A Strange Decision

Passage: Page 34, “‘What’s this… the public-house, Luke.'”

This passage is short, only a few lines of description and dialogue as Phoebe and her cousin Luke go through Lady Audley’s jewelry. Luke finds a secret drawer, the contents of which Phoebe steals. The biggest point of repetition here is “rubbish”. The little shoe and lock of hair Phoebe takes are only of sentimental worth, nothing else. So why take it? Perhaps the secretiveness is what inspired her. She seems mischievous and cryptic with her “curious smile” and her comment to Luke about “[his] public-house”. Additionally, the narrator takes the time to describe Phoebe’s eyes dilating as she sees the contents of the drawer. The parcel was, after all, kept in a secret, locked drawer that presumably only Lady Audley had access to. But say the secretiveness is not why she took it–maybe it was the implications of the objects. A local widowed baronet marries a young, impoverished governess… only for it to be revealed she might have, or once had, a child. The situation, especially combined with Lucy’s refusal to share anything of her past with anyone, could quickly become a blazing scandal. Yes, Phoebe is well taken care of by the Audleys, but what else could she get if she held that threat over Lady Audley’s head, both for herself and for her fiancé? The passage is a lovely piece of could-be foreshadowing that sinks its hooks into the reader with how infuriatingly vague it is about Phoebe’s motives compared to the other characters.

Extended Close Reading of Lady Audley’s Secret

The passage I selected is on page 72, “Yes…in the portrait.”

The passage describes a portrait of Lady Audley painted by a pre-Raphaelite.  The narrator emphasizes this type of painter’s ability to render even the smallest of details, and it shows in “every glimmer of gold” and “every shadow” (Braddon, 72).  With this talent, the painter gives a “lurid lightness” to her “blonde complexion”, a “sinister light” to her “deep blue eyes”, and a “wicked look” to her “pretty pouting mouth”.  The juxtaposition of the darker attributes against the otherwise pleasing features of Lady Audley leads me to believe that she intentionally hides an ominous side underneath her beauty and fair appearance.  In addition, the repetition of mentioning that “no one but a pre-Raphaelite” could bring this side of her to light means that only someone with an immense aptitude for spotting the subtleties of a subject would be able to detect these aspects of Lady Audley (72).  This declaration in turn proves that there actually is a dark side and suggests that Lady Audley works hard to hide it successfully.  Until this point, Lady Audley’s hidden side had only suggested a big secret.  For example, when Phoebe and Luke find a baby’s shoe and lock of hair in a secret drawer belonging to the Lady on page 34.  However, I think this painting is an indication of her secretive side actually being an evil one, giving Lady Audley potential to be the unexpected antagonist of the story.  Her big secret will reveal a dark past, and her attempts to keep it hidden will combat the protagonist or plot’s efforts to divulge the truth behind her picturesque facade.