Sunday, June 17, 2012

Scandal fiction in the 1860s rocks

So here I was thinking that I've never been this much entertained by a classic novel (i.e., The Count of Monte Cristo). Then I picked up Mary Elizabeth Braddon's novel, Lady Audley's Secret, and was rewarded with a very enthralling read. For a book published in 1862, this novel can still shock many readers.

Lady Audley's Secret was a bestseller in the 1860s. It was a novel that many people categorized as the penny dreadful or the sensation novel. Braddon became a very famous writer because of this novel, and she was somehow pitted against Wilkie Collins, her contemporary, in this genre. If you've read The Woman in White, you'll discover quite a few similarities as you read Braddon's most famous work.

In the novel, we are introduced to a very beautiful character, one Lady Audley, whom Braddon writes as her anti-heroine. We're all used to the pre-Raphaelite beauties being ravished and kept hostage in a decrepit castle in many Gothic novels. But in this novel, Lady Audley's beauty is her weapon, something which allows her to do things Victorian society frowns upon.

Just who is this Lady Audley? Why is she so averse in meeting the friend of her husband's nephew, a young barrister named Robert Audley? Braddon drops hints here and there that Lady Audley and Robert Audley's friend, George Talboys, might have been husband and wife, and that Lady Audley could have murdered Talboys when her secret is threatened to be exposed.

So is her ladyship's past life the secret that the novel's title refers to? Well, yes, and it's revealed nowhere near as close of the novel's end. So this means that Braddon might have something up on her sleeve to still keep her readers hooked. And does she succeed? Hell, yes! The surprise at the ending will make any reader jump with delight, despite the novel's overall dark and brooding feel.

Read this book if:
You're curious about scandal fiction in the 1800s.
You know that not all bestsellers are badly written.
You love The Woman in White.


C.B. James said...

I loved Lady Audley's Secret. It's such a fun read, a guilty pleasure actually, but it has so much to say as well. Secrets within secrets. Great stuff.

Peter S. said...

Hello, C.B.! I understand why this was a bestseller in the 1860s and the years that followed. It must have caused quite a stir among its readers! Yes, great stuff indeed!

Anonymous said...

Ooh, I'm intrigued. Is the surprise at the ending of this book anything like the big revelation in Du Maurier's Rebecca?

Peter S. said...

Well, hello there! Argh, I haven't read Rebecca! But now I want to because of that ending that you referred to!