Lady Audley’s Secret

Lady Audley’s Secret


Mary Elizabeth Braddon

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Lady Audley’s Secret Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley’s Secret. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Mary Elizabeth Braddon was born in London to solicitor and writer Henry Braddon and his Irish wife, Fanny White. Her parents’ marriage broke down due to Henry’s infidelity and financial irresponsibility when Mary was only five years old. In 1857, Mary began acting in order to support herself and her mother. Three years later, she published her first novel and met publisher John Maxwell. She began an affair with the already-married Maxwell, whose wife lived in an asylum, and gave birth to their first child together in 1862. The same year, she experienced her first commercial success with Lady Audley’s Secret. Throughout her life, Braddon produced novels at a prolific rate and founded her own literary magazine, Belgravia, dedicated to sensation fiction. She and Maxwell eventually married upon the death of his first wife in 1874. They had six children together. Braddon died in Richmond in 1915.
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Historical Context of Lady Audley’s Secret

Lady Audley’s Secret offers commentary on English society during the Victorian era, the time period of Queen Victoria’s rule from 1837 to 1901. During the Victorian era, society expected women to be dedicated to the care of family and home. The majority of women were completely financially dependent upon their husbands and had few rights of their own. The wife and mother of a family was meant to create an environment of harmony and civility within her home and to remain largely out of the public sphere. The Victorian era also saw dramatic economic growth and the rise of the middle class in England. Shifting wealth caused many members of the upper class to fear ambitious, social-climbing members of the lower classes—an anxiety clearly reflected in Lady Audley’s Secret.

Other Books Related to Lady Audley’s Secret

Lady Audley’s Secret is one of the most popular examples of sensation fiction, a genre of mid-19th century British literature that covered “sensational” subjects, such as crime, and explored Victorian era social anxieties. Critics credit Wilkie Collins and his novel, The Woman in White, with creating the genre. Like Lady Audley’s Secret, The Woman in White portrays a character—here a young man—compelled to unravel a series of secrets related to marriage, family, and madness. Lady Audley’s Secret also shares several thematic elements with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, particularly in its focus on the crime of bigamy—of which Jane Eyre is an unsuspecting almost-victim and Lady Audley is a willing participant—as well as the Gothic element of doubles. Both novels also portray women expressing their agency within the restrictive gender roles of England in the mid-1800s. A year after publishing Lady Audley’s Secret, Braddon published a follow-up novel, Aurora Floyd, which also concerns a woman living in a bigamous marriage while attempting to assert her agency within the confines of Victorian society.
Key Facts about Lady Audley’s Secret
  • Full Title: Lady Audley’s Secret
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1862
  • Literary Period: Sensation Fiction
  • Genre: Fiction, Sensation Novel
  • Setting: England, mainly Essex
  • Climax: Robert, having survived the Castle Inn fire, confronts Lady Audley about her crimes and she finally confesses
  • Antagonist: Robert Audley, Lady Audley (depending on one’s perspective)
  • Point of View: third person

Extra Credit for Lady Audley’s Secret

An Abomination? Lady Audley’s Secret was one of the most popular and successful novels of the 1800s, but the work was not universally loved. Many Victorian era cultural critics condemned Braddon for sensationalizing the crimes of bigamy and murder. One critic went as far as to call Braddon’s writing, “one of the abominations of the age.”

Literate Legacy. Two of Braddon’s sons with John Maxwell also became novelists, W.B. Maxwell and Gerald Maxwell.