While Lady Audley and Alicia still hate each other, they don’t fight openly because Lady Audley ignores Alicia’s temper. Because they never directly confront each other, their relationship cannot change. Lady Audley keeps to her rooms and Alicia spends most of her time outdoors. Sir Michael and Alicia’s relationship suffers because of the animosity between stepdaughter and stepmother. Lonely Alicia cannot even confide in her careless cousin Robert.
The harmonious ideal of the Victorian family home no longer exists in any form within Audley Court. Victorian society emphasized politeness to the point of repression of emotion, and these scenes show how such repression can leave interpersonal conflict unresolved, causing harm to everyone in the family.
Per Lady Audley’s advice, Sir Michael remains indoors. She cares for him until bedtime and then returns to her own chambers, where she finds her piano, her drawings, and her embroideries. She sits down to think. If an artist walked in, he would see this beautiful, golden-haired woman surrounded by all her expensive teacups, cabinets, flowers, and mirrors. Despite all her finery, Lady Audley is more wretched than “many a half-starved sempstress in her dreary garret.”
In public Lady Audley continues to pretend to be a caring wife, but when she is alone she can drop the act and express her true misery. Her miserable state surrounded by such finery shows that material wealth cannot bring one happiness, revealing the fundamental foolishness of her pursuit of wealth and status at the expense of crime.
The narrator argues that Lady Audley cannot take any enjoyment in the art around her because her soul is no longer innocent. She can only take pleasure in the destruction of her enemies.
The narrator argues that selfishness and wickedness rob one of all innocent pleasures and only lead to more wickedness.
Lady Audley broods as the fire casts a red light over her face. The narrator speculates that she is remembering her childhood. She could be remembering the first time she looked in the mirror and realized she was beautiful. This moment was the first time her beauty led her toward selfishness, cruelty, and ambition.
The fact that the third-person narrator, who usually reports directly on the thoughts of other characters, only speculates on Lady Audley’s thoughts, reveals how mysterious and depraved Lady Audley has become.
Lady Audley twirls her golden hair around her fingers and makes “as if she would have torn them from her head.” But even in her despair, she can’t bring herself to destroy her beauty. She speaks to herself, saying that she was not “wicked” when she was young, and that her “worst wickednesses have been the result of wild impulses, and not deeply-laid plots.”
Lady Audley’s golden curls show that no matter what she is feeling, her vanity is her character’s dominating trait. The division of premeditated acts vs. violent impulses will become important later when the narrative deliberates on Lady Audley’s madness.
Lady Audley continues her monologue by stating that she knows the “signs and tokens” of madness, snf therefore Robert is mad. Lady Audley begins to wonder if anything will stop Robert but death. She says she can’t plot such a crime, but begins to muse upon what would happen if she were to run into Robert alone in the garden. Then a knock at the door interrupts her thought.
Lady Audley’s thoughts on Robert reveal that accusations of madness are often subjective, and can easily be based upon another person’s self-interest. Lady Audley begins to premeditate on committing a violent crime, thus contradicting her previous statement about never planning her wicked acts.
The knocking repeats before Lady Audley opens the door to find Phoebe Marks. Lady Audley is genuinely happy to see Phoebe, because they are similar in both their looks and their wicked personalities. She confesses to Phoebe that she is deeply troubled, and Phoebe guesses it’s about the secret.
Even when someone is as selfish and wicked as Lady Audley, they can still enjoy sympathy and connection with another. Still, Lady Audley is absorbed in her own troubles and doesn’t think to ask why Phoebe came all the way to Audley Court.
Phoebe reveals that Robert is at the Castle Inn right now. Lady Audley suspects Robert is interrogating Luke. Phoebe says Luke forced her to come ask Lady Audley to pay the inn’s Christmas rent. Lady Audley says Luke will keep asking for money indefinitely.
Lady Audley’s realization that the Markses’ blackmailing will never end contributes to her eventual decision to kill Luke, as she begins to feel more desperate about her secrets.
Lady Audley contemplates the situation, with Robert and Luke in the same place. She knows the drunken Luke will only become cruel if she doesn’t pay. Phoebe says this should be the last payment, since she wants Luke to leave the Castle Inn because he is a horrible innkeeper. She says Luke drinks too much and has nearly caused several horrible accidents.
Lady Audley’s desperation grows as she realizes that two of her enemies have come together. Luke’s incompetence also exposes the folly of the Victorian expectation that the husband be the head of the household, when Phoebe is much more controlled in her behavior.
Phoebe fears they will all die in a fire, because when Luke becomes drunk he leaves lit candles in precarious places. The Castle Inn, with its cheap materials, could easily go up in flames. Lady Audley thinks her life would be better if Luke did die in a fire. Then she admits that it wouldn’t matter, because her most dangerous enemy would still be alive.
The almost-fires Phoebe describes probably give Lady Audley the idea to try and burn down the Castle Inn. Lady Audley sees Robert as her most dangerous enemy, because unlike the Markses, he is not motivated by greed.
Phoebe hands Lady Audley a letter from Robert. The letter states that if Helen is still alive, Mrs. Barkamb would be able to recognize her. Lady Audley sinks into horrible despair.
Lady Audley’s horrible despair here is the tipping point that will motivate her violent crimes in Volume 3.