Lady Audley’s Secret

Lady Audley’s Secret

by

Mary Elizabeth Braddon

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

Summary
Analysis
Robert asks to speak to Lady Audley alone, and they go to the library. Robert tells her the Castle Inn burned to the ground. He escaped only by chance, since he found his designated room damp and chill and chose to sleep on a couch in the sitting-room. Robert knows Lady Audley set the fire, not caring who else she killed in the process. He says he will not show any mercy to her, only to her husband.
In another example of melodrama, Robert narrowly escapes certain death merely by coincidence. Given the escalation of Lady Audley’s crimes, Robert now abandons his merciful form of justice, desiring to exact full punishment upon Lady Audley.
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No one died in the fire. Robert slept lightly because of his worries. He woke up in time to save Luke, but not before Luke was horribly burned. Afterwards, Luke and Phoebe told Robert that Lady Audley had visited the inn that night.
Though Lady Audley would view Robert as a villain, his death-defying actions in the fire portray him as a romantic hero.
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Robert says while before he wondered how such a beautiful woman could murder George, he doesn’t wonder now. He knows Lady Audley is capable of any evil deed. Unless she confesses, he will gather witnesses who can reveal her identity and will see her punished for her crime.
Robert’s development as a character is shown by how he now sees through superficial beauty to the character beneath, and how he no longer shies away from the dark subject of punishment.
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Lady Audley tells Robert to bring Sir Michael in, because Robert has won. She then says that he has conquered a mad woman. She claims managing her insanity has always been a delicate balancing act and when George distressed her, as Robert is distressing her now, she killed him. She asks again for Sir Michael so that she may tell him her life’s “secret.”
Lady Audley’s character has changed in that she is now under too much distress to keep her secrets any longer. She uses the label of madness to deflect responsibility away from herself onto those who have caused her distress, namely George and Robert.
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Robert goes to Sir Michael, telling him that Lady Audley has deceived him and now wishes to make her confession. Sir Michael goes into the library, saying, “‘Tell me that this man is a madman! Tell me so, my love, or I shall kill him!’” Lady Audley falls at his feet and apologizes. She says he has been good to her, but that she cannot sympathize with others because her own misery is so great.
Sir Michael expresses the full power of Lady Audley’s influence over him. Lady Audley’s position at his feet suggest submissiveness, or more likely helplessness now that Robert has exposed her. Lady Audley seems to show some remorse for her actions, but she is still self-absorbed.
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Lady Audley tells the story of her life. She grew up without her mother. She lived in a lonely village with a caretaker she hated. She rarely saw her father and learned early on “what it was to be poor.”
Lady Audley establishes the poverty of her childhood in order to justify her greedy, social-climbing behavior as an adult.
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As a child, Lady Audley kept asking where her mother was, but only heard that she was ill and away. In a moment of anger, her caretaker told her that her mother was a madwoman and lived in a mad-house. Imagines of her mother, violent and decrepit, haunted Lady Audley. In her dreams, her mother killed her.
Lady Audley’s fears of her own mother reveal a prejudice, common during the Victorian era, that portrayed people suffering from madness as violent and evil. This image literally haunts Lady Audley’s childhood.
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When Lady Audley was 10 years old, her father returned to take her to school, but she had already felt “the bitterness of poverty.” Sir Michael listens to this story in shock, as it is completely different from the previous backstory Lady Audley told him.
Lady Audley sees childhood poverty as irrevocably changing her character. Sir Michael is finally realizing his wife’s lies.
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Lady Audley says she told her father she knew about her mother. Captain Maldon loved his wife dearly and would have cared for her if he didn’t have to work for a living. Lady Audley takes this situation as another example of the cruelties of poverty.
Lady Audley reveals that the idleness of the upper-class is a privilege that the working poor cannot enjoy, thus harming the poor who cannot take care of their families.
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Lady Audley continues to tell the story of her past. Before she went to school, Captain Maldon took Lady Audley to see her mother. Instead of a raving maniac, her mother appeared to be a “golden-haired, blue-eyed, girlish creature, who seemed as frivolous as a butterfly.” Lady Audley furthers notes that her mother inherited her madness from her own mother (Lady Audley’s grandmother), who died mad. Lady Audley’s mother seemed sane before Lady Audley’s birth, but afterward her sanity declined.
Lady Audley inherited her mother’s looks, just as she fears she has inherited her mother’s madness. The mother’s composed appearance disproves the harmful stereotype of the dangerous, decrepit mad person, showing that appearances do not necessarily reflect someone’s internal state.
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Lady Audley had to keep her mother’s madness a secret, and that secret made her selfish and heartless. As she got older, others told her she was beautiful. Even though she had been cursed with her mother’s madness, she realized her beauty could be used to make an advantageous marriage.
Lady Audley describes a pivotal moment in her development, as her whole adult life has centered around using her beauty to make socially and financially advantageous marriages.
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At seventeen, Lady Audley moved in with her now retired father in a remote town. She grew impatient while waiting for a rich husband. She says Robert and Sir Michael have been rich their whole lives, so they cannot know how poverty impacts one’s life.
Lady Audley makes an important point that Robert and Sir Michael’s privileged upbringings may prevent them from being able to fully understand her perspective.
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Finally, a rich suitor arrived. His name was George Talboys (at this name, Sir Michael starts). George fell in love with Lady Audley and she loved him as much as someone like her could. She loved Sir Michael more, however, since he elevated her status even more than George.
