Madness In Lady Audley's Secret - Gothic Fiction - Essay

2276 words - 10 pages

Madness in Lady Audley’s Secret
The novel Lady Audley’s Secret sheds light on the activities that took place during the Victorian era where women were expected to undertake certain outlined activities as well as their male counterparts. Similarly, people who lived during the time were barred from engaging in certain activities as they were considered to be inconsistent with the expectations of the community as well as the nation at large. As a result, aspects such as divorce and insanity related attributes were unheard of in the communities. Nonetheless, writers such as Mary Elizabeth Braddon composed books to highlight the elements that existed in the communities during the time (Meadows 319). Despite the conserved nature of people during the period, devious activities existed. Lady Audley’s Secret pinpoints at the heinous deeds that existed in the Victorian era. Despite the perception of the women being weak and submissive as far as the societal norms are concerned, the book denotes diverse elements of the then-woman some of which correlate with the modern-day attributes of the feminine gender such as undertaking roles that ensure provision of food for the families (Knowles 34). Although the novel is dynamic given its setting and interesting to read, madness has taken central stage in the novel. As a result, the paper will shed light on the presentation of insanity in the story. It will highlight how madness has been employed in the novel’s plot and characterization.
The Victorian period was earmarked with adherence to rules and societal beliefs. As a result, majority of the authors such as Mary Elizabeth Braddon among others sought to highlight aspects that existed in the community that were contrary to the cultural expectations. For instance, the writers embraced aspects such as madness, deceit, murder-related activities and bigamy in their works to ensure their works were sensational. In Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s novel, Lady Audley’s Secret, insanity has served to portray some of the activities that took place in the society during the Victorian era (Richards 23). Braddon has incorporated the aspect of madness in her book by taking into consideration the element of gender with regards to the underscored theme. The subject of insanity is taken into account and made successful to a great extent by the female gender.
Braddon in her novel Lady Audley’s Secret has embraced the aspect of secrecy as an underlining subject (Matus 349). Braddon has utilized bigamy as a tool for illustrating the extent of insanity in her works. Having grown up in the Victorian era where divorce was considered a taboo, Braddon engaged in bigamy with John Maxwell who was a publisher at the time. Since Braddon had a husband and Maxwell had a wife at the time of their affair, she could not become his second wife since divorce was viewed as insanity in the Victorian community (Talairach-Vielmas 53). Therefore, her cohabiting act with Maxwell was viewed as immoral. Braddon’s cohabiting life did not get a lot of criticism as compared to her writings. As a result, the setting of the novel depicts a time when bigamy was the way out for people who were opinionated to have more than one partner or one who was not in a position to divorce his or her current partner (Meadows 318). Hence, women of the time as well as their male counterparts engaged in suspicious activities that correlated with madness to cover up their actions.
In the novel, madness is underlined as the evil activities that a person engages in to ensure his or her good attributes always come into play, rather than the negative aspects. The novel presents females as ready to participate in mad-activities to cover their weaknesses and their evils as compared to their male counterparts. To underline the extent of madness, the author denotes that women instead of assisting their colleagues in concealing their secrets and evil ordeals, they opted to extort money from them (Braddon 201). Therefore, madness is portrayed as a part of the female gender.
Also, madness is attributable to the need to be independent rather than depend on a man. For instance, upon changing her name from Lucy to Lady Audley, the mistress worked hard to ensure she maintained her status and never to depend on another man. The novel presents madness as an evil act that not only creates discord but also acts as a catalyst for separation between married couples (Montwieler 31). On the other hand, the women during the Victorian period utilized insanity as a tool for protecting all they had and cared for in their lives. Also, the novel presents madness as a hereditary condition as underscored by the fact that Lucy’s mother was a lunatic leading to the belief that lady Audley was also a lunatic. Consequently, insanity is considered as a healthy state of mind during the Victorian period as far as people who made mistakes were concerned. Similarly, money and wealth are perceived as the most important aspects to take into consideration before entering into marriage (Osborne 364).
Therefore, the novel is presented in a period where insanity or madness took centre stage as far as social coexistence was concerned. As a result, the setting of the book during the period denotes the challenges the society faced due to the existence of madness in the community. Even though madness ensured some of the ladies remained in their relationships, insanity was responsible for the ultimate cases of divorce in the long run (Osborne 368).
Lady Audley opts to marry a rich old man, sir Audley, an aspect that ensures she lives a luxurious life after that. The opportunity to live a lavish life makes lady Audley embrace elements of insanity such as abandoning her child with her father to ensure she gets married to a rich man. Moreover, she tries to portray a good image to the man’s daughters to woo them to become fond of her and in return like her. Despite being unlikely for people to abandon their children during the Victorian era, lady Audley was not fettered by the prospect of leaving her child with her father only to get married by Sir Michael Audley. Additionally, she believed that her presence was not important in her child’s growth (Talairach-Vielmas 36).
Insanity is also evident in the plot of the novel as lady Audley decides to change her name to shackle herself from her past life by turning her name from Lucy Talboys to Lucy Graham (Braddon 149). Although sir Audley opened up to the fact that she has two daughters as before they agreed to live as husband and wife, Lady Audley was pinioned towards keeping her dark secrets to herself rather than share them out. Insanity is evident in the scene as Lady Audley’s former husband, Robert, is brought to Sir Michael Audley’s home by his nephew. Similarly, Sir Audley’s nephew’s decision to run away from the Audley’s court depicts an aspect of insanity as he knew that Robert’s wife lived in the court and thus he ought to have been ready for the aftermath (Talairach-Vielmas 32). The scene causes a stir as it turns the initially perceived good life to a state of panic to lady Audley.
