Lady Audley\'s Secret By Braddon

Lady Audley’s Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, is a novel of many elements.

It has been placed in many different style or genre categories since its
publication. I feel that it best fits under the melodrama or sensational genre,
and under the subgenre of mystery. It contains significant elements of both
types of writing, so I feel it is best to recognize both, keeping in mind that
melodrama is its main device and mystery is a type of Victorian melodrama. In
order to understand how the story fits into these categories, it is necessary to
explore the Victorian characteristics of each, and apply them to the text. In
addition to establishing the genres, it is important to explain why and how
these genres fit into Victorian culture. The term melodrama has come to be
applied to any play with romantic plot in which an author manipulates events to
act on the emotions of the audience without regard for character development or
logic (Microsoft Encarta). In order to classify as a Victorian melodrama,
several key techniques must be used, including proximity and familiarity to the
audience, deceit rather than vindictive malice, lack of character development
and especially the role of social status. The sensational novel is usually a
tale of our own times. Proximity is indeed one great element of sensation. A
tale which aims to electrify the nerves of the reader is never thoroughly
effective unless the scene be laid out in our own days and among the people we
are in the habit of meeting. In keeping with mid-Victorian themes, Lady

Audley’s Secret is closely connected to the street literature and newspaper
accounts of real crimes. The crimes in Braddon’s novel are concealed and
secret. Like the crimes committed by respected doctors and trusted ladies, the
crimes in Lady Audley’s Secret shock because of their unexpectedness. Crime in
the melodrama of the fifties and sixties is chilling, because of the implication
that dishonesty and violence surround innocent people. A veneer of virtue coats
ambitious conniving at respectability. Lady Audley’s Secret concludes with a
triumph of good over evil, but at the same time suggests unsettlingly that this
victory occurs so satisfyingly only in melodramas (Kalikoff, 96). Everything
that Lady Audley does seems calculated. Unlike violent stories of the past in
which a criminal kills for the sake of killing, Lady Audley is brilliant in her
bigamy, her arson, and her "murder". The nature of her crimes reflect a
general fear of intimate and buried violence, suggesting a growing anxiety about
being threatened from within. Her moves are calculated and planned. Murders and
robberies spring from a specific social context, not from psychosis or
vindictive malice (Kalikoff, 81). Murders in Victorian melodramas are often the
result of elaborate plans to conceal identity, right a wrong or improve social
status. A reader of Lady Audley’s Secret might notice upon concluding the
novel that he/she knows very little about the characters at hand. Instead of
being fully developed into people who are easy to relate to, the characters in
this novel are used more as symbols or pawns that are moved in order to bring
attention to social or moral problems. This can best be seen in the character of

Lady Audley. Lady Audley is not much of a person, rather she is nothing more
than a representation of the threatening woman figure trying to make changes in
a patriarchal world. Lady Audley evokes a fear of women’s independence and
sexuality. As a popular Victorian genre that trades on the power of the secret
and frequently sexualized sins of its heroines, sensation fiction provides a
resourceful perspective on the contradiction that frame these villainous victims
who are simultaneously diseased, depraved, and socially and economically
oppressed (Bernstein, 73). Lady Audley’s ability to control the men in her
life makes her a devilish figure. When she attempts to convince Sir Michael that

Robert is insane with no proof and just her innocent looks, she is portraying
the fears of many people in Victorian society: a woman with power is dangerous.

In Lady Audley’s Secret, crimes logically emerge from an environment in which
social status is valued above everything. Crimes committed to improving social
status usually focus around a man or woman with a past. Married to a man three
times her age, Lady Audley would raise anyone’s eyebrows, yet she successfully
ensnares Sir Michael and very nearly achieves her ambitions. Who is safe when
the most ruthless conniver insinuates herself into the aristocracy? (Kalikoff,

84). In Lady Audley’s Secret, aristocrats are not dangerous, those who intrude
into higher