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Lady Audley's Secret / Edition 1

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Overview

Murder, mystery, mistaken identity, madness, bigamy, adultery: These were the special ingredients that made the sensation novel so delectable to the Victorian palate. Readers who devoured Lady Audley's Secret were thrilled and frightened by its inversion of the ideal Victorian heroine. Lady Audley looks like the angel-in-the-house ideal of Victorian womanhood-she is blonde, fragile, and childlike-but her behavior is distinctly villainous. At a time when Victorian women were beginning to rebel against their limited roles as wives and mothers, novels such as Lady Audley's Secret spoke to their secret longings and fantasies.

Genteel women readers, slaving away as governesses in other people's families, could share the fantasy of poor Lucy, suddenly made a lady by her marriage to Sir Michael. Part detective story, part domestic drama, Lady Audley's Secret became a runaway bestseller of its era. Nearly a century and a half since it was first published, Lady Audley's Secret has lost none of its ability to disturb and captivate readers.

"If I could plot like Miss Braddon, I should be the greatest novelist that ever lived."--Thackeray

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Editorial Reviews

Chris Willis Birkbeck College
"This impressive, scholarly new edition brings together a wealth of supplementary material, much of which is almost unobtainable elsewhere. Several fascinating appendices include contemporary parodies of the novel, extracts from stage versions, contemporary criticism and well-chosen extracts from Braddon's other work. Natalie Houston's scholarly introduction provides useful insights into Braddon's life and work. This edition will be invaluable to anyone studying or teaching the novel, or just reading it for enjoyment."
Kate Flint Rutgers University
"This intelligent edition offers a wonderful introduction not just to Lady Audley's Secret, but to the whole publishing phenomenon of sensation fiction. By emphasizing questions of alterable identity, the new Victorian culture of information, and the relationship of fiction to other media, Natalie Houston compellingly brings home the connection of this novel with many important issues today."
From the Publisher
"Mary Elizabeth Braddon knows much that ladies are not accustomed to know."  —Henry James
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781551113579
  • Publisher: Broadview Press
  • Publication date: 8/19/2003
  • Series: Broadview Literary Texts Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 510
  • Sales rank: 416,136
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Natalie M. Houston is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Houston.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Mary Elizabeth Braddon: A Brief Chronology
A Note on the Text
Lady Audley's Secret
Appendix A: The Serialization of Lady Audley's Secret
1. The Serial Texts of Lady Audley's Secret
2. The Illustrations from The London Journal
Appendix B: Dramatizations
1. George Roberts, Lady Audley’s Secret. A Drama in Two Acts. Founded on, and in part adapted from, Miss Braddon’s novel of that name. The Original Version.
2. William E. Suter, Lady Audley’s Secret. A Drama in Two Acts, adapted from Miss Braddon’s popular work of the same title
Appendix C: Satires
1. "Rhymes For the Very Young"
2. Thomas Hood, "Maurora Maudley; or Bigamy and Buttons"
3. "Sensation! A Satire"
Appendix D: Reviews
1. The Times review
2. The Spectator review
3. "Our Female Sensation Novelists"
4. "Our Survey of Literature and Science"
5. H. L. Mansel, "Sensation Novels"
Appendix E: The New Criminal Heroine
1. Eliza Lynn Linton, "Little Women"
2. E. S. Dallas, The Gay Science
Appendix F: Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Penny Fiction
1. Lady Caroline Lascelles (pseud.), The Black Band, or The Mysteries of Midnight
2. Mary Elizabeth Braddon, The Doctor's Wife
Select Bibliography

