Audley Court represents both the deterioration of the upper class and of the vulnerable Victorian ideal of the family home. Though the mansion is historic and stately, it shows clear signs of wear through its ruined walls and crumbling gables. The mansion’s decaying exterior reflects the moral decay of the upper class, as men like Robert Audley fill their time with idle hobbies and lower-class individuals like Lady Audley infiltrate their ranks. During the Victorian era, economic boom and the rise of the middle class within England led many members of the upper class to fear that social climbers would lead to the destruction of their privileged way of life—a fear that proves apt as Lady Audley tears through Audley Court. At the beginning of the novel, however, when the Audleys appear to live in domestic bliss, the mansion also represents the Victorian ideal of home. Victorian England celebrated the home as a place of safety and harmony for the family, and Audley Court’s physical and figurative destruction thus represents of the dissolution of this ideal. Braddon chips away at the perception of the home as a safe and loving space by setting many of the novels horrible events in Audley Court. It is where Lady Audley and her stepdaughter Alicia refuse to get along as family, for example, effectively estranging Alicia from Sir Michael. Lady Audley attempts to murder George Talboys on the Court’s grounds. She also later plots to kill Robert and makes her final confession in Audley Court, forever shattering Sir Michael’s vision of his happy, domestic life. At the end of the novel, Audley Court is empty, a relic of a time past, foreshadowing the end of both the upper class and the concept of the perfect family home.
Audley Court Quotes in Lady Audley’s Secret
To the right there were the kitchen gardens, the fish-pond, and an orchard bordered by a dry moat, and a broken ruin of a wall, in some places thicker than it was high, and everywhere overgrown with trailing ivy…to the left there was a broad graveled walk…and shadowed on one side by goodly oaks, which shut out the flat landscape, and circled in the house and gardens with a darkening shelter.
“I hate women…They’re bold, brazen, abominable creatures, invented for the annoyance and destruction of their superiors. Look at this business of poor George’s! It’s all woman’s work from one end to the other. He marries a woman, and his father casts him off, penniless and professionless. He hears of the woman’s death and he breaks his heart…He goes to a woman’s house and he is never seen alive again.”
Lucy Audley looked up from her occupation amongst the fragile china cups, and watched Robert rather anxiously, as he walked softly to his uncle’s room, and back again to the boudoir. She looked very pretty and innocent, seated behind the graceful group of delicate opal china and glittering silver. Surely a pretty woman never looks prettier than when making tea. The most feminine and most domestic of all occupations imparts a magic harmony to her every movement, a witchery to her every glance.