Course Blog

Capt. Maldon is Kind of Weird

Pg. 48- The old man’s weak eyes sparkled as George declared this determination. “My poor boy, I think you’re right,” he said, “I really think you’re right. The change, the wildlife, the-the-” He hesitated and broke down, as Robert looked earnestly at him.

“You’re in a great hurry to get rid of your son-in-law, I think, Mr. Maldon,” he said gravely.

“Get rid of him, dear boy! Oh no, no! But for his own sake, my dear sir, for his own sake, you know.”

This exchange reveals a great deal about the characters, plot, and of foreshadowing. In the preceding passage, a despairing George reveals his intention to return to Australia. Immediately after this, Maldon’s spirit is lifted and he gifts the audience this gem. Maldon repeats the phrase, “I think you’re right” (pg. 48). After a physical reaction to George’s declaration, Mary Elizabeth Braddon is drawing attention through repetition to Maldon’s vocal reaction. Maldon wants George gone as soon as possible and thus warrants our suspicion. Other iterations of repetition are exhibited in Maldon’s stuttering, “the, the” and “his own sake,” (48). It seems as if in his excitement at Geroge’s expressed departure, Maldon is stumbling over his words and garnering more suspicion.

In terms of binary oppositions I have already discussed the contrast of Maldon’s disposition in the preceding passage to this one (“eyes sparkling,” pg. 48). Aside from this, Robert and Maldon become foils for each other. Robert, like the audience, finds suspicion in Maldon’s reaction and openly questions it when he could have just as well kept it to himself. Moreover, this opposition creates an opportunity for Braddon to identify proto-detective/ surrogate for the audience. To this point, Robert has merely been a supportive friend and embodiment of lethargy. After this passage he becomes a sort of detective by pointing out the oddity of Maldon’s behavior and earning the audience’s empathy in doing so.

In terms of a larger picture, this passage casts a sinister shadow on Maldon. He could very well be simply resentful of George, but his excitement at George’s intended departure indicates that he is in on something we do not know anything about. Could another character “disappear” to Australia? Most of all, it expounds on the mystery surround the novel and its events.

There was not much in it; neither gold nor gems…

“There was not much in it; neither gold nor gems; only a baby’s little worsted shoe, rolled up in a piece of paper, and a tiny lock of pale and silky yellow hair, evidently taken from a baby’s head.” (32)

One thing that immediately comes across is how unusual the content of Lady Audley’s secret drawer is. Kept hidden away in this drawer, “lined with purple velvet,” is a child’s “little worsted shoe” and a lock of “pale and silky yellow hair” (32). The fact that Lady Audley hides both of these items reveals two important ideas: 1. Lady Audley likely has memories associated with these items, which is why she wishes to preserve them. 2. The fact that she finds these items significant, but does not keep them preserved in a visible space, indicates that there’s a reason for that. Given the usage of “little” and tiny” in this passage to describe the baby’s remnants, the child must have been very young. Additionally, the secrecy of these items leads me to believe that Lady Audley may have had a first born before her marriage to Sir Michael Audley.

By ending the chapter on Phoebe’s and Luke’s discovery, I believe Braddon is foretelling what will come later in the novel: confusion over Lady Audley’s early life. While I believe this is one aspect of this passage, there may be another layer to it. Mary Elizabeth Braddon could have included this to combat gender roles at the time, which suggested women follow a prudent life before marriage. The prospect of Lady Audley having a child runs against this stereotype of women. At other points in the book, Braddon has described Lady Audley as a “fragile figure” and “as girlish as if she had but just left the nursery” (50). The image depicted here is a complete 180 from the Lady Audley whose past is eluded to by the drawer lined with purple velvet. In this way, I believe the author includes these depictions to tear them down later on in the book. If the readings to this point have hinted at anything, Lady Audley’s Secret could be one that challenges Victorian notions of femininity.