Friday, 30 May 2014

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon: Read-a-long Chapters 25-33

So it's 11:14pm on the day that this is due to be posted and I've only read one chapter of the eight chapters allocated. Prepare for some serious sleep-deprived ramblings as I get started, people.

I'm aware that I could leave this until tomorrow but I have other things planned for tomorrow and then it'll knock my obsessively colour-coded plan sheet all askew and THEN WHERE WILL WE BE!? *hyperventilates*

Tonight it is.

Our story this week begins with rather a lot of melodramatic moping, bless Robert's little socks. Seriously, there's pages of this stuff. 

"If she would only take warning and run away," he said to himself sometimes. "Heaven knows, I have given her a fair chance. Why doesn't she take it and run away?"
I got a bit tired of his whining overall, but for some reason that paragraph really affected me.  Like, Robert had acted honourably as far as he was concerned, but he figured they had this secret understanding and she hadn't fulfilled her part of their unspoken agreement. I don't know, I just liked it.

I mean, I completely understand why she hasn't run away. He has absolutely nothing on her apart from some vaguely similar handwriting from years ago and his own melodrama. Plus she does seem to actually love her new husband (who does seem like an improvement on the last one) so why would she throw that away on the off-chance her nephew will decide to squawk and squeal about what he thinks he knows?

Has anybody else noticed that MEB hasn't actually told us that Lucy/Helen are the same person? I can just imagine the Victorian readers sat there, clutching their hair and desperately wondering what Lucy's dark secret is.

Michael Audley is taken ill and everybody is sat brooding by his bedside, despite everybody admitting that he's going to be fine. Robert takes the opportunity to mutter dark and dramatic warnings to Lady Audley even though, again, he has nothing on her. Then he pumps the family doctor for permission.

I desperately want somebody to explain to Robert what circumstantial evidence actually is as he is clearly misinformed.
Circumstantial (adjective): pointing indirectly towards someone's guilt but not conclusively proving it.
 So he can pack in all that crap about 'the fatal chain of circumstantial evidence.' Honestly, he's meant to be a barrister.

I loved, loved, loved the paragraphs about tea. Don't get me wrong, I'm clearly a failure of a woman as I make simply vile tea but this part really made me smile. I just imagine some misty Aphrodite floating seductively through clouds of tea...

Surely a pretty woman never looks prettier than when making tea. The most feminine and most domestic of all occupations imparts a magic harmony to her every movement, a witchery to her every glance. The floating mists from the boiling liquid in which she infuses the soothing herbs; whose secrets are known to her alone, envelope her in a cloud of scented vapor, through which she seems a social fairy, weaving potent spells with Gunpowder and Bohea. At the tea-table she reigns omnipotent, unapproachable. What do men know of the mysterious beverage?
Robert goes to track down Mrs Vincent, from whom Lady Audley allegedly received a death-bed telegram a good few chapters ago. Shockingly Mrs Vincent sent no such thing, although her and Mrs Danvers Tonks are able to confirm that she came from the seaside and had secrets (although they had no idea in the slightest what those secrets might be), whilst muttering about her curly hair. I swear most of the women in this book are just petulant and jealous.  

Except now I feel bad for saying that because Robert goes on a rant about the 'infamy of the sex' on the next page. Hey, Bob. I can say it. You can't.

In the next chapter we learn that Helen left her father suddenly because he took the money she earned from giving music lessons and spent them on drink. I knew I didn't like that man. If it weren't for George's disappearance, I'd think Helen/Lucy more than justified in staying where she was. Her husband abandons her without an explanation and is generally an idiot anyway (let's not forget his unwillingness to take care of his son) and her father is an alcoholic who steals her money. Let the poor woman have a nice husband who loves her!

But oh! It seems Lady Audley has another secret!

Forgive me if I have been fretful, capricious, changeable. You should forgive me, for you know why I have been so. You know the secret which is the key to my life.
I wonder what it is? Illegitimate children? Pregnancy would explain a) the above mood swings and b) THAT BABY SHOE WE NEVER HEARD OF AGAIN.

Robert asks himself again why she hasn't run away yet. I answer again - why should she?

I will go straight to that arch-conspirator, and will tear away the beautiful veil under which she hides her wickedness, and will wring from her the secret of my friend's fate, and banish her forever from the house which her presence has polluted.
 Seriously, you're annoying me now. It's not your place to banish anybody from a house that is in no way yours. Get down from your high horse please. I just don't hate Lady Audley the way I think we're probably meant to. I actually feel bad for her and Robert is prancing about trying to ruin her. Obviously if she killed Robert, then I'll take all this back, but I don't see how she can have. Her father was genuinely shocked when he heard he was dead, so clearly he doesn't think she could do it and she's so frail that she doesn't have the physical strength anyway.

She's happy for the first time in her entire life. Leave the poor woman be.

I really hope that Robert and Clara get together. An impassioned, non-lazy, non-petulant woman like that might make Robert finally get his act together and earn his place in Chambers. I wonder if Clara ever met her brother's wife? I know their father refused to acknowledge him, but what if she snuck off one weekend and met the new couple in secret? She's in Audley now and might bump into Lucy!

