Christmastime ends and the visitors gradually begin to leave Audley Court. Robert does not leave, however, and Sir Michael says he can stay as long as he likes. Sir Harry Towers, one of the young hunters, remains as well and requests a private conversation with Alicia. During the conversation, Harry expresses his intense feelings for Alicia. Alicia tells him that she respects him, and he should never ask for anything more than that.
Logically, Sir Harry would be an ideal match for Alicia, since he is both wealthy and loves her. But this section reveals that love is more complicated than the Victorian era’s assumptions about how love and marriage should work. Alicia exercises her agency by refusing a match she doesn’t personally want.
After the conversation, Robert says that by studying Harry’s demeaner, he has learned that Harry proposed to Alicia. He asks if Alicia is going to accept or not. Alicia asks him why he should care, since he doesn’t care about anything. Robert tells her not to marry Harry if she likes anyone better. Then he adds, “I’ve no doubt the person you prefer will make you a very excellent husband.” She says that he cannot know that, because he does not know who she prefers. Robert thinks that Alicia would be a “nice girl” if she weren’t so spirited.
Robert, in his ignorance of others, gives Alicia false hope that he will one day marry her. He selfishly wants to keep Alicia single, waiting for when they will both submit to the expectations of their society—when Alicia is more submissive and Robert consents to what would be an advantageous match for him. That day will never come, of course, because love is more complicated than Victorian ideals of marriage.
Harry leaves Audley Court heartbroken. He laments that his wealth is of no use since he has no one to share it with. He is deeply in love with Alicia and never thought that she would refuse such an advantageous match. He says he wanted a strong-minded, smart wife, but not too strong-minded and smart. As Harry was leaving, he and Sir Michael spoke briefly of Alicia’s complicated situation with her cousin, given that Robert seems not to care about her.
Harry’s opinions show the contradiction of Victorian expectations for women. The ideal Victorian woman must have the attractive qualities of intelligence and passion, but not so much that she dominates the men in her life. Sir Harry also shows an ignorance due to his wealth, given that he couldn’t even imagine Alicia refusing his proposal because he is so rich.
Lady Audley asks Sir Michael how long Robert will be staying with him. She implies that Robert’s attentions toward such a young aunt are inappropriate. Sir Michael says that Robert shall leave that night if she is uncomfortable. Sir Michael then tells Robert to leave because he pays too much attention to Lady Audley. Robert says he meant no disrespect, though Lady Audley does interest him, but he will leave promptly to avoid any dishonor. Robert leaves and takes up residence at the Castle Inn.
Lady Audley is using Sir Michael’s concern for her to manipulate him and keep Robert away from her. She uses her society’s gendered expectations (that if a man spends a lot of time with a beautiful young woman, he must desire her) to protect her secrets, showing how intelligent and socially aware Lady Audley is as a character.