Lady Audley’s Secret

Lady Audley’s Secret

by

Mary Elizabeth Braddon

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Lady Audley’s Secret: Volume 3, Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Sir Michael sleeps peacefully and Lady Audley feels a brief moment of pity for him. But her pity is mostly selfish, because she knows he will be destroyed if Robert exposes her secrets. Then Lady Audley thinks about “her lovely face, her bewitching manner, her arch smile, her low musical laugh” and feels triumphant. She knows Sir Michael will never fall out of love with her charms.
This is almost a redeeming moment for Lady Audley, showing that she can feel empathy for another person, but the moment is soon ruined by her selfishness.
Themes
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Despite her confidence in Sir Michael, Lady Audley still fears that Robert will expose her unless some calamity silences him. She stops suddenly. Then she walks to her dressing table and composes herself in the mirror. She tells Phoebe they will go together to pay the landlord at the Castle Inn. She ignores Phoebe’s protests, and says she wants to make sure the money goes directly to the landlord. They will sneak out of the house so that servants do not see them.
When Lady Audley stops, she is clearly making an important decision. Her actions following this section show that this decision is to burn down the Castle Inn and kill her enemies. This is a pivotal moment when her character premeditates an act of great violence and actually decides to carry it out.
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Lady Audley sends Phoebe on ahead and goes to get dresses to go out. An “unnatural colour still burnt like a flame in her cheeks, the unnatural light still glittered in her eyes.” The narrator says one can’t even fully describe the intensity of Lady Audley’s agony.
The unnatural color reflects the violent thoughts within Lady Audley’s mind. Braddon’s emphasis on Lady Audley’s agony creates some understanding for her character.
Themes
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After 10 minutes, Lady Audley goes to sneak out through a window in the breakfast-room. In the cheerfully decorated room, she passes Alicia’s drawing supplies. Lady Audley thinks how happy Alicia would be at her stepmother’s defeat. Leaving all the internal doors open so she can find her way back through the house, she climbs out the window.
Lady Audley must pass through a deceptively peaceful domestic scene on the way to commit her crime, as crime can exist even in places that seem happy. Lady Audley’s recognition of Alicia’s hate shows how Lady Audley now views everyone as an enemy.
Themes
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Outside, Lady Audley feels as if she is running away. She thinks she could run away, like George did, but she has no money and she can’t live in poverty again. She would die from the struggle, as her mother died. She says she will not go back to that life and goes to meet Phoebe. Together they walk to Castle Inn.
Lady Audley makes the important point that running away, which Robert asked her to do, is privilege reserved for men, since the Victorian era offered few ways for a woman to lift herself out of poverty without the help of a man.
Themes
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Lady Audley walks with an intense courage “born out of her great despair.” She notices a light in one window of the Castle Inn, where Luke must be still awake. Lady Audley assumes Robert is asleep in one of the unlit rooms. Lady Audley confirms with Phoebe that Robert is staying at the Castle Inn that night.
The reader can see how Lady Audley’s suffering drives her forward. Though the narrative has not explicitly stated it yet, she wants to confirm Robert’s location so she can kill him.
Themes
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Wind blows heavily upon the inn. Luke sits in his chambers drinking with the landlord. Luke’s intoxication increases his brutal nature and slurs his speech. With mechanical gestures, Lady Audley enters the room with Phoebe and announces that she has come to settle the debts herself. Luke rudely tells her that she could have given the money to Phoebe. He continues to insult Lady Audley until she turns towards him and stuns him with her beauty. Her wind-blown hair resembles flames and her eyes look like those of “an angry mermaid.”
Luke’s infatuation with Lady Audley shows how beautiful women can use their appearance to influence even the cruelest of men. Her hair resembling flames suggests the hellish thoughts within her mind. The narrative again describes her as a mermaid, the mythological temptress of men, showing that Lady Audley’s power is both strong and sinister.
Themes
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Lady Audley pays Luke and Phoebe offers to walk her home. Lady Audley agrees but says that she feels faint and needs water. She then asks Phoebe where Robert’s room is. Phoebe says he is in Room #3, which is next to their own. Lady Audley says she will go to Phoebe’s room to use her water basin. She tells Phoebe to wait behind and make sure Luke doesn’t follow.
Lady Audley’s scheming here shows that her actions are carefully thought out and intentional. This will become relevant later when a doctor deliberates on whether or not Lady Audley is committing this crime because of an uncontrollable state of madness.
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Lady Audley takes a lit candle and goes down the hallway. She finds Room #3 and sees the key in the door. Almost in a trance, she turns the key twice, double locking the door. She goes into Phoebe’s room next door and dips her hair in the water basin. Then she notices the cheap tapestries Phoebe has hung on the walls. Lady Audley smiles. She carefully places the lit candle close to a mirror’s muslin curtains.
The trance Lady Audley appears to be in could be interpreted as either a state of madness or an unquestionable commitment to her crimes. She knows the cheap material will catch and burn quickly but avoids direct responsibility (as she always does) by not setting the fire herself.
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Phoebe is waiting by the inn’s front door when Lady Audley arrives. Phoebe is alarmed when she realizes Lady Audley doesn’t have the candle, but Lady Audley says the wind blew it out so she left it behind. Despite the harshness of the winter night, Lady Audley hurries away with Phoebe.
Lady Audley lies about blowing out the candle and then quickly ushers Phoebe away so that Phoebe cannot stop the fire. Lady Audley is completely committed to the arson and murder.
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When they are less than a mile away from Audley Court, Phoebe spots the fire off in the distance. Phoebe is horrified, certain it’s the Castle Inn. She fears for Luke and Robert inside. Then she remembers Lady Audley’s quarrels with Luke and Robert and begs Lady Audley to say that she did not deliberately set the fire. Lady Audley says Phoebe is mad, since she doesn’t even know for sure that the fire is coming from the Castle Inn. Lady Audley leaves Phoebe kneeling in the road.
Partly as a result of her blackmailing scheme against Lady Audley, Phoebe loses both her husband and her source of income. This aligns with a common trend in the final volume of the novel, where those who commit deception and violate the norms of society are punished for their actions. Lady Audley continues to avoid punishment by trying to convince others that they are mad.
Themes
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