Ah but now Clara has jumped to exactly the same conclusion as Robert based on even less evidence - her friend has told her that Lady Audley is tiny and blonde... and her sister-in-law was also tiny and blonde! I know I always automatically assume that two people with the same hair colour MUST be the same person...

"...if she had taken advantage of George's absense to win a richer husband? How if she had married again, and wished to throw my poor friend off the scent by this false announcement?" 
Excuse me? Taken advantage? Absence? George left the country for three years without even mentioning it to his wife. She probably genuinely assumed he was dead! I would. Plus, 'poor friend?' I hardly think so. I'm not saying he deserved to die but he clearly wasn't blameless here either. 

He goes on to be horribly abusive about everything he possibly can in relation to Lady Audley. Foolishness, wickedness, black sin, despicable... oh shut up. 

"By the right of circumstantial evidence, Lady Audley."

 Yes, alright. He found the two luggage labels and that is (finally) pretty clear evidence. But I still say that he had no evidence up to that point - no evidence that made him end up at the luggage labels, if that makes any sense.

And does he have to be so smug about it? Stood there, considering himself a judge who has put on the black cap.

I am not in a criminal dock, Mr. Audley, and I do not choose to do anything but laugh at your ridiculous folly.
 Good for you. I mean, you haven't actually countered the luggage label problem at all but it's a pretty fair point. She didn't just whimper, cry or toss her curls - she stood up for herself! Then Robert goes on about how she has tricked and fooled her new husband, By giving a false name? She genuinely believed her ex-husband to be dead at the time and she seems to genuinely care for Michael Audley. Robert just sounds like a pompous lunatic.

Sigh. But then so does she. 'I will kill you first.' Oh, Lady Audley, you were so close. Then she goes and cried to her husband.

Yes, alright, fine. Now she's deceiving her husband. I feel like I'm grasping at straws to defend her now, but I still feel that she couldn't have killed George and that taking a new identity was understandable. When she's alone, she half-heartedly thinks that she'd prefer it if Robert were dead, but then she's shocked at herself. easily.

"I can't plot horrible things," she muttered presently; "my brain isn't strong enough, or I'm not wicked enough, or brave enough. If I met Robert Audley in those lonely gardens, as I -"
I think she was going to to say that if she met Robert in the gardens as she met George, even then she wouldn't be able to do anything. I still don't think she killed George. Maybe Phoebe's husband did, for an unrelated reason, and threatened to frame Lady Audley and that's why she paid them the money?

I think I loathe Luke Marks more than anybody else in the entire book. More than George, more than Robert and more then Helen/Lucy's father. It's possibly because I know people like him actually do exist, unlike young women with ringlets who change their name and shove their ex-husband down a well.

Argh, and now she's going to set the inn on fire to get rid of both Luke Marks and Robert Audley. Damn it, I had such faith. She still hesitates and questions herself as she does it though, so clearly she's not evil. And, I may not have mentioned this, but I don't think she killed George! If she'd killed once, she could do so again easily.

She's quite cruel to Phoebe on the walk home though. The latter asked her a reasonable question and she has a temper tantrum... although I admit she's probably doing Phoebe a favour here.

Then we go back to discussing Alicia as if nothing had happened and we learn, once and for all, that Robert doesn't want to marry her. There's three pages of his feelings for his cousin, which has a distinct tone of 'meh.' Excellent.

Aaaaaaand done. I've never felt as annoyed with Lady Audley's Secret as I have this week but I think that's because I'm starting to care about it. If a book makes you feel something about the characters, even if it's dislike, then it's clearly doing something right.

That said, I've been more desperate to skim-read than previous weeks. That might be due to the late hour (it's 1:34am now) but there also seems to be more ramblings about nothing in particular and more lectures on art, beauty, morality, etc.

I'm dying to look up a plot summary on Wikipedia but I haven't yet. I really want to know if she killed George!

And now I'm off to bed. Excuse any typos and formatting errors please - I'll fix them tomorrow but now I'm off to bed. See you all next week! :)



  1. People CANNOT get over Lady A's curls. You'd think these things cured cancer or something.

    I sort of feel bad for Lady A overall. I mean, I think she was totally fine to leave her husband WHO HAD ABANDONED THEM ANYWAY. Although I'm much less OK with the part where then she abandoned Georgey and now both his parents left him. Oh and the whole "murdering George" thing.

    1. I know leaving Georgey isn't ok, but someone had to go out and make the bacon. At least, she's providing for him in a way (though Gramps is spending it on booze). And she did leave him with a relative, she didn't plop him on a stranger's doorstep. So I'm still ok with her.

    2. Good point, she did leave him with her dad which I'm sure she knew wasn't the BEST idea but also not a terrible "just dump him with the waiter" plan.

  2. I don't hate Lucy as much as I should either. Robert though, ugh, his woman-hating!


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