|I love this cover -- |
the swooning is so over the top!
Here's the setup: Lady Audley is a beautiful young woman with a mysterious past. She recently married Lord Audley, a rich widower much older than herself. Meanwhile, Lord Audley's semi-slacker nephew Robert has just run into an old school friend, George Talboys, who is returning from Australia. George left his young wife and infant son three years ago, desperate to make his fortune, and he's returned now as a rich man. Their fates will intertwine, and the story includes mystery, murder, mistaken identity, bigamy, and madness. Braddon published this, her first novel, in 1862, and it was so successful she was financially independent for the rest of her life. She went on to write more than 75 other novels, though this is still the most famous, and it's never been out of print.
I really enjoyed this novel -- it's not great literature by any means, but it's great escapist fun. The plot was fairly predictable, but writing was actually pretty good, and it's a fast read. It does make some points about women's fates and opportunities, and Victorian ideas about madness and psychology. The characters were good too -- sometimes I liked Lady Audely, sometimes I hated her, and sometimes I just felt sorry for her. I had a pretty good idea of what the big secret was, but I couldn't help wanting to read more. I imagine it would be on a college reading list simply as an example of its genre. According to the Penguin Classics website, "Lady Audley's Secret epitomized the scandalous and irresistible "sensation" fiction of the period," which I think sums it up nicely. In other words, it's popular escapist fiction, but popular fiction that has endured, so it's a classic in that sense. According to Wikipedia, it was pretty sensational for its time because it showed the darker side to the ideals of Victorian domestic bliss.
Anyhow, this was a great start to the RIP season, and I've already found another of Braddon's books at the college library. Hopefully I'll enjoy it just as much as this one.