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.