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Introduction

Murder, mystery, mistaken identity, madness, bigamy, adultery: These were the special ingredients that made the sensation novel so delectable to the Victorian palate. Indeed, it was these elements that gave the genre its "sensational" reputation in the 1860s. Readers who devoured Lady Audley's Secret were thrilled and frightened by its inversion of the ideal Victorian heroine. Lady Audley looks like the angel-in-the-house ideal of Victorian womanhood-she is blonde, fragile, childlike-but her behavior is distinctly villainous. At a time when Victorian women were beginning to rebel against their limited roles as wives and mothers, novels such as Lady Audley's Secret spoke to their secret longings and fantasies. Genteel women readers, slaving away as governesses in other people's families, could share the fantasy of poor Lucy, suddenly made a lady by her marriage to Sir Michael. Of course, her doting husband sees only her fragile loveliness. Like most men of his time, he can hardly conceive of his wife's having a mind of her own, much less one filled with murderously passionate desires. Her nephew, Robert Audley, also falls under the spell of his aunt's lovely face, although aspects of her are beginning to disturb the young barrister. As Robert investigates the disappearance of his boyhood friend, George Talboys, his suspicion grows that his beautiful young aunt is not who she seems to be. Part detective story, part domestic drama, Lady Audley's Secret became a runaway bestseller of its era and beyond and was Mary Elizabeth Braddon's most famous novel. One of the best of the "sensation" novels of the 1860s, Lady Audley's Secret laid bare themurderous mysteries hidden beneath the veneer of Victorian respectability.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835-1915) became a bestselling author in 1862 with Lady Audley's Secret. The twenty-seven-year-old's route to fame led from a broken home (her mother left her father when Mary was four), through a clandestine seven years as an actress (a disreputable profession for a woman in her day), to a bigamous relationship with the publisher who first revealed Lady Audley to the world as a serial in one of his magazines. Surviving scandal and critical scorn, Braddon became one of the most celebrated and respected authors of the nineteenth century. With Wilkie Collins (The Woman in White, The Moonstone), she minted the genre of literature known as the sensation novel, the precursor of the mystery-thrillers so popular today. Nearly a century and a half since it was first published, Lady Audley's Secret has lost none of its ability to disturb and captivate readers.

The first installment of Lady Audley's Secret debuted on July 6, 1861, in the magazine Robin Goodfellow. Although the magazine folded in September, fans of the story clamored for the author to continue it and it ran again from the beginning in The Sixpenny Journal starting in January 1862. In October 1862, the first three-volume edition appeared, and just as people nowadays buy DVD copies of a season's worth of The Sopranos or Friends, readers who had enjoyed the story in weekly installments bought it as a book. First-time readers who had heard the buzz about it also snapped up copies and seven reprints followed in just three months. The novel's addictive ingredients-murder, madness, mystery, and bigamy-seduced readers from every class. Vilified by critics as immoral, Lady Audley's Secret appealed to readers who felt both titillated and disturbed by its subversion of Victorian ideals about marriage, motherhood, and family life. Curiously, the novel's thrills work on readers today for many of the same reasons they did in the 1860s: Lady Audley's Secret shows that things are not always what they appear to be, that outward beauty may conceal inner evil, that seemingly happy families may harbor dark secrets.

Braddon recognized the power of her culture's stereotypes and she quickly made the most of subverting them. Thus, in Lady Audley's Secret, Lucy Audley first appears as the Victorian ideal of womanhood: she is a blonde, child-like "angel in the house." However, this child-woman, far from being a vessel of moral virtues, is a viper in the breast of the Audley family. Rich old Sir Michael, "at the sober age of fifty-five. . .had fallen ill of the terrible fever called love." His passion is for beautiful Lucy, a much younger governess, in a fantasy that readers of romance novels will recognize. However, Lucy Graham is no Jane Eyre. Her good looks blind Sir Michael who takes her as his second wife without inquiring too deeply into the poor governess's past. Instead, readers and her nephew-in-law, Robert Audley, slowly begin to unravel the truth of Lucy's character and the lengths to which she'll go to maintain her position as wealthy Lady Audley. W. Fraser Rae, a contemporary reviewer, observed that "Lady Audley is at once the heroine and the monstrosity of the novel. In drawing her, the authoress may have intended to portray a female Mephistopheles; but, if so, she should have known that a woman cannot fill such a part." Like many other reviewers, Rae could not bear the thought that the angel in the house might be a demon in disguise.

