Sir Michael reads aloud to Lady Audley and Alicia from an ad Robert has put in the newspaper asking for information regarding George, but they soon move on from the subject. Sir Michael scolds Alicia for being disrespectful to her sensitive stepmother. Alicia says she doesn’t like Lady Audley and is sorry her stepmother has come between her and her father.
Victorian society upheld the family as the basis for civilization, so the tension between stepdaughter and stepmother and subsequently between daughter and father shows that Audley Court is seriously troubled.
Lady Audley asks Alicia to promise that, even if she cannot love her, she at least promise not to try to harm her. Alicia says that she might not be as amiable as Lady Audley, but that doesn’t mean she is evil. Clearly, Alicia and Lady Audley will never be friends, and Sir Michael is often away from home, so Lady Audley has no friend but Phoebe.
Both Lady Audley and Alicia are transgressing against societal norms by not sacrificing their own desires for the sake of family harmony. Further, Lady Audley’s closeness with Phoebe not only transgresses class boundaries but also leaves Lady Audley vulnerable to blackmail.
Phoebe is just educated enough to hold a conversation with Lady Audley. They mainly talk about the scandalous stories of French novels. Lady Audley mentions a French story about a beautiful woman who must keep the secret of her crimes.
French novels during the Victorian era were associated with scandal and moral weakness. Lady Audley is interested in this particular French story because it mirrors her own history.
Lady Audley scolds Phoebe for her association with Luke, who has become a groom at Audley Court and whom Lady Audley considers to be ugly. Phoebe says she does not love Luke and is only marrying him because she is afraid of refusing him.
Lady Audley shows her superficiality by her judgement of Luke. Phoebe shows her manipulative nature, since the reader has already seen her affection for Luke.
Lady Audley says Phoebe shouldn’t marry Luke if she’s afraid of him, but if she insists on marrying him, Lady Audley will help them buy their public house.
This reveals a key aspect of Lady Audley’s character: that while she enjoys flaunting her wealth, she also uses it to help those less fortunate than her.
Lady Audley meets with Luke and Phoebe and promises them 50 pounds. Luke demands 100 pounds. Lady Audley turns to Phoebe and says, “You have told this man!” Phoebe says that he made her tell.
This section implies that in previously confiding in Phoebe, Lady Audley revealed the secrets of her past life, thus beginning the Markses’ blackmail of her.