Lady Audley’s Secret is a Victorian “sensational”. My love for “sensational” novels began with The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I read that Lady Audley’s Secret is regarded as a rival to The Woman in White and it made me want to read the book.
Told by an unknown narrator, the story is focused on a “secret” of a woman named Lady Audley and the ultimate revelation of what that secret is. When I reflect on the story after reading, it strikes me as pretty simple and straightforward. But the beauty lies in the twists and turns Ms. Braddon so carefully employs to keep the reader guessing on the big secret of Lady Audley. She lays down clues and throws hints here and there without giving away too much and keeping the secret well-guarded until the time is right for a confession by Lady Audley.
I found the writing of Ms. Braddon remarkable. There is so much beauty in her metaphoric prose. The subtle descriptions of a setting, a character, or anything in general, is so colourful that you are instantly transported to the time and setting of the story. Though her writing is a little verbose at times, this was balanced with the use of simple dialogues. The usage of such techniques made the read both interesting and quick.
The set of characters used is unique and intriguing. The main male character, Robert Audley, is a young barrister. He is lazy and purposeless; but by fate, the discovery of Lady Audley’s secret is forced on him. The story is both this discovery and Robert’s struggle to gather clues and evidence towards this discovery at the risk of his own life. I truly enjoyed reading how Robert’s character was developed throughout the story. From an idling and purposeless life, he was slowly but steadily uplifted to a responsible and intellectually mature one. Throughout his journey to unveil the secret, he becomes determined and courageous and he finally understands his duties and responsibilities to his loved ones and the society at large. I was very much impressed with his character development.
While Robert Audley represented the detective, judge and the jury, and the executioner, the culprit was Lady Audley, a wicked and treacherous woman who uses her beauty to appease her mercenary intentions. Lady Audley is undoubtedly the most dangerous female villain I have come across. She is resourceful and has a surpassing strength of mind and she can only be compared to a demon in the guise of an angel. The battle between these two main characters that were on opposite ends was truly intriguing. Throughout the read, I was in the middle of a waging war waiting impatiently for the truth and justice to triumph. All the other characters were well placed and developed in the course of the story. They provided a well-structured backdrop for the story.
Having read both The Woman in White and Lady Audley’s Secret, I now understand why it is said that they rival each other. While The Woman in White touches on the male villainy against innocent and unprotected females, in Lady Audley’s Secret the gender role is switched; here we find female villainy against the males. It is said that Ms. Braddon had admired The Woman in White but was not happy with Collin’s heroine. And as The Woman in White served as an inspiration for Ms. Braddon to pen Lady Audley’s Secret, it is quite natural that Ms. Braddon purposefully used a character who has an incredible strength of mind and who is resourceful as the female lead, though she represented evil.
Overall, it was a great “sensational” story and a great reading experience. I loved every minute of reading it. To those who have an appetite for “sensational” stories, I highly recommend Lady Audley’s Secret.