Back at Audley Court, Robert runs into Lady Audley and Alicia. Robert finds Alicia more annoying than usual. Lady Audley asks Robert where he has been lately. Robert says he was in the town George lived in while married. Lady Audley’s face grows pale, but she keeps smiling. She excuses herself to get dressed for dinner but Robert requests to talk to her alone. Alicia assumes that Robert is in love with Lady Audley and her “wax-doll” beauty like everyone else.
Robert judges Alicia more harshly because he compares her to Clara, whom he idolizes. Alicia compares Lady Audley to a “wax-doll,” meaning that her beauty is artificially constructed to match society’s ideal beauty standard, which is a harsh but accurate criticism of Lady Audley’s appearance.
Robert and Lady Audley walk along the lime-walk. Lady Audley keeps making excuses to leave. Robert persists, saying he gave Lady Audley enough warning to escape and now he must be cruel to her. Lady Audley scolds him for frightening her. Robert accuses her of having a “diseased” mind.
Robert and Lady Audley walk on the same path Lady Audley and George walked on the day he disappeared. Robert makes his first accusation of Lady Audley’s madness, an accusation that will escalate as the plot progresses.
Robert says George’s ghost haunts Audley Court. Lady Audley says Robert must be suffering from monomania since he keeps talking about George, who is a stranger to her. Robert recounts how George came back from Australia excited to reunite with his wife. Lady Audley reminds him that George abandoned that wife. Robert continues, saying that all George wanted was to provide for his wife and was devastated when he read the announcement of her death, an announcement that Robert now believes was false.
Lady Audley counters Robert’s accusation of madness by accusing him of madness, showing that such accusations can become weapons in their arbitrary nature. Lady Audley’s account of the history between George and Helen shows a different perspective on the event, where George is the villain and Helen is the victim. Two people can view the same events differently.
Robert says Helen faked her own death because she used George’s absence to “win a richer husband.” Lady Audley says this claim is baseless. Robert says he found a newspaper announcement from July 1857 saying George was sailing back to England, so someone in Essex would know about George’s return. Lady Audley asks what that has to do with Helen’s death. Robert says he’ll explain that soon.
Robert emphasizes the fact that Helen remarried for money, showing that he perceived her crime to be made worse by the fact she moved up in class by doing so. This depicts Robert as a character who enforces the dominant class structure of the Victorian era.
Robert says Helen and Captain Maldon created a conspiracy. He states that this is a conspiracy made by a conniving woman, who bet upon the likelihood of her husband’s death and committed a crime in order to improve her status. He believes the wicked woman didn’t care what virtuous man she destroyed in her conspiracy.
Robert shows his gender bias by repeating over and over that a woman orchestrated this conspiracy. This portrays him as a character who enforces the patriarchal society of the Victorian society. His idea of justice in this situation adheres to the status quo.
Robert says whoever did this is also a foolish woman, since “Providence” brings down the wicked. He says that if all this woman is guilty of is making the false announcement, then he would detest her, but he believes that this woman is also an “infamous assassin.” Lady Audley asks him how he knows Helen is not buried in the grave bearing her name. Robert says that there are only a few people who could answer that, but he’ll speak to them very soon.
Providence literally means God’s care and plan, meaning that Lady Audley will face divine retribution for her actions—but one could also interpret Robert’s words as describing how he will bring her down and punish her for violating the gender norms and class structure of Victorian society.
Robert says he will uncover the truth. He will not be fooled by “womanly trickery.” He will find the missing link in the mystery, because he knows of a fair-haired woman in Southampton named Plowson, who seems to share in Captain Maldon’s secrets.
The mention of Plowson and her fair hair reminds the reader of another key piece of circumstantial evidence the narrative has not referenced in a while—the original lock of hair supposedly belonging to Helen Talboys.
Robert says he will expose the truth unless the woman at the center of these secrets decides to run away. Lady Audley says that this woman would be foolish to listen to these crazy ramblings. She argues that George had acted strangely since his wife’s death and Robert has no actual reason to believe Helen isn’t dead.
Lady Audley’s arguments are not necessarily untrue, given the lack of certainty surrounding Robert’s circumstantial evidence. Taken out of the context, Robert’s statements do sound rather crazy.