Lady Audley’s love is completely based on wealth and status. One could interpret this as not love at all, but selfishness. This revelation is devastating for Sir Michael, given his former admiration of Lady Audley’s supposed purity.
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Sir Michael’s romantic image of courting his wife shatters with this story. He remembers the “vague feeling of loss and disappointment which had come upon him on the summer’s night of his betrothal,” but he never fully believed that Lady Audley could marry him solely for his wealth and status.
Sir Michael’s thoughts refer back to Chapter 1, when Lucy told him she couldn’t set aside his wealth when accepting his proposal. One could interpret this as Sir Michael allowing himself to be fooled for a long time, when Lady Audley was honest about at least this point from the start.
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Lady Audley says that after she and George married, they traveled Europe together. When they came back to live with her father, however, George had run out of money and neglected his wife because he was depressed at their situation. She “begged George to appeal to his father; but he refused,” and she “persuaded him to try and get employment,” but he didn’t succeed. She gave birth to their son and “the crisis which had been fatal to my mother arose for me.” Lady Audley recovered but was more irritable than before. She called George cruel for dooming her to a life of poverty. He ran away, and left her a letter saying he went to Australia and wouldn’t return until he was a rich man.
This section of her story creates more sympathy for Lady Audley’s character. She attempted to make her marriage with George work, and in her perspective, he neglected her both financially and emotionally before abandoning her and their son. Modern psychology might diagnose Lady Audley as suffering from post-partum depression after the birth of her son. This shows that the issue of good and evil in this story is not as simple as it might appear.
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Lady Audley resented George for leaving her in poverty, having to labor even though George’s father was rich. She didn’t love her son because he was only a burden to her. She began to have “fits of violence and despair” indicative of madness. She saw that her father recognized the madness she was feeling. She decided to run away from “this wretched home which [her] slavery supported” and go to London.
Victorian society would condemn a mother for declaring she doesn’t love her child, but Lady Audley proves that this expectation may not always be possible, especially under the strain of extreme poverty. She also defies the expectation that a daughter should submit to her father.
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Lady Audley went to Mrs. Vincent after reading the school mistress’s advertisement for a teacher in the newspaper. She came up with the fake name of Lucy Graham. When she came to Essex and Sir Michael proposed, she felt she had fulfilled the ambition she’d had ever since she first realized her beauty. Three years had passed by that point, and she heard nothing from her first husband. For all she knew, George was dead or at least separated from her forever, so she agreed to marry Sir Michael with every intention to be a worthy wife. She remained faithful, despite all the men who desired her.
Lady Audley describes her most triumphant moment when the dreams of her childhood are realized. She argues that she didn’t truly do anything wrong, since she had no guarantee George would ever come back and she intended to fulfill the Victorian ideal of a loving, faithful wife to Sir Michael. Again, Lady Audley avoids taking responsibility for the crimes she committed in the pursuit of gaining and protecting her wealth.
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Lady Audley says she delighted in her new status and was grateful to Sir Michael. She donated to the less fortunate, empathizing with them since she was once poor. She sent money to her father anonymously. She would have been kind and generous all her life if fate had not intervened. She believed that she could keep her madness in check without anyone in her new life noticing.
Lady Audley’s generosity towards the poor and her father creates some sympathy for her character, showing she can empathize with others who also suffer in poverty. But she also blames the following plot on circumstance, rather than her deception or her greedy ambition.
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Lady Audley then saw an announcement in the paper saying George was coming home. She realized that unless George believed she was dead, he would never stop searching for her. Again, Lady Audley felt herself sink into madness. She went to meet her father in Southampton and together they conspired to announce Helen Talboys’s death in the newspaper. They realized they needed details of time and place for the announcement in order to convince George, due to his determination and hope.
Though Lady Audley previously argued that she only committed wicked acts in fits of madness, this plot shows careful, calm planning on her part. She has a keen knowledge of her situation and also of George’s personality, showing an intellect which Dr. Mosgrave will later argue means she could not be suffering from madness.
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Captain Maldon broke down in tears due to his anxiety over George. Lady Audley sat down to play with her son, who viewed her as a stranger. When the child’s caretaker Mrs. Plowson came in, Lady Audley took her aside to ensure the child was well-treated. Then Lady Audley learned that this pale-faced, blonde-haired, short woman had a dying daughter. Suddenly, Lady Audley had the idea to use Mrs. Plowson and her daughter Matilda in her scheme.
Lady Audley seems to prove Robert’s previous argument that women are the stronger sex, given that she keeps thinking while her father breaks down from stress. She is smarter and more conniving than her father as well. Despite her claims she didn’t love her son, Lady Audley shows care and concern for her child here.
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Lady Audley visited Matilda and confirmed she bore a passing resemblance to herself. Lady Audley bribed Mrs. Plowson and then instructed Maldon to find lodgings and a doctor while referring to Matilda as his daughter, “Mrs. Talboys.” When Matilda died, Maldon buried her under the name of Helen Talboys.
Lady Audley uses appearances to fool George into believing she’s dead, knowing that even a resemblance as flimsy as she has with Matilda can be effective. Mrs. Plowson is another social climber willing to lie to gain money.
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Sir Michael says he cannot listen anymore. He tells Robert to arrange to provide for the woman he once loved. He cannot bear to say goodbye to her, and makes plans to leave Essex.
Sir Michael’s character has completely changed. His idealized image of his wife is shattered, and his spirit has been broken along with it.
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