only revealed to be a ring wrapped in paper when Phoebe looks around in Lucy’s things. The secrecy of the ribbon connects to the previously established patterns of secrecy, which were especially detailed on page 9. The narrator describes this grassy area as the perfect place for a hidden meeting, whether between lovers or conspirators. However, this area is only 20 paces from the house, putting this ‘private’ spot in a delicate balance of secrets and public knowledge.

I think that the black ribbon reflects on this contrast between secrets and yet the proximity to being revealed. Even though the ring hides behind the neckline of Lucy’s dresses, one small slip up and the secret would be out as it is so close to being prominently displayed on Lucy’s chest. I believe that this ribbon is a physical representation of Lucy’s past that she is clearly trying to be kept out of the spotlight. But, since the ring at the end of the ribbon is on the verge of being seen, I believe that this means that there is a threat of Lucy’s secret being revealed. While Lucy may believe that her secret that manifests itself in the ring at the end of the ribbon will never be revealed, there is a looming danger that could expose Lucy’s lies. Since Phoebe was able to discover the ring kept on the ribbon, I believe that this acts as foreshadowing, meaning that the tightly woven secret that Lucy is hiding will soon start to unravel.

A House but Not a Home

Passage starting with “a house in which no one room had any sympathy with another…” ending at the end of the page (pg.8).

One thing I noticed within this passage is the repetition of the word “house”. This made me think of the differences between the word “house” and the word “home”. In my opinion the word “home” is a way to describe a place or thing that provides the feeling of comfort or safety, it does not have to be a literal house, but rather anything or location that provides someone with these feelings. The word “house” solely describes a type of building and its physical appearance rather than the feelings it can provide, thus taking away emotions and only leaving the empty structure. Diving in further into the lack of those feelings, the phrase “no one room had any sympathy with another” (p. 8) provides the sense of disconnect. Also, the descriptions of the building mention the grand size of the house and the narrow staircase. This leads to a sense that while the house is large, it is still very constricting.

I think this passage may highlight issues within romantic or familial relationships and the disconnect within them. Within the book there has been mention of some relationships that are struggling or where the partners are physically or emotionally distant from one another. The distance and disconnect among the rooms could represent the physical and emotional distance going on within these relationships. I personally think that this passage emphasizes strained relationships within a house and how that can contribute to the lack of comfort and safety one feels thus preventing the sense of a “home” and instead it remains a meaningless building, a house.

Victorian-era catfish?

“No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have so exaggerated every attribute of that delicate face as to give a lurid brightness to the blonde complexion, and a strange, sinister light to the deep blue eyes. No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have given to that pretty pouting mouth the hard and almost wicked look it had in the portrait” (Braddon 55).

At first glance, the portrait perfectly reflects Lady Audley’s likeness. It conveys in great detail her beauty and extravagance. But strangely, something feels off about it. Upon further inspection, the painter included details about the Lady that only someone with a very careful eye could discern. It gave the Lady an unsettling, evil aura that baffles the onlookers, who saw no such qualities in her themselves.

There is a contrast between the doll-like aesthetics and the malevolent tone befitting the artwork. Before reading, I sympathized with Lady Audley. I thought she probably made a bad decision and was presently regretting her choice. This passage alludes that Lady Audley’s secret may not simply be something she did in her youth. It illuminates the darkness of her true personality, which she has expertly hidden from the outside. In fact, she is so good at maintaining this fake image that observers rather question the artist’s motivations than doubt her sincerity. Pre-Raphaelite refers to a controversial group of painters that “sought to express a new moral seriousness and sincerity in their works” (Britannica, “Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood). The painter was doing his job and painting the subject as it was. This description of the portrait foreshadows Lady Audley’s ulterior motives and later behavior in 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.

Light and Dark

“Perhaps it was this cry which penetrated unto the quiet chambers of Audley Court; or perhaps it was the sight of her pretty face, looking over the surgeon’s high pew every Sunday morning. However, it was, it was certain that Sir Michael Audley suddenly experienced a strong desire to be better acquainted with Mr. Dawson’s governess”(Braddon 12). 

When I opened my page and found this passage, I noticed right away the light and dark features it brings upon me. As you read the opening line it pronounces the words cry and pretty. The cry made me think of Audley Court and how it could be depressing walking into it. As I read farther and got to the “sight of her pretty face” (Braddon 12) I realized there was a sense of hope. This hope brought up the idea of the body and how we cry but put on that pretty face to the world. The body has so many different views that I thought of Michael Audley finally having that desire to be with the governess. He could have the dark view of the governess, but again is putting on the face where he wants to be acquainted with her now. I also noticed the word “perhaps” was repeated in the first line and it allowed me to notice the pattern of the p words. The author did this on purpose to catch our attention and notice the details in this paragraph.  

