“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.