Death has over the years been an element that has caused fear among a large faction of people. Lady Audley’s decision to feign death by publishing her obituary in the dailies yet she was alive is not only intriguing but denotes insanity. In the Victorian period, forging death was considered to be a taboo and lousy omen in the society. To cover the strange twist in her plans, lady Audley seeks to kill George whom she perceives as the orchestrator of the unlikely outcomes. The prospect of murdering an individual for self-gain, especially among the women, represents a high degree of madness in the Victorian era. The fear for his life makes George flee the country leading to an insurgency in Robert to investigate and determine the reasons behind George’s untimely and unlikely sudden departure to unknown lands. Lady Audley is insane; she opts to burn an inn where Robert stayed as she did not want her secrets to be revealed to her family. The ultimate realization of the fact that Lady Audley’s mischievous attributes not only caused discomfort but also fear and lack of harmony among the people plays an integral role in ensuring she is taken to an asylum. The aspect of being taken to an asylum denotes a high degree of madness as a sudden change from a lavish life to a lunatic environment contradicts expectations (Matus 350).
Despite living with her initial husband peacefully and lovingly, she changes from a caring wife to a dubious woman just as her husband leaves for Australia. Lady Audley’s sins and plans make her consider herself a mad woman. During the Victorian period, women were expected to be submissive and undertake the ‘womanly’ roles diligently. Moreover, women were expected to adhere to the society’s perception of womanly behaviour, an aspect that lady Audley failed to observe. For instance, she embraced a high level of secrecy as well as telling lies to ensure she was not doubted as a dubious wife which underline her insanity (Aston 34). The strict moral code of behaviour and conduct during the Victorian time does not correlate with lady Audley’s attributes as far as the period was concerned. Lucy Graham’s deviation from the society’s expectations denotes her insanity as underscored by her audacity to live a parallel life as compared to other women who were passive and submissive to their husbands and male figures (Richards 62).
Marriage not only in the Victorian time but also in several societies today is viewed as confinement that ensures individuals are bound together as long as they are alive. Lady Audley distances herself from the notion of the marriage according to the culture of the time. Instead, she engages in bigamy, which underlines her insanity. Also, the fact that lady Audley dared to quit her marriage due to the existence of an inadequate husband denotes her level of madness. Her dubious plans such as burning the inn to kill Robert pinpoint at the fact that her insanity was profound (Cabajsky 87). The doctor underscores that even though she was not found to be mad from the tests conducted, she ought to stay in an asylum to ensure that people had peace. Sir Audley laments at the prospect of his wife’s devious deeds. He asserts “wife's worst remorse when she stands without the threshold of the home she may never enter more is not equal to the agony of the husband who closes the portal on that familiar and entreating face” (Braddon 299).
Phoebe is a devoted servant to Lady Audley. Nonetheless, her madness is underlined by the fact that despite being a confidant to her mistress, she is extremely jealous of her. Her jealousy is highlighted when she changes the course of her statement regarding lady Audley’s stay as she stresses “Why, what was she in Mr. Dawson's house only three months ago? …Taking wages and working for them as hard, or harder, than I did” (Braddon 67). Phoebe’s envy of lady Audley further reveals her insanity as she turns against her once a close confidant and opts to blackmail her upon learning her secrets and deeds.
Lady Audley’s former husband is mad as he failed to take responsibility of providing for his family, leading to his wife fending for the son. Also, his lack of maintaining a connection with the family ensures he is not in a position to realize his son’s existence as well as the whereabouts of his wife in due time. Sir Audley is also a victim of madness as he fails to survey his wife’s background despite the financial capabilities as well as his status in the society which would have ensured he was successful in the mission.
In conclusion, Lady Audley’s Secret denotes how madness was evident in the Victorian era. The primary character, lady Audley, is insane given the activities she engaged in to ensure ends met. The novel depicts time when women were practising cohabiting. For instance, Mary Elizabeth Braddon cohabited with Maxwell, who was a publisher prior to publishing the novel. As a result, the insane activities spurred her to write the book. Although the female characters have committed several insane acts as compared to their male counterparts, both genders have elements of madness.
Works Cited
Aston, Elaine, and George Savona. Theatre as Sign System: A Semiotics of Text and Performance. Routledge, 2013.
Braddon, Mary Elizabeth. Lady Audley’s Secret. New York: Oxford Publishers, 1987.
Cabajsky, Andrea. "Lady Audley’s Secret versus The Abbot: Reconsidering the Form of Canadian Historical Fiction through the Content of Library Catalogues." Essays on Early Canadian Literature, 2014, pp. 89-114.
Knowles, Nancy, and Katherine Hall. "Imperial Attitudes in Lady Audley's Secret." DQR Studies in Literature, vol. 50, 2012, pp. 37.
Matus, Jill. "Disclosure as' Cover-Up': The Discourse of Madness in Lady Audley's Secret." University of Toronto Quarterly, 1993, pp. 334-355.
Meadows, Elizabeth. "Entropy and the Marriage Plot in the Woman in White" and" Lady Audley's Secret." Dickens Studies Annual, 2014, pp. 311-331.
Montwieler, Katherine. "Marketing Sensation: Lady Audley’s Secret and Consumer Culture." Beyond Sensation: Mary Elizabeth Braddon in Context, 2000, pp. 13-61.
Osborne, Katherine Dunagan. "His and Hers: Gendered Ownership and Marriage in Dombey and Son and Lady Audley's Secret." Victorian Literature and Culture, 2017, pp. 361-379.
Richards, Jessica K. Pollard. The Protracted Guise of Decency: Villainy in the Woman in White and Lady Audley's Secret. Utah: Weber State University, 2015.
Talairach-Vielmas, Laurence. Moulding the Female Body in Victorian Fairy Tales and Sensation Novels. Routledge, 2016.

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