by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Plot Summary:The flaxen-haired beauty of the child-like Lady Audley would suggest that she has no secrets. But M.E. Braddon's classic novel of sensation uncovers the truth about its heroine in a plot involving bigamy, arson and murder. It challenges assumptions about the nature of femininity and investigates the narrow divide between sanity and insanity, using as its focus one of the most fascinating of all Victorian heroines. Combining elements of the detective novel, the psychological thriller and the romance of upper class life, Lady Audley's Secret was one of the most popular and successful novels of the nineteenth century.
Review:This is a glorious story to immerse oneself! The author's approach of writing about these characters in a straight-forward factual way, gives the reader a chance to piece together the first secret that Lady Audley is keeping and eagerly I read to see what would come from the train collision confrontation that was sure to occur. Yet when it does occur, the author takes us away from that action, leaving us to find out with Robert Audley - the lawyer turned detective - what exactly is going on with Lady Audley and how many crimes did she commit to keep her secret(s). As the reader, I was intrigued by how the author makes it easy to know what is going on in the minds of the characters without actually detailing their thoughts, and I felt like this approach kept up the suspense of wanting to see the other characters realize the truth, which was strung out until almost the end.
In addition to the excellent plot, there are side commentaries on the nature of women, especially their influence over men, and a strange condemnation of women's power which I found so odd because the main impetus for Lady Audley's questionable conduct came from a man. At least I think the fault of men was glossed over repeatedly, and I couldn't tell if the author meant that ironically or not. But it was very thought-provoking to think of how different the lives of many of these characters would have been if the men had made better choices. Not that Lady Audley is without fault.
A note on the Jane Eyre derivative aspect, which is one reason why I picked up this book to read - the interesting idea of Lady Audley being the one to embody almost all the main plot points of Jane Eyre in one character - with bigamy, arson, and innocent governess - created a very complex, coolly manipulative but highly sympathetic character. Lady Audley is driven to action like Jane Eyre wanted in her life, but it didn't work so well with her without the innate sense of morality that governs Jane.
The writing in this novel is very precise and detailed; with a story that has so many intertwining motivations and agendas, and the author does a great job of revealing all the information at the right time without slowing down the pace. It's a highly entertaining read with characters that are complex and relatable. It's a suspenseful, pseudo-mystery (the reader often knows more than Robert Audley did) but there are still a couple plot twists in the end to make it interesting. I highly recommend this book!
Ninth book of ten in the 2012 Books of Eyre Reading Challenge
My first read for the Classics Club Challenge