Yet the heroine's dual nature gave the novel its uncanny strength. Not only was Lady Audley's Secret a best-seller in its own time, lauded by readers from Henry James to Prime Minister Gladstone, it was also one of the first and best of a genre of 1860s literature known as "the sensation novel." Intricate plotting, a pervasive sense of mystery, suspense, and unconventional heroines are common elements of the sensation novel, but Braddon's masterful narrative raises Lady Audley's Secret above genre fiction and into the realm of a first-rate read from any era. E. S. Dallas, the book reviewer for the London Times, recognized that sensation novels, like Lady Audley's Secret, were busy purveying a new model of heroine: "If the heroines have the first place, it will scarcely do to represent them as Passive, and quite angelic, or insipid, as heroines usually are. They have to be pictured as highly-strung women, full of passion and purpose and movement - very liable to error." The sensation novel remained a popular genre of literature for just that one decade, the 1860s, and then it faded from the literary scene. Interestingly, that decade witnessed massive social changes in the role and status of women. During the 1860s, universities admitted women for the first time, career opportunities for females broadened, unmarried women lost much of their stigma, and legislation giving women more rights over their own property, culminating with the Married Women's Property Act of 1870, was enacted.

A prolific and popular Victorian novelist, Mary Elizabeth Braddon published nearly ninety books in the course of her career, yet her greatest success came with Lady Audley's Secret, one of her earliest novels. The tale made her famous and infamous in her own day and it also paved the way for a genre of literature still avidly read today: detective fiction. Braddon bridged the gap between the sensational murder trials regularly reported in the newspapers and the literary novel. Lady Audley's Secret caused a sensation among its first readers because it was one of the first novels to point out the double nature of Victorian society. Victorian public figures, from Charles Dickens to the Queen herself, endlessly trumpeted the sanctity of marriage and the family even as court trials revealed a dark private world of miserable marriages and broken families. Dickens, whose novels celebrate marriage and family, left his wife and children for an actress. And Braddon herself was the product of a miserable marriage and a broken family. At the time she was publishing Lady Audley's Secret, she was also practicing bigamy, pretending to be the legal wife of the publisher John Maxwell while trying to keep her lover's secret from coming to light: Maxwell's real wife was alive, but insane and confined to an asylum outside of Dublin. If readers didn't know the truth, however, some critics did, and some of the most venomous critiques of the novel allude to Braddon's compromised marital situation.

Another reason Lady Audley's Secret remains valuable today is that it offers an insider's view of a period already tingling with sensations. The early 1860s witnessed the ascendancy of the periodical press in Britain and the powerful influence of the media on culture. In 1861 alone, when the initial installments of Lady Audley's Secret were running in Robin Goodfellow, newspapers reported the first bloody conflicts of the American Civil War, the Warsaw Massacre and consequent emancipation of the Russian serfs, and the triumph of the Italian Unification Movement. Closer to home, the exploits of the famous acrobat Blondin during his first appearances in England awed the public, and the June 1861 fire in London that burned part of the city to the ground shocked them. Of course, what most appealed to readers were murder trials-only recently opened to journalists-reported obsessively in newspapers. In the summer of 1861, as readers avidly read the first episodes of Lady Audley's Secret, they were doubtless also reading newspaper accounts of the trial of the wealthy French nobleman, the Baron de Vidil, whose son had accused him of attempted murder; and the case of a retired Major Murray, whose brawl with a moneylender named William Roberts not only proved fatal for Roberts, but led to the revelation that the married Murray had a mistress (she had borrowed money from Roberts) and an illegitimate child. Richard D. Altick, who links these cases to the rise of sensation fiction in his book Deadly Encounters, believes these attacks "occurred in a gathering atmosphere for which they were providentially suited."

