Review: Lady Audley´s Secret

I´m slowly catching up on my reviews, I think it´s the first time I´ve ever been behind on them. I don´t usually read fast enough for that to happen.

As is most often the case for me, I picked up Lady Audley´s Secret because of the beautiful and intriguing cover. The other titles in Atlantic Books´ Classic Crime series also have great covers (I love the one of Bleak House and Bulldog Drummond).

I find it always a bit difficult to review crime books, which depend on keeping up the suspense and thereby prevent a more detailed discussion. I´ll try my best to give you an impression of this book without giving anything away:

Lady Audley´s Secret begins with what is often the end of a story, the poor, pretty young woman gets engaged to a rich gentleman. In this case, the problems and the story really only start with their marriage. The governess Lucy Graham becomes Lady Audley through an extremely advantageous marriage. She is much younger than her husband but their marriage seems to be a happy one. In another part of England Sir Audley´s nephew Robert runs into an old friend, George Talboys, who has just returned from a long stay in Australia, a stay which has made him a wealthy man. When they visit Audley Court, George disappears and Robert starts to investigate.

Lady Audley´s Secret is truly one of the great Victorian sensation novels and was immensely popular in its day. It surprises me that I had never heard of it before, it seems as if Wilkie Collins has overshadowed Braddon´s works (she appears to have been an even more prolific writer than Joyce Carol Oates!) in this genre. Perhaps you´re more aware of this novel than I was, is it a well-known classic in England?

If you, like me, sometimes shy away from the classics thinking the language will be unfamiliar and therefore difficult to understand and the pace slow, do try this book. Lady Audley´s Secret is a page-turner and, like a magic show, keeps you breathless while Braddon keep pulling one trick (or is it illusion) after another. I keep thinking of these books as the equivalent of a thriller (fast-paced with lots of special effects for those of us with short attention-spans). The central mystery does not seem to be much of a mystery at all, it is easy to guess. However, there is so much else going on that the story remains as exciting as if you were unaware of it.

For all its sensational effects, it is the characterization of the “villain” that  makes this novel. I was already very much impressed with the portrayal of a strong female character in The Woman in White, and Braddon´s depiction of Lady Audley is perhaps even more fascinating because of the grey moral area (at least that´s how I related to her character, not clear-cut at all).

I´d also love to discuss in how far Lady Audley´s Secret really subverts women´s role in Victorian society, because that´s what the Case Notes at the back of my edition wants me to believe. It´s impossible to do so without giving everything away though, so please read it and get back to me. 🙂

In any case I can highly recommend it, go storm your library or bookstore and settle in for one sensational evening!

A few of my favorite passages:

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.´” (13)

It was almost oppressive, this twilight stillness. The very repose of the place grew painful from its intensity, and you felt as if a corpse must be lying somewhere within that grey and ivy-covered pile of building- so deathlike was the tranquility of all around” (26)

The linen-jacketed servant returned presently. He was a spare pale-faced man of middle age, and had the appearance of having outlived every emotion to which humanity is subject.” (200)

To call them the weaker sex is a hideous mockery. They are the stronger sex, the noisier, the more persevering, the more self-assertive sex. They want freedom of opinion, variety of occupation, do they? Let them have it. Let them be lawyers, preachers, teachers, soldiers, legislators- anything they like- but let them be quiet- if they can.” (224)

Also reviewed by:

Ana at Things Mean A Lot

Have you reviewed this book? Drop me a line and I´ll add a link!

15 thoughts on “Review: Lady Audley´s Secret

  1. Interesting review! The story looks quite interesting and intriguing. I love the cover! I will add ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ to my ‘TBR’ list. I think Atlantic Books is doing a wonderful thing by bringing many out-of-print authors back into vogue through this series.

    1. And I´m happy they are choosing such great covers for their crime line 🙂 I´m curious about the other books in this series as well.

  2. Braddon being more prolific that J C Oates is quite a statement in that time. I love the Victorian age so I will definitely be looking out for this one too. Women were seen in those times and not one to be given equal status. Remember the Suffrage… hence the movement for equal rights & rights to vote in those times. Great review and I agree on the cover, beautiful.

    1. Apparently she published 90 works or so 😀 I feel that while this one does expose and subvert some of the issues of women in the Victorian age it still features a lot of conformism as well.

  3. Oh, I really need to read this book now. Apparently, it’s not only the cover that makes it worth reading 😉

  4. Simon of Savidge Reads read this for his Sensation Season and has kept on pestering me to read it since! You’ve flagged it for me again, although I’m tempted to wait to read it until the Autumn – I do think Sensation novels go particularly well with a blanket and a cup of tea when it’s a grey day!

    1. Simon´s right, you really need to give this a try 🙂 True, these books work best with bad weather but since it´s been grey and rainy here for some time, I did indeed enjoy this book with a nice cup of tea 🙂

  5. Interesting review, I hadn’t heard of this one before I think. I like the second quote you put down about death like tranquility. 🙂

  6. Those passages really tempt me to try this book out 🙂 I love Wilkie Collins, and am pretty sure I will like this one as well.

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