Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon.
|1880s edition of Lady Audley's Secret.|
This is the book I've been putting off for quite a while - it's on my Penguin English Library Challenge which I started just over two years ago (7th April '13), and it was one of the last ones left to read (now have only four left!). I never felt drawn to it, and when I did try to read it in December I didn't get past the second chapter. So I've been dreading it all year, in short, and I decided to read it for the readathon to get it out the way. Imagine my joy when I found, after the first few chapters, I loved it!
There's really not a great deal to say in this post - it's all very simple. It was published in 1862 and was one of Mary Elizabeth Braddon's first novels, in which she tells the tale of Lady Audley, née Lucy Graham. Lucy was a governess and not much else is known about her past, but her beauty seduces Sir Michael Audley and they marry. The novel begins after their marriage when Robert Audley, Sir Michael's nephew, welcomes home is old friend George Tallboys.
Tallboys has returned from Australia having effectively deserted his wife and child in search of gold in Australia where he hoped to make his fortune and return to his wife a rich man. However, on returning, he discovers his wife Helen has died quite recently, which he reads in The Times (which was once, probably still is by some, regarded as the paper of record). He is devastated, and Robert cares for him in during this time, taking him to Audley Court, the home of Sir Michael and Lady Audley. During this time a portrait of Lady Audley is shown to George, which Braddon describes:
No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have painted, hair by hair, those feathery masses of ringlets with every glimmer of gold, and every shadow of pale brown. No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have exaggerated every attribute of that delicate face as to give a lurid lightness to the blonde complexion, and a strange, sinister light to the deep blue eyes. No one but a pre-Raphaelite could have given to that pretty pouting mouth the hard and almost wicked look it had in the portrait.
|Lady Lilith by D. G. Rossetti (1866-68).|
It is, at its heart, a sensationalist novel like those of Wilkie Collins (The Woman in White, The Moonstone, and Basil to name a few examples). Lady Audley's Secret is fast-paced and gripping, highly exciting, and rather draining as a result! It's probably one of the best books I've read this year. The plot itself, as I've said, is quite simple but that doesn't deter at all from the enjoyment. No matter what one may guess, the excitement of reading it remains. What is revealed is a nightmarish world of the private, domestic sphere, where nothing is as it seems, and appearances are deceptive. It's full of madness, doubt, violence... a very intense and dramatic novel. I absolutely adored it.
It is, quite probably, at least partly inspired by a real court case of the time (which you can read about here, but it will give some of the plot away, even if you think you've already guessed what's going to happen, it will still spoil it), and Audley Court is based on Ingatestone Hall in Essex, so there are some 'real' roots in this mad little drama. It's a wonderful book, and for those who have felt they ought to read it but have been putting it off - I'd get to it straight away! It's one I'll no doubt return to again and again.
|Ingatestone Hall, Essex.|