This passage is related to the novel because it has various aspects of the way you can look at things. You can either look at it in a sad way or bring the pretty face into the idea of the cry. I think this ties in with the novel because it is foreshadowing there will be moments where characters have major events in their lives. It is also foreshadowing that Michael Audley will get together with the governess. This means that the author is letting us know the hardship this novel is going to bring to us.  

Possession in Sin

Pg 15, Paragraph 3 

“I scarcely think there is a greater sin, Lucy,” he said, solemnly, “than that of a woman who marries a man she does not love. You are so precious to me, my beloved, that deeply as my heart is set on this, and bitter as the mere thought of disappointment is to me, I would not have you commit such a sin for any happiness of mine. If my happiness could be achieved by such an act, which it could not–which it never could,” he repeated, earnestly–“nothing but misery can result from a marriage dictated by any motive but truth and love.” 

In this passage, Michael is in the process of proposing to Miss Lucy Graham and his use of language caught my attention because he primarily uses possessive pronouns that refer to himself. He refers to his potential fiancé only in terms in reference to his own person using phrases such as “you are so precious to me” (15) and “my beloved” (15). Through his word choice, the reader is able to receive an insight into Michael’s character. By doing this, we see that his perspective of his and Lucy’s relationship is centered on him alone. That being said, he also puts all responsibility for his own feelings into Lucy’s hands saying that if she does not truly love him, he will be unable to “achieve…happiness” (15). Michael sees marriage as something that purely affects him but is unfortunately in the hands of Lucy who as all of the power to hurt him.  

He explains that he believes marriages made for any other reason than “truth and love” (15) were destined to end sadness. He explicates this concept with several references to the hypothetical “sin” of the situation. Michael uses “sin” to describe the act of Lucy marrying him out greed, power, or any other motivation, rather than out of her love for him. In doing this, he brings into question his own religious beliefs and his willingness to push them upon Lucy at a moment of great importance. The images brought about are ones of fire and damnation of hell as a consequence of Lucy’s future actions. This religious motif is one that continues throughout the book whether as a result of the cultural mindset of the period or in an effort to emphasize the sinful behavior of the characters of the book, is so far unclear.  


The Scandalous Nature of Lucy’s Black Ribbon

Passage: “It was neither a locket, a miniature, nor a cross: it was a ring wrapped in an oblong piece of paper – the paper partly printed, partly written, yellow with age, and crumpled with much folding” (Braddon 17).

The first thing I notice is the cluster of words used in the middle of the passage by Braddon to elicit the importance of the paper previously enveloped in the ring. The repetition of the letter “p” was likely not an accident either (i.e., “piece of paper – the paper partly printed, partly…”) as it draws the reader’s attention to the piece of paper more so than the ring (Braddon 17). The age of the piece of paper is quickly made apparent to readers, but Braddon does something interesting here by contrasting words like “oblong” (the rectangular nature of which I interpret as showing elements of care) with words like “crumpled” or “folded” (Braddon 17). Perhaps this is indicative of how Lucy’s feelings towards the contents of this piece of paper and the ring have not changed (or become stronger) with the advancement of time, in that this once neatly kept paper has become worn with age. Another interesting element is the way in which the passage opens: “It was neither a locket, a miniature, nor a cross” (Braddon 17). I interpreted these as being commonplace items worn by women in the Victorian era, which when juxtaposed against Lucy’s paper and the ring may subtly imply that there is a sense of scandal, secrecy, or longing in Lucy’s actions.

Contextually, this passage is introduced in the novel directly after Michael Audley’s proposal to Lucy (which she is obviously not elated during). Braddon also makes readers aware of the fact that Lucy is “clutching” a “black ribbon about her throat” during the proposal (Braddon 16). This passage reveals what Lucy keeps at the end of her black ribbon. Collectively, these may foreshadow a scandalous event in Lucy’s future, which may result in her death or some sort of equivalent social ousting.

Who is Helen?

One of the more interesting aspects of this section of reading is the section where Lady Audley requests that Phoebe does her a favor and then gives her time off and extra pay for completing this (P. 61). While the narrator does not specify what exactly Lady Audley requests of Phoebe, it is obvious it is something she does not want others to know. Because of the pattern Lady Audley seems to be taking, where she is consistently avoiding George, it could be assumed that Phoebe was the one who sent the telegram requesting Lady Audley to visit her sick friend. I think that Lady Audley is attempting to avoid George, because she is actually Helen, his late wife.

Overall, this passage relates to the entire novel because it sets up another way that Lady Audley is attempting to avoid George. We do not know for sure if Phoebe sent the telegraph at Lady Audley’s request, but due to the secrecy of whatever the request was, and the surprise Lady Audley had when Mr. Audley offered to go with her, we can assume that she knew this was a fake trip. There is a pattern throughout this book, where Lady Audley is exhausted, or ill, or off on a trip and she avoids seeing George. She does not seem to avoid seeing Robert, however she does avoid George.  If Lady Audley is George’s late wife, she could be hiding to enjoy her now extravagant life and she would rather not lose that experience.