Robert says he has circumstantial evidence. He has the letter Helen wrote to Captain Maldon. He asks Lady Audley if she would like to know whose handwriting Helen’s resembles. Lady Audley says women’s handwriting often looks alike. Robert counters that he has a “series of such coincidences” that prove the same point, especially since Helen’s letter states that she was leaving her old life to begin a new one.
Robert’s detailing of all the evidence he has gathered not only serves as an argument for Lady Audley to run away before she is exposed, but also places all the evidence gathered throughout the plot in a logical sequence for the reader to understand.
Lady Audley tries to leave again. Robert says he will not be fooled by her feminine ploys. He states that Helen deserted her poor father to start a new life. On August 16th 1854, she dropped the name Helen Talboys and on the 17th she became Lucy Graham. Lady Audley accuses him of being mad, saying that just because Helen disappeared one day and she herself arrived at a new place the next, does not mean that they are the same person. Robert says he also has two labels from the same box, bearing the names of Miss Graham and Mrs. George Talboys. Lady Audley is silent. They pass the well at the end of the lime-walk.
Again, Lady Audley points out how circumstantial evidence can easily be explained by coincidence, but now she realizes the depth of Robert’s investigation. Lady Audley’s silence suggests the internal emotional turmoil Robert’s revelations cause within her, turmoil that will build towards the climax of the story. In Volume 3, the reader will learn that the well they pass by is the same well Lady Audley pushed George into on the day he disappeared.
Robert asks her to deny that she is Helen and provide evidence to prove her statement. She says she will not, because Robert is mad, and if he does not stop spreading these accusations, he will be imprisoned in an asylum. Her threat scares Robert because he knows how evil women can be. He knows he is unequally matched against this beautiful, dangerous woman. He knows Sir Michael would believe Robert is mad before he believes that Lady Audley is guilty.
Lady Audley uses the idea of madness to scare Robert, thus showing that she doesn’t care if a sane man is committed to an asylum. She reveals a not uncommon occurrence in Victorian England where individuals would accuse troublesome family members of madness just to have them locked away.
Robert envisions Clara’s face, serious and honest in comparison to Lady Audley’s, and he is filled with determination to save Audley Court from Lady Audley’s evil.
Clara’s moral, encouraging presence in Robert’s mind undercuts his previous theory that all women are wicked influences on virtuous men.
Robert remembers that Lady Audley met George somewhere in this garden on the day he disappeared. Robert says that he knows George was murdered on these grounds and will begin a search to find his body. Lady Audley throws her arms up and cries out that she will kill Robert first. She says that Robert is driving her to madness. She draws herself up to her fullest height with “the sublimity of extreme misery.” She tells Robert to go away because he is mad.
Continuously dogged by Robert, Lady Audley drops her carefully curated disguise and shows her true emotions. By saying that Robert pushes her towards madness, she blames Robert for her own violent inclinations. This foreshadows her attempted murder of Robert and her eventual confession in Volume 3.
Robert says that since Lady Audley refused to accept his mercy, he will expose her. On their way back to the house, they run into Alicia. Robert wonders how someone as honest as her could be of the same gender as Lady Audley. Robert says goodbye, because he will be staying at Mount Stanning.
Robert continues to compare women to one another to reveal what he thinks are virtuous qualities for women to have. While he once disliked Alicia’s boldness, compared to Lady Audley, he loves her for her honest nature.
After Robert leaves, Alicia remarks how strange her cousin has been acting. Lady Audley remarks that he is eccentric. She asks if Robert’s mother was also odd. Alicia says Robert’s mother always seems reasonable, except for the fact that she married for love. She says Robert’s father was also a little odd but generally a nice person.
Lady Audley uses the Victorian misconception that madness was always hereditary to suggest that Robert is insane. While Victorian women were expected to consider love when getting married, to only marry for love was considered to be almost madness.
Lady Audley says, “madness is more often transmitted from father to son than from father to daughter, and from mother to daughter than from mother to son.” She tells Alicia that Robert is mad. Alicia doesn’t believe her, but Lady Audley says Sir Michael will.
As the reader will later find out, Lady Audley’s knowledge here comes from her own family history of madness. She intends to use her influence over her husband for her own self-gain, at the expense of harming another.