Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lady Audley's Secret: Review

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1887) is another classic example of the Victorian-era mystery novel. It was at one time one of the most popular mysteries in the English-speaking world. It went through eight editions in the first year alone, sold upwards of a million copies, and it never went out of print during Braddon's life-time. It takes the Victorian sensation novel and turns it on its head, giving the reader a strong central character--you may not agree with what she does, but at least she doesn't sit back and let life happen to her. Lady Audley's Secret has subterfuge, kidnapping, jealousy and fraud all thrown into the mix and shaken up for good measure.

At the beginning it is a simple story, Lord Michael Audley falls in love with Lucy Graham. a lovely, friendly young woman who has come to the area as a governess to the local doctor's children. They are married a
nd life settles down in Audley Court. Then Robert Audley, nephew to Lord Audley, meets up with an old friend just returned from the goldfields of Australia. George Talboys left home to seek a fortune and has now returned with pockets well-lined to bring his wife and son the support they deserve. But misfortune begins with George's first evening in England--there is a notice of the death of Helen Talboys. Robert accompanies George to verify that this is, indeed, his wife, and George is heartbroken to find that it it true. Robert then devotes his time to trying to help George recover--offering him amusements and diversions. Eventually, they plan a trip to Essex....where lies Audley Court and where George Talboys will disappear. As Robert tries to discover what has happened to his friend, he becomes more and more convinced that Lady Audley holds the secret. But he fears what that secret might mean for his beloved uncle.

Like many Victorian novels of the time, it is no secret (pun intended) who the villain of the piece is. The bulk of the story is about what exactly the villain has done, how Robert will manage to find the evidence to bring justice, and just exactly how many layers there are to the secrets gathered at Audley Court. I found myself saying over and over again, "Aha, now I know it all." Which was, after all, a bit silly when there was still half to a third of the book to go. But Braddon managed to give that impression....and then once I was sitting smugly thinking I knew what was what, she added another twist and revealed another layer. A very enjoyable classic mystery. Four Stars. [Finished 8/24/11]


Peggy@Peggy Ann's Post said...

Sounds like a good one! Found it at Project Gutenberg for ebook!

Yvette said...

Sounds good, Bev. Since I read A WOMAN IN WHITE, I have new found respect for Victorian mysteries.

J F Norris said...

This has a lot in common with the WOMAN IN WHITE. Her secret was truly a terrible thing back then when morality and reputation were so much more highly valued. It seems to have little power these days which is why when it comes to adapting these books writers feel they have to throw in something more awful and taboo. As in the case of a WOMAN IN WHITE adaptation that added incest to the story. Ugh. A recent TV adaptation of Braddon's book failed to thrill me. Nothing seemed to be at stake. Bad direction? I'm not sure. But I still think the book is the epitome of the Victorian Sensation novel.