Monday, September 12, 2011

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

I love this cover --
the swooning is so over the top!  
My very first RIP posting!  I've signed up for Peril the First, which is four books, so I'm well on my way.  This book wasn't originally on my list of potential reads, but after Amanda at Ramblings raved about it, well, I had to read it right away.  And I am so glad I did, because I just loved it.  This book kept me up late at night, and prevented me from reading not one but TWO books for IRL book groups last week!  I also neglected Spanish homework, housework. . . it was that good!

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.

17 comments:

  1. Ooh, I don't know why I didn't know this was a thriller, but just scandalous. Sounds like a great way to start the challenge!

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  2. I loved this one too! I just hope that the second book that you grabbed of Braddon's is not Aurora Floyd -- because it's very similar but not quite as good. You'll need to have a good amount of space between reading those two or poor Aurora really suffers!

    Now I want to read Lady Audley's Secret again!

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  3. I loved this one too! it was such melodramatic fun. And then I read John Marchmont's Legacy, which I thought was awful. Maybe her first book was her best (it happens). I've had Aurora Flood and The Doctor's Wife on my TBR pile for years.

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  4. Aarti -- this was such a fun read, I loved it.

    Kristen -- I DID get Aurora Floyd! Thanks for the warning, I guess I should wait after all. I have too many other books right now anyway.

    Lisa May -- oh, that's too bad about John Marchmont. Maybe I'll try to read The Doctor's Wife first. I hope Lady Audley isn't the only good one.

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  5. I just started Lady Audley's Secret last night and got sucked in! I think the writing is really quite good and hasn't dated as much as some of her contemporaries has. I might have to stay up too late tonight reading!

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  6. Sounds like a perfect beginning for RIP! I've seen this title mentioned before, but now I want to read it.

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  7. Wow, I didn't realize how many other books she wrote! That's crazy!

    I actually hated Lady Audley herself the whole time I was reading, but at least felt sorry for her in places. Still, she just got my hackles up. :D

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  8. With both you and Amanda enjoying this, now I really want to read this for RIP this fall! We'll have to see.

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  9. This looks fantastically fun -- and I love the cover! Any time someone swoons, I'm in!

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  10. I definitely want to read this, especially after hearing that you enjoyed it so much and that it was recommended to you by Amanda.

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  11. I read this a few years ago and loved it! The only other book I've read by Braddon is The Doctor's Wife and that one was good too, but very different (not a sensation novel).

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  12. Anbolyn -- I know, I got completely sucked in, I couldn't stop reading it.

    JoAnn -- it doesn't have any supernatural elements, but it's a great gothic read.

    Amanda -- I felt a little sympathy during parts, but mostly I hated her. And I hated her maid, Phoebe, and her husband.

    Rebecca -- I liked reading it because it was a good thriller AND a classic! I'd love to read more Victorian sensation novels, I had such a great introduction after the Classics Circuit tour of Wilkie Collins in 2009.

    Audra -- I love the swooning cover. The edition I read is an older Penguin classic. It has a nice cover but the swooning cover is better.

    ReviewsbyLola -- Amanda and I sometimes disagree wildly about books, but we both seem to really like a good Gothic novel.

    Helen -- I didn't know The Doctor's Wife wasn't a sensation novel. It's on my TBR list already.

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  13. I loved LAS &, along with Wilkie Collins, it started me off on sensation fiction. If you haven't read East Lynne by Mrs Henry Wood, I think you'd love it. The Doctor's Wife is a retelling of Madame Bovary so not a sensation novel but an interesting experiment.

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  14. I loved this book, and you have inspired me to look through my shelves for a Victorian sensation novel to read, or maybe something gothic ...

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  16. I loved this one too and I actually think that she was a better writer than Wilkie Collins. I hadn't heard of her until I saw the book in my local library. Being female was obviously a big disadvantage.

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  17. Definitely sounds like an excellent start to the RIP Challenge, and it has piqued my interest as well. Will have to check this one out.

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