Skip to main content

Review: Lady Audley's Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

In Lady Audley’s Secret, Sir Michael Audley marries Lucy Graham, a governess. She’s a fragile-looking young woman of about 20 or so, whose outside appearance belies the deep, dark secret she’ll do anything to protect. But when a young man named George Talboys goes missing, his friend Robert Audley steps in and resolves to figure out what happened to him. Robert, a dissolute barrister, has a strong suspicion that his step-aunt is connected to his friend's disappearance.

I’m not going to give away (much) here, because it would spoil virtually the whole book and a lot of the enjoyment that goes with this reading experience, but suffice it to say that this novel was one of the great works of Victorian sensationalist novels that were published in the 1860s. It was sensationalist because it took the ideals of Victorian family-hood and turned them upside-down: it was nearly inconceivable that a woman could be capable of the acts that Lady Audley perpetrates here. Even today, this novel is still fascinating, filled with ghosts and murder and arson and bigamy. Braddon displays a wide range of outside knowledge, from Classical literature to literature of the time (she even mentions Wilkie Collins, to whose The Woman in White this novel is probably indebted), to history (the English Civil War), current events (the US Civil War), and beyond.

The author tends to be melodramatic, which turned me off a bit, and her writing style just isn’t that good (Braddon tended to write in fragmented sentences). But the story itself sucked me in, and after reading a few pages, I knew that I just had to read the rest. Its definitely true that Braddon is the master of writing plot, and everything ties together perfectly. While considered trashy in the 1860s, the novel contains a strong statement about women’s roles in Victorian England.


Lezlie said…
Ooh! This looks good! Another one for The List. . . :-)

nbbaker1102 said…
It sounds intriguing. Was it an easy read? Sometimes I find these older books hard to get through.
jenclair said…
I've heard about this title for so long and have never got around to reading it, but after your review, it is definitely on my list. I love Wilkie Collins from the same period, and this one sounds as if it has a similar allure.
Trish said…
This one was fun to read, but I agree that the writing was a little ehhhhh and the ending a little too contrived. I hope you're still planning on joining us for the classics challenge! You certainly do read a lot of them!
Danielle said…
I think she actually published several novels the year she wrote Lady Audley, so she was really cranking them out. I thought the ending sort of contrived as well, but it was so entertaining to read I was willing to overlook that.
Jaimie said…
Thanks for the link! I enjoyed the book quite a bit and am looking forward to reading more by Braddon. I understand not caring for the melodrama but it was no doubt good fun for a repressed Victorian womanhood. Kind of like a soap opera today.
bookchronicle said…
This definitely looks like a good novel.

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy:, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy:, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…