Although it's too simple to cite a direct cause-and-effect relationship between specific current events reported in the papers and the plots of sensation novels, it's certainly true that the energetic accounts of murder and mayhem and the electrifying plots of sensation novels prospered up apace. Braddon herself said of the daily papers, "I undoubtedly believe that they give the best picture of the events of the day. They really are, as they profess to be, mirrors reflecting the life and views of the period" (in the Daily Telegraph, part of an interview published on 4 October 1913). She, like Wilkie Collins, and other sensation novelists, absorbed the popularity of contemporary murder trials and used them to advantage in her fiction. Braddon also drew elements from the popular stage melodramas of the day, for the theatre represented the other primary entertainment for people in the nineteenth century and she knew a great deal about it from experience: Before she turned her hand to writing fiction, Braddon spent seven years as an actress.

Born in 1835, Mary Elizabeth Braddon was the last child of Fanny and Henry Braddon. Henry Braddon was the black sheep of an otherwise respectable Cornish family and Fanny left him when Mary was four. Life as a single mother in an era when respectable women didn't work was difficult, but Fanny did her best to educate her children well and Mary remembered her mother as her "constant companion and confidante." Both sides of the family contributed small sums to their upkeep and Mary learned to speak and read French, to recite long speeches from Shakespeare, and to play the piano proficiently. At the age of sixteen, Mary became an actress to earn money to support herself and her mother. In the 1850s, acting was not considered a respectable occupation for middle-class women (nothing really was, except for positions as teachers or governesses), but talented actresses could earn large incomes. Braddon hoped to make her fortune acting, but she recognized the stigma of the profession-pressure from family members prompted her to take the stage name "Mary Seyton."

Respectable citizens in the mid-nineteenth century looked down on actresses for two main reasons. The first was that actresses publicly "exposed" themselves when they played male roles or so-called "breeches parts." For women to reveal parts of themselves that would normally be hidden from the eyes of all but a husband linked actresses to prostitutes. The other reason, and the one that percolates beneath the plot of Lady Audley's Secret, concerns the very nature of acting: its insincerity. As Claire Tomalin explains in Invisible Woman, her biography of the actress Ellen Ternan, Dickens' mistress, "To pretend to be what you were not and to make a good job of it made you morally suspect." In a culture whose middle and upper classes placed enormous value on the sincerity and innocence of women, actresses were morally compromised. Braddon tried to appease at least her relatives' objections to her profession by changing her name and having her mother as a respectable chaperone. Nevertheless, despite the stigma, Braddon believed acting was preferable to poverty. Unfortunately, Braddon's competence on stage never rose to brilliance. She spent seven years on provincial stages and then her sought-after debut in London didn't awaken anyone to her genius. Realizing that she would never become a great actress, Braddon shifted her focus to writing fiction. She drew on her own skills and experiences and hit upon the novel formula most likely to appeal to a wide audience.

As anyone living in the period knew, the only really respectable way out of poverty for a middle-class Victorian woman was to marry well. Men held the keys to power, as Lucy Graham realizes when she marries Sir Michael Audley. As readers and that burgeoning detective, her nephew Robert, discover, Lucy is willing to abandon her child, kill her first husband, and commit bigamy to enjoy the style of life a wealthy man can offer her. Mary Elizabeth Braddon also recognized the influence that men wielded over women's careers and when she failed as an actress, she turned to male mentors for advice. Her first literary mentor was the novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803-1873), a baron and Member of Parliament who was also a popular novelist. Bulwer Lytton wrote in several genres, including fiction based on the actual lives of murderers. Such books, popular in the 1830s, were known as "Newgate novels," after the calendar at London's Newgate Prison that listed prisoners, their crimes, and their assigned punishment. Newgate novels are ancestors of the sensation novel, but they differ in that the Newgate novel's antiheroes are men and they generally repent their crimes or at least are severely punished for them. In sensation novels, the villains are frequently women and frequently unrepentant.

