Lady Audley’s Secret

Lady Audley’s Secret

by

Mary Elizabeth Braddon

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Lady Audley’s Secret: Volume 3, Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Clara returns to her home to tell Harcourt that George sailed for Australia on September 9th and will likely return one day to be forgiven by his father. For once in his life, Harcourt reveals his distress, as he had been worrying about his son and wants to embrace him once again.
Harcourt’s former rigidity against all transgressions of class has relaxed. Faced with the real loss of his son, he seems to have recognized what is truly important to him.
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Robert wonders when George will return to England and questions why he didn’t respond to the advertisements Robert put in the Australian papers. He goes to the Talboys’ mansion to talk to Harcourt about his son. Harcourt laments Robert’s smuggling of Lady Audley out of England, because Harcourt wishes to punish her.
George’s lack of response suggests that the mystery of the plot is not yet resolved. Harcourt, though he has softened somewhat, is also not a completely changed man. He still practices a merciless form of justice in response to deceit and societal transgression.
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It is now springtime, and Robert strolls through the grounds where he met Clara that winter. Though the mansion is still rigid and cold, Robert is delighted to be there because he gets to take walks with Clara (chaperoned by Mr. Talboys, of course). They talk of George. Robert thinks how he has developed from hating Clara when he first met her to loving her now. He wonders if she notices his love.
Robert’s love for Clara shows how first impressions can be deceiving. Characters developing from hate to love was a common feature in Victorian romance novels, most notably in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. These stories almost always had happy endings, and one can assume that this novel will too.
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Other friends come to visit the Talboys and Robert feels jealous of the young men who undoubtedly also fall in love with Clara. While Robert and Clara were at first formal with each other, with time they develop a genuine friendship. Clara lectures him on the purposeless and idle life he used to live, and he delights being scolded by her.
Without the mystery of George’s case to bind them together, Robert and Clara must now establish a relationship based on compatibility. Clara’s lectures on how to live his life would make her an ideal wife, according to Robert’s theory of marriage.
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Robert asks Clara if she thinks he will never tire of his privileged hobbies. He is already planning on selling all his bachelor possessions and his apartment in order to buy a plot of land where he can build a cottage. Clara doesn’t know this, however, and tells him to study hard and take his profession seriously so that he might be useful to society. Robert thinks he will agree to that if she rewards him with her companionship.
While at the beginning of the novel, Robert never thought of the future, he has matured to the point where he has a detailed plan. This plan involves abandoning his idle hobbies and contributing to society through his career, as long as he has a loving woman to encourage and guide him.
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Robert cannot summon the courage to express his love to Clara, so after five weeks at the mansion, he announces his departure. Harcourt says he enjoyed Robert’s visit and welcomes Robert back any time. Robert notices Clara drooping her eyes and blushing.
Despite Victorian gender roles, Robert is still shy and submissive to Clara’s wishes. But Clara appears to reciprocate Robert’s feelings, which gives him the courage to propose to her later.
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Robert dreads being away from Clara and is gloomy on his last day at the mansion. He is happy, though, when he has the chance to talk to Clara alone. They discuss George. Clara says if she were a man, she would go to Australia and find him herself. Robert says he will go. Clara says she can’t ask that of him. Robert declares he will do anything for Clara.
Clara reveals the unfairness of gender roles that expect women to remain within the home, since she is brave enough to go looking for George abroad. Robert reveals her influence on him directly, rather than just thinking it to himself, as he usually does.
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Clara says she has no right to allow Robert to make such a sacrifice for her. Robert says she does have the right because he loves her and will always love her. He drops to his knees and takes her hand. He asks Clara to marry him and go to Australia with him. She doesn’t respond, but the narrator states that sometimes silence is the best answer to such a question.
Robert uses Australia to bargain with Clara for her hand in marriage, but as the novel has argued before, Victorian marriage was in reality a complicated agreement based upon both compatibility and other factors.
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Later, Harcourt comes into the room and finds Robert sitting alone. Robert tells him what has happened. Robert says their honeymoon trip will be to find George. Harcourt tells Robert that if he brings back his son, he will forgive Robert for taking his daughter.
Though Clara could express her agency by accepting Robert’s proposal herself, this conversation reveals that Victorian marriage still largely concerned negotiations between men.
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Feeling like a new man with a new life ahead of him, Robert returns to London to arrange for the trip to Australia. When he returns to Fig-tree Court, he is shocked to see George Talboys waiting for him. George reveals that when he landed safely on the slush at the bottom of the well, all he could think about was protecting the woman who tried to kill him. Summoning all his strength, he climbed out and hid until Luke found him.
With George home, the mystery of his disappearance has finally been resolved and the novel can end happily. Also, the fact that George still wished to protect Lady Audley after she married another man and attempted to murder him reemphasizes the depths of his love.
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George boarded a ship for Australia, but then changed vessels and went to New York. He lived in exile there but longed for Robert, his friend who guided him through the darkest period of his life.
George acknowledges the common feeling between the two men that has driven Robert throughout the novel.
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