Braddon met Bulwer Lytton in 1854, probably through her cousin, John Delane, the editor of the London Times, and the novelist encouraged her literary ambitions. Braddon noted that he "was the first author of note to give me any real encouragement," and their correspondence lasted for decades (she dedicated Lady Audley's Secret to him). Her other mentor was John Maxwell, an Irish orphan who had come to London as a teenager and made a success of publishing. Braddon published her first stories in one of his magazines, The Welcome Guest, and in April 1860 she met him. At the time, Braddon was twenty-five, but poised and intelligent. Maxwell was thirty-five, tall, handsome, loud, and confident. He was also the father of seven children, though separated from their mother, Mary Anne, who had grown increasingly insane after the birth of their last child. While Mary Anne remained confined in an asylum outside of Dublin, Mary Elizabeth fell in love with John Maxwell. Within a few months of their meeting, she had moved in with him and was pregnant with his child. She raised the children of his first marriage and ultimately bore him five of their own. When Mary Anne died in 1874, the scandal of the couple's bigamous relationship became the gossip of the day. The news prompted all but one of the Maxwells' servants to give their notices and Maxwell, Braddon, and their children moved to a different house for a year to live down the shame. Still, John and Mary Elizabeth married within a month of his first wife's death and eventually they weathered the scandal.

Rumors of Mary Elizabeth Braddon's irregular relationship with Maxwell and her previous career as an actress did not hurt her reputation as a writer; in fact, such rumors probably added to readers' appetite for her sensation novels. As Henry James noted in a famous review of Braddon's novels, Lady Audley's Secret particularly thrills readers because it takes place in the present time, in locales they recognize. Unlike the popular Gothic novel of the 1790s (another antecedent to the sensation novel), which dealt with murder in foreign climes (usually Italy or Germany) and exotic settings (usually ruins or castles), the sensation novel dealt with murder in contemporary English settings, such as London lodgings or country manors-just the places where the real murders, reported so avidly in the daily papers, took place. As James recognized, Braddon's novels explored "the most mysterious of mysteries, the mysteries at our own doors."

Success as a fiction writer saved Mary Elizabeth Braddon from genteel poverty; unfortunately, Lady Audley lacks the imagination of her creator. When she finally confesses to her crimes against the home and family of Sir Michael, she admits that "the dull slavery of a governess" had worn her down and that poverty had blunted her "sense of honour and principle." She also acknowledges going insane after the birth of her child (precisely the kind of post-partum madness that caused John Maxwell's wife to be committed to an asylum). When her nephew goads her to confess to the killing of her first husband, Lady Audley screams, "I killed him because I AM MAD. . .my mind, never properly balanced, utterly lost its balance; and I was mad!"

As long as poverty and madness remain threats to both society and the family, Lady Audley's Secret will continue to attract readers. Lady Audley's secret is the secret of her era, and ours: She has a public self and a private self and the two are not identical.

Susan Balée received her Ph.D. from Columbia University and wrote her dissertation on the sensation novel. Her essays on literature have appeared in Victorian Literature and Culture, The Hudson Review, The Weekly Standard, The Women's Review of Books, and many other journals. She lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband and children and makes her living as a freelance writer and an editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer.
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 13 of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 27, 2010

    DO NOT BUY THIS VERSION - This is not the complete book

    I purchased this download (not a sample) because several reviews of this title that were free versions contained typo's. After paying $3.99 and reading the first 123 pages I discovered that this is not the complete book. On my Nook it starts with Page 1, Chapter 1, but after checking the actual printed book I discovered that my download was actually starting with Chapter XXXII. Which explains the storyline problems!

    No where does it state that this is only a portion of the book in the overview. Total number of pages also are not mentioned anywhere. Customer Service told me there was nothing they could do. No refund. I will have to pay $10.99 now if I want a full version of the book and suggested I select a different version to download.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 28, 2014

    Nice,,,, Great...!

    Nice,,,, Great...!

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  • Posted November 22, 2013

    Mary Elizabeth Braddon is no Jane Austin

    When I ordered this book I wasn't aware that this author was popular at about the same time as Jane Austin. I gather she was very popular then, but I found her writing style way too tedious and overly emotive for me to stick with. Way way overly descriptive of emotional content for my taste. I didn't finish reading the book.

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